Vancouver mayor outlines new priorities, measures to address housing affordability

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Mayor outlines ?ambitious? new affordable housing plan

Cheryl Chan
The Province

The City of Vancouver has released a 10-year housing target that shifts its housing strategy towards renters, low to moderate-income earners, and families. 

On Tuesday, the city announced a plan to add 72,000 new housing units over the next decade with an eye not just towards boosting rental supply but ensuring that supply is the “right supply” affordable for residents. 

“One of the really big moves of the housing strategy here is to turn the spigot on for rental housing,” said Gil Kelley, the city’s planning general manager — a recognition from planners and politicians that for many in Vancouver renting is the only affordable option to stay in the city. 

About two-thirds of the 72,000 units will be rentals, including 20,000 purpose-built market rental units, which is quadruple the city’s previous target set in 2012.

Seventy per cent of the new homes are aimed at households earning between $50,000 and $150,000 a year.

Nearly 29,000 units, or 40 per cent, will be for families, including about 13 per cent that’ll be “ground-oriented” units, such as townhouses, laneway homes and coach houses.  

The new housing targets are part of the city’s housing “reset” launched earlier this spring. The final housing strategy will be presented to council in the fall. 

Mayor Gregor Robertson called the plan “the most ambitious and aggressive affordable housing plan Vancouver has ever seen.”

He said the city has a responsibility to get more rental housing built “to make sure we are shaping the market forces that have focused on the high end of the market for too many years. We need to be sure we are creating supply that meets the incomes of people in Vancouver.” 

The plan is the city’s latest salvo to try to alleviate pressures of a sky-high real estate market detached from local incomes and a low rental vacancy rate that has left close to 70 per cent of renters saying they’re unsure whether they’ll stay in the city over the next three to five years. 

Despite a record number of housing starts and a significant jump in the number of market rentals in Vancouver, affordability has only worsened over the last five years. Even with the aggressive targets, a staff report noted Vancouver’s ability to correct its current course would take longer than 10 years.

According to the report, the city will be unable to meet the projected 54,800 units needed by low- and moderate-income households by 2026 without assistance from the federal or provincial government. 

“You can’t build social or supportive housing without funding from the provincial and federal government,” said Robertson, who called on both levels of government to step up. 

The city said it is already pursuing new programs and policies to achieve its housing targets, including enabling laneway houses, coach houses, and duplexes in single-family neighbourhoods, the implementation of the empty homes tax and new regulations around short-term rentals. 

It said phase 3 of the Cambie Corridor project will create 4,200 homes over the next decade, including 1,000 units slated as social housing or below-market rentals. 

It is also proposing a pilot program for all-rental buildings that’ll require a minimum of 20 per cent below-market units for renters earning between $30,000 to $80,000 a year. The program is being tried out in the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre, with the goal of producing 4,000 of these units. It’s in the “testing phase,” said city staff, to see whether there is interest from developers and to make sure it’ll work. 

NPA councillors George Affleck and Melissa De Genova expressed skepticism the city’s plan would work without a region-wide initiative, noting other cities such as Burnaby and White Rock are losing rental units. 

“Vancouver is trying to do this alone again,” said Affleck. “The rest of the region is relying on Vancouver, and we can’t afford to do this alone. We can’t afford to build the rental units that are required for the entire region.” 

On Wednesday, staff is expected to present the second part of the city’s housing strategy to council, focused on homelessness and housing for lower-income people. 

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