Why does the City of Vancouver shut down brand new basement suites and evict renters?

Caption: Due to Vancouver’s high property costs, one-family homes today are built with permitted secondary suites and/or laneway houses. However, according to a 2015 city report, only 27 percent of Vancouver secondary suites are constructed with permits

Why does the City of Vancouver shut down brand new basement suites and evict renters?

Guest contribution by: Andrew
(For reasons of privacy, CHW has omitted the contributor’s last name.)

A Background on Vancouver Basement Suites

Most people know of at least one person who has lived in a Vancouver basement suite. At one time, basement suites were “illegal” and the City of Vancouver could technically shut them down. The City doesn’t shut down “illegal” suites except in two scenarios. More on that later. But first, some background:

Vancouver’s first basement suites emerged during the Second World War when the government had the incentive to let more people live in productive areas. The federal government issued an order which said that if a home owner wanted to rent out a room or a suite, the cities could not prohibit it.

In the mid-1950s, the City began reversing the trend of basement suites by introducing zoning bylaws which outlawed secondary suites. UBC students, many of whom lived in basement suites themselves, opposed the bylaws. In 1960, the UBC Alma Mater Society pleaded with the City to allow “up to four students per single family dwelling until the housing situation on campus eases” but the motion failed. The UBC students kept trying to amend the zoning laws for the next eight years but failed.

Legalization of Secondary Suites

The good news is that the City eventually did allow “illegal” basement suites to exist. The City wasn’t always consistent in its basement suite policy, at times oscillating between strict enforcement and implicit approval. But the trend over the years has been for increased legalization of basement suites, chipping away at the City’s power to shut down “illegal suites”. For example, in 2004, the City amended bylaws to allow secondary suites in RS, RT and RM zoning districts (S, T, and M purportedly for single-, two-, and multiple-family, respectively). In 2009, the City approved further zoning changes to enable full-size basements in all single-family areas.

In a 2015 Business in Vancouver article, at least 43 percent of Vancouver homeowners said that they rented out either their basement suite, laneway house or other rooms in the house. This comes as no surprise given Vancouver’s high cost of living. (The article speculated that this number might be even higher since some homeowners didn’t want to provide full disclosure in case they were breaching their home insurance policies.)

More recently, in March 2017, Councillor Adriane Carr introduced a motion with the aim of having all existing houses with one or two unauthorized suites in the RT and RM zones be “considered grandfathered existing legal non-conforming suites” under Vancouver’s secondary suite bylaws. After some rigorous debate by the Vision Vancouver dominated Council, this motion was never passed but instead referred to City staff for further study as part of the Vancouver Housing Re:set. It’s been buried for three years so far and no one knows the status of Councillor Carr’s secondary suite motion, nor of the Housing Re:set study.

When does the City shut down “illegal” suites? The First Scenario

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Temporary Modular Housing taking shape at 1580 Vernon (1st and Clark)

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The first of two temporary modular housing buildings is taking shape at 1580 Vernon Drive. This site is on the northwest corner of East 1st Avenue and Clark Drive, just north of the Grandview Viaduct. When completed, the site will provide 98 units of single occupancy housing. Planned upgrades to the area include additional street lighting for Vernon Drive. A new sidewalk will run from the property north to Grant Street.

Further information on this project can be found on the City’s website and in the staff review document for the development permit. Continue reading

Burrard Gateway (One Burrard Place) rendering vs reality. A look at the Skyline Study.

As an update to our earlier posts on this topic, we’ve revisited the One Burrard Place tower that is currently still under construction, owned by Jimmy Pattison and Reliance Properties. This is a topic that still merits more attention, and possibly some attention/action by the professional association. In our June 2020 post, we asked some questions, and restate them here to set the scene.

How should the real world appearance of a building once built compare with the architectural renderings used during the rezoning and development approval processes? What is the chain of command that leads to a different building being constructed than what was approved? What checks and balances are in place to ensure professional standards are maintained? And what are the consequences for disparities between renderings and reality?
(From “Burrard Gateway (One Burrard Place) rendering vs reality,” CityHallWatch, June 15, 2020)

One of the photos that was used in a Skyline Study during the rezoning stage of the Burrard Gateway project was taken from the Grandview Viaduct. We’ve revisited this location recently to see how the built tower compares with the rendering used by the applicant (note that in the above image the foreground trees have grown and that only the taller tower of two proposed is under construction).

In the approval process, City of Vancouver planner Anita Molaro passed the images through to Council and to the Public.

As a comparison for height see one photo from the Skyline Study with the predicted height (below, left) and then compare with our photo (below, right), taken from the opposite side of the street. Ours is the same distance to the tower, but from a slightly different location, unobstructed by trees.

