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Developer tells Duncan council he can’t afford to build affordable housing

Guy Bouchard said he’d consider pulling plug on 200-unit project if forced to
Guy Bouchard, the developer looking to build two six-storey residential buildings on Price Place in Duncan, said committing a percentage of the more than 200 units that he intends to build to affordable housing would make the project unprofitable. (Graphic courtesy of City of Duncan)

A developer looking to build two six-storey residential buildings which would contain more than 200 rental housing units on Price Place has told Duncan’s city council he is prepared to walk away from the project if the city insists that he commit to affordable housing and family-sized units in the development.

Guy Bouchard, president of Top Down Investments, which is developing the project, told council at its meeting on May 6 that he’d consider withdrawing the rezoning application if it was referred back to him to consider including affordable housing and a minimum number of family-sized dwelling units, as staff recommended.

But at the end of a lengthy discussion, council did just that.


“If there is an opportunity for us to explore affordable housing or a certain mix of suites, that would need to come with an incentive or a change in the market or cost conditions, and we would then absolutely explore that at the development-permit stage,” Bouchard said.

“Right now, it’s just not there. Referring this back to us for more conversations wouldn’t work because we’ve had those conversations.”

The project would see a combination of 270 square-foot micro-living units, 416 sq. ft. studio units and 675 sq. ft. one-bedroom-plus-den units, with rents ranging from $1,450 to $2,500 per month.

Bouchard said the project is already intended for housing students, seniors, members of the workforce and others with lower incomes.

He said he’s not trying to create an affordable housing project, but to deliver a project that is affordable by design.

But Bouchard said city staff have challenged every single aspect of the development that was intended to make it economically viable for the development firm, and it just doesn’t work.


“We could not find a path forward where we could confidently deliver a project we thought was investable or lendable,” he said.

“We’re a small and upcoming developer and we’re subject to a lot of the market costs and conditions that all developers are. We’re barely viable as it is and we’re trying very hard, but the cost of construction is not going down and interest rates are higher than they’ve ever been for a long time. It’s a pretty sad mix when we’re trying to solve the housing crisis. We’ve exhausted every conversation [with staff] and every angle we can for this development.”

Coun. Jenni Capps said a significant number of people in the city are living on fixed incomes and are in need of more affordable housing.

She said that for the developer to not find a percentage of the housing units that would be dedicated to affordable housing, and not be willing to work a bit more on the issue, is unacceptable to her.

“We need housing for seniors, students and the workforce, but don’t need housing they can’t afford,” Capps said.

“I wish senior levels of government were making this their responsibility and not something we were even having to discuss. I wish it were easy and simple and something every developer could afford to do, but I know it’s complicated. I think the staff recommendations are perfectly reasonable.”


Coun. Garry Bruce said providing subsidies for affordable housing is the responsibility of senior levels of government, not the municipality or the developers.

He said developers are running businesses and they don’t have the ability or the interest in building projects and making them into affordable-housing developments.

“We’re asking the wrong people to make this affordable housing,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be asking developers to bear the brunt of affordable housing when that should be done by senior levels of government.”

Mayor Michelle Staples said she completely understands and empathizes with the situation that developers are facing in regards to increasing cost pressures, but the issue is about providing reasonable costs of living for people.

She said it has gone beyond looking at the scope of the size of the units and the amount of rent.

“Who are the people that are going to be able to access those units and who does that leave out in our community?” Staples asked.

“There should be more programs through the federal government around housing, but I also recognize our responsibility also goes to the community and to the needs of the community. I recognize the conundrum that has been presented to us but I believe it’s reasonable to ask [the developer] to go back and try to work on this further.”

Council decided to refer the application back to Bouchard to further consider the issues in a 5-2 vote, with Bruce and Coun. Mike McKinlay opposed.