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Why Kelowna is building more homes for middle class rather than low income

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

With the cost of living and the rate of homelessness continuing to rise, it may be hard to comprehend why the City of Kelowna is proposing to build more housing for the middle class. 

The City of Kelowna’s Middle-Income Housing Partnership Plan aims to broaden affordable housing rather than make rent significantly cheaper for low-income residents. 

Kelowna plans to lease city-owned land at low rates to non-profit and private developers. In exchange, developers must agree to offer 20% of the rental properties at 20% below current market rates. 

These numbers are, for the moment, a baseline, Benjamin Walker, Real Estate Services manager for the city, told

“Our goal is absolutely to broaden the affordability. Not to deepen, but to broaden. So instead of 20%, can we get a project that's 40%? Can we get a project that's 50% of the units at 20% below market?" Walker said.

"We want to find that balance where we're broadening affordability as much as we can while still having a project that is viable that can then move forward. I'm confident that we can achieve higher than 20% for 20%.”

These developments will primarily cater towards residents earning $42,000 to $87,000 per year, according to the city's report. 

READ MORE: 'Not a silver bullet solution': Kelowna council concerned with new housing plan

The city's primary contribution to the development will be city-owned land. 

At this time it is not known exactly how much land will be used for the project but what city staff can say is that three parcels of land will be leased to developers.

Where those parcels are located and how big they are is still yet to be determined, however they will have to adhere to current zoning bylaws for a four to six-story apartment building. 

The rest of the finances will come from two city funds.

One of the sources, the Housing Opportunities Reserve Fund, is used specifically for affordable housing and currently has around $4.2 million in the account.

Kelowna was also the recipient of a Housing Accelerator Fund amounting to $31.5 million, which will be the second source of income.

How these funds will be used and distributed is yet to be finalized.

READ MORE: Kelowna plans to hand over city land in exchange for affordable housing

The middle-income plan is just one of several initiatives the city has identified to accelerate housing, according to Walker.

He said the Housing Opportunities Fund will still be utilized for deep affordability initiatives in the future, and that the city has a “strong relationship” with BC Housing that it will continue to rely on for low-income housing projects.

Deep affordability initiatives are traditionally aided by the province and are unsustainable for the city without substantial financial investment, Walker said. Therefore, this new initiative will help "bridge the gap" identified in the city's Housing Needs Assessment. 

According to the city's assessment, the rate of development for subsidized homes in Kelowna is less than a tenth of what is needed. 

Kelowna, on average, has produced close to 45 below-market-rate homes per year, and 450 to 640 homes per year are needed to meet current demands.

Walker is optimistic that the proposed plan can put Kelowna on the right track. 

“It's an area that we traditionally haven't been a part of. We've been a part of BC Housing projects, but to take this on as a city and say we feel that… we can help kind of bridge that gap as identified in the Housing Needs Assessment.

"We're really excited for that challenge and the opportunity. And I'm really excited to work with the development industry to see and try to move this forward in a successful manner.”

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