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Cherry blossom viewing in Vancouver

Happy Easter! Cherry blossoms are in full bloom and more are coming. Below are links to some good online maps to find the best locations for viewing. Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (https://www.vcbf.ca/blooming-now/neighbourhood-maps) and Daily Hive (https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/where-to-see-cherry-blossoms-vancouver-map). Chances are, there are lovely spots to see close to wherever you are.

See also…

https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/where-to-see-cherry-blossoms-vancouver-map

Heritage house moved back to 35 West 6th Avenue

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A heritage house that had been temporary stored on 215 West 1st Avenue has been moved back to its original location at 35 West 6th Avenue.

The heritage designation of the Coulter House was approved by City Council at a Public Hearing on April 17, 2018. In return for the preservation and restoration of the Coulter House, Council granted an increase in density for the permitted office space on this site. The existing I-1 industrial zoning allowed for a Floor Space Ratio of 3.0, with 1.0 FSR for general office. The heritage designation allowed the office space component to go to 2.12 FSR (35,967 sq. ft). The overall FSR increased to 3.1 and there was a slight height increase from 60 feet (18.3 metres) to 72.5 feet (22.1 metres). The allowable area for a restaurant was increased by 33% to 2,152 sq. ft. or 200 sq. metres.

We’ve included several links on the Coulter House below. More information on the heritage house is available on the developer’s houss.org website and there’s also a video of the Coulter House being moved on vimeo.

Coulter House in storage on 215 West 1st Avenue (left) and at 35 West 6th Avenue (right)

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Development applications snapshot 1-Apr-2021

Map (Snapshot from April 1, 2021)


As a free public service CityHallWatch has for many years been taking a monthly snapshot of rezoning and development applications from the City of Vancouver website and making them available on our website.

IMPORTANT: In recent months, the City has completely stopped updating its rezoning (vancouver.ca/rezapps) and development application (vancouver.ca/devapps) web pages and shifted to a very different format called “Shape Your City.” Some changes may make it more user friendly, but some changes have reduced information transparency and accessibility. On Shape Your City, you only see the applications the City wants you to see right now and the rest of the information disappears. We will do a separate analysis of that at a later date.

If you see any of concern, please spread the word to anyone who might be affected or interested. Our archive goes back years and is not available anywhere else. Even the City does not provide this information.

The City has stopped providing a map showing applications, so we must now create our own static snapshot version using Google Maps. Click HERE to see the current map.

Below is our list created as of 1-Apr-2021:
CoV development applications snapshot 1-April-2021

Listed below (generated by webscraping shapeyourcity.ca as the City no longer updates their addresses and links on development.vancouver.ca or vancouver.ca/devapps webpages): Continue reading

Rezoning applications snapshot, 1-Apr-2021

As a free public service CityHallWatch has for many years been taking a monthly snapshot of rezoning and development applications from the City of Vancouver website and making them available on our website.

The lists contain valuable information on each application (all now being done online during the era of COVID). If you see any of concern, please spread the word to anyone who might be affected or interested. Our archive goes back years and is not available anywhere else. Even the City does not provide this information.

IMPORTANT: In recent months, the City has completely stopped updating its rezoning (vancouver.ca/rezapps) and development application (vancouver.ca/devapps) web pages and shifted to a very different format called “Shape Your City.” Some changes may make it more user friendly, but some changes have reduced information transparency and accessibility. On Shape Your City, you only see the applications the City wants you to see right now and the rest of the information disappears. We will do a separate analysis of that at a later date.

The City has stopped providing a map showing applications, so we must now create our own static snapshot version using Google Maps. Click HERE to see the current map.

Download here our full list of rezoning applications as of the first of this month:
CoV rezoning applications snapshot 1-April-2021

Below is our list created as of 1-Apr-2021. Continue reading

1,440 City of Vancouver employees earned over $100,000 in 2020. A look at the sunshine list

The City of Vancouver recently released the ‘sunshine list’ of employees earning over $75,000. One of the interesting bits of information is that the data release shows that a total of 1,440 employees earned over $100,000, out of the 3,003 employees who earned over $75,000 in 2020. This data is now available on the City’s Open Data Portal (for convenience, here’s a link to the Excel file: 2020_CoV_over_75000). The data was also released in a JSON file which can be useful for further analysis (further down, we’ve included Python code that can read and process the json file format).

