Jan Hesseling, vice president of Affordable Housing Vancouver Island Society, pitches his business model to Campbell River city council Monday night. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

City of Campbell River to consider donating land for ambitious affordable housing solution

AVIHS: ‘Municipal governments are trying to do this on their own, but it’s impossible’

A Comox-Valley-based entrepreneur has an ambitious plan to solve Vancouver Island’s affordable housing crisis and has pitched his idea to Campbell River city council, asking for a chunk of land to get it going.

Jan Hesseling, vice president of Affordable Housing Vancouver Island Society (AHVIS) made his presentation to council Monday night, asking for the city to donate a property to make his social dream a reality.

Hesseling began by citing the now-familiar dreary statistics about the affordability and availability of housing in the region. The 2016 Census shows Campbell River with 4,370 renter households, 42 per cent of which are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter and are therefore considered to be paying unaffordable rates. A whopping 17 per cent of renters in Campbell River are paying more than half their income on rent alone.

While organizations like Habitat for Humanity and M’Akola Housing are doing what they can to help, Hesseling says, they simply don’t have the capacity to make a serious impact on the situation. Similarly, the crisis has gotten so bad that no municipality or governmental organization, bank or private investor can do it on their own, either.

“We need to do this together,” Hesseling says. “Something needs to change, here. Municipal governments are trying to do this on their own, but it’s impossible. It’s frustrating, but it’s impossible. BC Housing has more money, but even all the money at BC Housing cannot solve this.”

He told council the story of a friend of his who is paying $1,800 per month for rent on a townhouse for her and her children.

“She could easily pay a mortgage on a $460,000 house for that amount, but she doesn’t have a down payment or somebody to lend it to her,” he says. Not that it would matter if she did, Hesseling says, because no lender would issue a mortgage to someone working two minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet, “because they don’t find that secure enough. So this lady is trying to get her two teenaged boys through high school, she’s working her butt of and she’s in this awful (housing) situation.”

The AHVIS model, Hesseling explained, is based on partnerships between non-profit organizations, governments and private investors to build large apartment complexes, charging affordable rents – based on a percentage of the family’s income – and making a real impact due to the economy of scale being used.

He says this model has been proven in places like Holland, where he was born, where the largest of the non-profit organizations like AHVIS own and operate 80,000 housing units. “In total, they own 33 per cent of all the homes in the Netherlands – 2.5 million homes. So there is a healthy business model running there, and it’s possible for here, too.”

But in order to get started, Hesseling and AHVIS need places to put housing units, starting with a place for 104 apartment units.

“I like the model and I know how it works in Europe,” Coun. Charlie Cornfield said, but also expressed concern about whether the city has available land in a location that would be suitable for this type of endeavour.

Coun. Larry Samson asked whether another housing organization being in the mix is just dividing the funding pie into smaller pieces.

Hesseling said that while it’s true that many organizations, as it sits currently, “are all eating from the BC Housing dish,” the AHVIS model is very different.

“The key is that we work together with private investors and credit unions,” Hesseling said. “This is going to be a long-term project and it will generate revenue, too. Our goal is not to create another non-profit society that is perpetually dependant on outside financial help. We want to create an organization that is independent, financially, and has a healthy business approach. We need to have a different mindset beyond just accepting what the government gives you.”

In the end, council voted in favour of asking staff to come up with an inventory of city-owned property that could be considered for such an endeavour and report back to council for further discussion at a later date.

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