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Vancouver, like other Metro Vancouver municipalities, is scrambling to accommodate the 52% of residents who rent their home.

The situation is expected to worsen given that 40,000 newcomers or about 18,600 households arrive each year, and of these 6,500 households are renters. Since 2007, less than 1,000 rental units per year have been built in Metro Vancouver.

In 2009, to help address the problem, the City created the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program, which ran until December 2011. STIR provided incentives such as increased density and development cost levy waivers to builders of rental housing in both 100% residential and in mined-used buildings. But the program hand problems. While the 100% rental projects cost the city $4,900 per unit or a total of $1.8 million for 372 units, in contrast the 327 units in mixed strata/rental buildings cost $70,000 per unit, for a total of $23 million. The huge price difference has been attributed to building materials: the 100% rental units were in wood frame walk-ups, while the units in mixed use were in expensive-to-build concrete towers.

But the chronic lack of rental housing isn’t going away. So on May 15, 2012 Council approved a new Secured Rental Housing Policy. Like STIR, it will provide incentives for developers but this program will be for 100% rental buildings only. Mixed-used developments will not qualify.

The new Secured Rental Housing Policy is part of the City’s Housing and Homelessness Strategy which seeks to create 5,000 rental units in Vancouver by 2021.

Incentives under the new policy will likely be similar to those of the STIR program which included:
• Rental property assessment (on rental units only);
• Development cost levy waiver (on rental units only);
• Parking requirements reductions (on rental units only);
• Discretion on unit size
• Increased density; and
• Expedited permit processing.

Affordable rental housing is vital for small businesses throughout the Lower Mainland to attract and keep workers, according to John Winter, President of the BC Chamber of Commerce, who notes: “Without affordable places to live that are close to jobs and transit, local employers will have trouble competing for talented workers. “

The Canadian Rental housing Coalition, of which the Real Estate Board is a founding member, supports Vancouver’s policy and is bringing national attention to the need for rental housing to stimulate the economy and provide affordable housing alternatives.

Article from The Open House, June 1, 2012