An Alternate Strategy for Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Crunch

David & Mark Goodman, The Goodman Report


Vancouver’s affordable housing initiative recently proposed by Mayor Robertson has triggered heated debate amongst its citizenry, especially those residing in single-family neighbourhoods. While most support the search for financially reasonable solutions to alleviate our well-publicized housing shortages and sky-high costs (amongst the highest in North America), there are those determined not to accept change particularly if it affects them directly.

It appears the City’s new direction with the support of the newly created Housing Task Force, is that the creation of new rental supply or affordable housing will move adjacent to traditionally single-family communities and along arterial routes (i.e., Dunbar). The City intends to solicit proposals for increased densities and height to allow for new six-storey rentals, stacked townhouses and row housing.

We are disappointed that the Mayor and Council have solely targeted our single-family districts for their densification strategy instead of focusing on the existing dedicated RM, CD, FM (Multi-Family) zones and the WED (West End District) zones that have existed for decades.

It was in 1989 (over 23 years ago) that Vancouver first implemented a temporary moratorium on the demolition of rental apartments in the West End in order to prevent the “erosion of rental stock”—this “temporary” moratorium is still in place. In 2007, the City followed up with further restrictions by expanding this program and imposing Rate of Change regulations throughout the rest of Vancouver—namely Kitsilano, South Granville, Kerrisdale, East Vancouver and Marpole for all buildings 6 suites or more. We were in attendance in 2007 at City Hall when Staff clearly told Council that the proposal to establish the permitted Rate of Change at zero was to be for a period of 2 ½ years until they completed a rental housing strategy. We have now entered the 5th year with no end in sight. It is the City’s stated policy that existing rental buildings are to be protected at all costs. Unfortunately these “costs” are being borne by apartment owners. Many of these buildings are at or near the end of their economic life. Meanwhile owners are increasingly being forced to absorb significant capital expenses for roofs, piping, windows, heating systems, balcony and suite upgrades in buildings that most rational citizens would agree should be redeveloped.

Vancouver has approximately 1,780 apartment properties (6 suites or more) of which 280 are mid/high-rise buildings. By our calculations and based on the data and statistical research developed over thirty years of apartment sales and publishing The Goodman Report, it’s estimated that there are probably 4,300 acres of multi-family zoned land devoted to the remaining 1,500 or so rental buildings consisting of 2-4 storey low density wood-frame buildings averaging over 50 years of age. By virtue of the City’s restrictive policies, namely their misguided and politically expedient goal of chasing the tenant vote, property owners in the multi-family zones are no longer permitted to redevelop their property unless the rentals are replaced on a one-for-one basis. Unfortunately, Council refuses to rezone these existing areas outright which would provide for an increase in the allowable height and densities required to make the development of replacement rentals financially viable.

Other than a small handful of proposals under the STIR program, there are virtually no examples of purpose-built rentals being developed that could undoubtedly assist typical tenants looking for choice and quality. By the way, STIR projects were not permitted on sites where existing rental housing would be demolished.

The City has repeatedly rejected proposals from building owners in these higher density zoned areas for creative new housing forms that would allow for a viable mixture of rental and market housing options (now known as “inclusionary housing”). Perhaps Council should explain why they reject outright the idea of replacing an outdated and aging 100-unit rental building with a new 250-unit rental/market building? Why wouldn’t the City accept the benefits of the trickle-up effect? With the delivery of new pricier rentals being occupied by tenants able to afford better and more expensive digs, the supply of more affordable suites is clearly increased. In addition, CMHC confirms that over 30% of all new strata units are rented by investors. It is our view that this underutilized resource (~4,300 acres) found in the existing multi-family zones should be the main focus of the City’s desire to create supply and affordability—not moving to our single family neighbourhoods.

As Nathan Edelson and Mark Guslits, members of the Mayor’s Task Force of Affordable Housing, wrote in their Letter to the Editor, Vancouver Sun, Oct 17th, 2012, “An honorable dialogue relies on factual information.” We would certainly agree. It’s also noted in their letter, with some irony, that only one of the eighteen members of the Task Force is a developer. Why was the development community so poorly represented? Who do you think will finance and build all these housing projects while expecting some reasonable return on investment? Unfortunately for us taxpayers, Council’s latest response could well be: “We don’t know, so let’s create a new City paid bureaucracy with no experience to take on the financial and development risk just like we managed the Olympic Village development.”


source: The Goodman Report

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