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Local concerns about 140 units of supportive housing in 12-storey building at West 8th and Arbutus (public comment ends Mar 31, Wed)

B.C Housing design for the site

(Updated) The public comment period ends today for 140 units being proposed for Arbutus Street and West 8th Avenue in Kitsilano. Separately we have covered this in a post regarding two sites (see “Total 230 units of supportive housing proposed in Kitsilano and Kensington-Cedar Cottage“). We promised to do an additional post focusing on concerns being expressed about the proposal, so here below we provide text from one of the key voices on the topic, a local group known as Parents for Thoughtful City Planning (Twitter @parents4TCP, facebook.com/Parents4TCP). Other concerns express have been that this height is far above the current zoned height of four storeys, and that this exception will create a domino effect for the whole area, with greater heights and densities, and all the ramifications of that. There has also been extensive media coverage, much of which you can find by web search for “social housing” and “Arbutus.”

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As the deadlines approach for public input into the Arbutus and 8th BC Housing project, we see our greatest current opportunity now to encourage you to provide your input directly to their online surveys, at both BC Housing (deadline March 31, 2021) and with the City of Vancouver (deadline March 31, 2021).
As you formulate your response, we hope these messages can help you develop your response. Our collective voices (including the voices of our children) need to be heard.

  • The proposal excludes the most vulnerable of the homeless; single mothers (and fathers) with children and families. Homeless women, in particular Indigenous women, in Vancouver are facing high levels of violence and addictions. The site should include a daycare, a diversity of home sizes and a minimum of 10% of accessible units. Our quiet family-oriented community with toddler park, preschool, elementary school and neighbourhood house presents an opportunity for respite, support & integration.
  • If this proceeds as planned, a women’s shelter within 1 block of the site is threatened.
  • The site includes space for injection & has no set plan for security or services to support the complexity of needs.
  • The building does not fit into the community. BC Housing is applying for CD-1 (downtown) zoning for a 12-storey building. The site is currently zoned RM-4, 3-4 storeys.
  • The safety of our elders and 1,700+ school children in the immediate community is our primary concern. Increased density, traffic, and imminent transit terminus will make access challenging for emergency responders. VPD responded to 729 calls in the first 16 months to a Vancouver site similar in size and composition of tenants.
  • The proposed removes a daycare, green space and the sun from a toddler park.
  • The Kitsilano community has not been properly consulted. BC Housing proceeded with planning BEFORE consulting key neighbourhood stakeholders and only offering 36 spots for neighbourhood consultation out of the 43,000 + residents. They have muted and kicked participants off of Zoom consultation sessions. The proposal and process lacks transparency.
  • BC Housing offers no successful comparable example of a well-managed and restorative site of this scale within a similar community character just 17.8 m from a toddler playground , preschool and elementary school.
  • Any application for rezoning of the property should NOT go forward until the neighbourhood has been properly consulted.  The BC Housing proposal, as currently designed, should not proceed to rezoning. BC Housing’s two-week public input period is not consistent with good public consultation practice and should not be accepted as adequate consultation.   The short duration runs counter to BC Housing’s advice that enough time is allocated for public engagement well in advance of such projects.
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‘Broadway Plan’ survey ends Mar 31 (Wed): Many more issues and concerns in planning department’s proposals

Above: The Front cover of the Broadway Plan Phase 2 Emerging Direction booklet. Credit: CoV.

As we have reported, in connection with the Broadway Subway project, the City is engaged in a process to develop the “Broadway Plan” for a large section along Broadway shown in this map, from Clark to Vine (east to west) and 1st to 16th Avenues (north to south).

But people should not underestimate the importance of this plan. If discussions become more concrete about the Broadway Subway eventually extending to UBC, the much of the content of this Broadway Plan being proposed by the City’s planners could also be extended west of Arbutus to UBC, covering all of Kitsilano and West Point Grey. Broadway Plan outcomes may also be extended citywide through the “Vancouver Plan” currently under consultation. So this survey is very relevant to all areas in this map below, and for the entire city.

The Emerging Directions (Phase 2) Survey, closes on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

Don’t miss this opportunity to tell planners and City Council what you think. The City’s official webpage is at Emerging Directions (https://shapeyourcity.ca/broadway-plan) and the survey link is on that page.

A few days ago we looked at the City’s proposed Broadway Plan’s threats to heritage and character housing and existing rentals in middle-density RT-zone neighbourhoods in Mount Pleasant Kitsilano.

Below we bring attention to points that have been raised overall about the plans being proposed by the City’s planning department.

Map: Area covered under the Broadway Plan. Credit: COV

Before starting the survey, it is wise to have a look at the main web page, particularly at these presentations below, and especially at the items that interest you. The survey gives you options to comment on nearly every aspect of the Emerging Directions report, which could be quite time consuming, but you can also choose to comment on specific topics and areas within the plan.

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