City’s DODP amendments will redefine “social housing,” hurt low-income people, give developers carte blanche, eliminate public role: Public Hearing March 24 (Tues)

DODP amendments alert for hearing 24-Mar-2015ALERT: Of all the things CityHallWatch has covered since 2010, this topic ranks among the highest priorities for immediate public attention and action: “Proposed Amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan…”

We urge readers to take notice, attend the open house on March 19 (Thurs) and Public Hearing on March 24 (Tues), communicate to Mayor and Council, and be prepared for more action. Details are below.

Do not be deceived. The implications are huge and citywide. In a scathing B.C. Supreme Court ruling (CANY v City of Vancouver) the Court overturned a City of Vancouver rezoning and development permit downtown and ordered a new public hearing. The judgement sent shockwaves through the industry. This Court action has required enormous sacrifice and community resources to force the City to disclose information, and to do the right thing. The public hoped the City would respond to the Court judgement in good faith, but instead, it has prepared cynical, deceptive changes that could be very harmful for the people and neighbourhoods of Vancouver.

More reading:

Considerable time and effort is required to sift through and grasp the impacts of the documents for the Public Hearing on March 24 (agenda/docs here). The City staff report to Council on March 3, 2015 has the long-winded title “Proposed Amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP) including new housing definitions applicable to all areas within the DODP and including amendments to implement the West End and Downtown Eastside plans.” It is nearly 14,000 words long. The draft bylaw text is nearly 1,200 words. The staff summary report is 400 words. Soothing language pervades (for example, “changes include but are not limited to…” “updated definitions” “a few minor additional amendments that provide greater clarity on process and intent of the plans…” “The DTES and West End Plans will not be affected and are not being reviewed by Council through this process…”). Wade through all that and you might get dizzy.

But in layperson’s terms, here are the main points: The City of Vancouver is engaged in deceptive actions that will put vulnerable people at even greater disadvantage, give developers even greater profits, and remove major development decisions from public scrutiny and influence.

City Hall's legal services costs are skyrocketing. How much of this increase is to defend City Hall against lawsuits from Vancouver neighbourhood groups and citizens?

City Hall’s legal services costs are skyrocketing. How much of this increase is to defend City Hall against numerous lawsuits from Vancouver neighbourhood groups and citizens?

Justice McEwan ordered that Public Hearings must have procedural fairness and ordered a new Public Hearing for 1099 Richards & 508 Helmcken. A normal person would expect the City to improve its behaviour and processes relating to Public Hearings. Instead, what Mayor Robertson and his Council is trying to do is completely remove major future development decisions from the Public Hearing process. This has already been one outcome of the West End Community Plan (see “19-storey tower proposed at Davie & Jervis,” WEN, 15-Feb-2015 — the approval was up to the DPB, with no rezoning, no public hearing. Or remember the Arbutus Ridge community battle with the DPB in 2012? Guess who lost. The community. A huge neighbourhood mobilization effort was ignored.). This approach of giving more power to the DPB removes some of the last tools available to the public to challenge the actions of City Hall. This is a terrible precedent for all of Canada.

Major decisions will be left to the Development Permit Board (see our analysis of the DPB here), a small internal body consisting of four City Hall employees who are not directly accountable to the public, not required to explain their decisions, and have no meaningful appeals process. Look at the precedents being proposed. The proposed changes will have serious negative ripple effects citywide.

The proposed amendments should be rejected. Back to the drawing board.

Public Open House
Thursday, March 19, 2015 (drop-in format 4 pm to 7 pm)
Vancouver Public Library downtown (350 West Georgia St.)
Public Hearing Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Vancouver City Hall, starting 6 pm (this is Agenda item #3, so start time unspecified)
Provide comments on the City’s online feedback form (
And by emailing City Council (

While the Open House on March 19 is targeted specifically for Downtown residents, the issue is of concern to residents citywideIn the Downtown area in particular, City is proposing massive changes to the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP). These changes, if approved, will remove limits to how big a tower can get built there.


The City is trying to sidestep the recent BC Supreme Court ruling requiring public participation and a fair process. These changes to the DODP, if approved, will allow developments like those recently struck down in New Yaletown to suddenly proceed without any public hearings or public participation.

These changes include:

  • Massive increases in the size and density of buildings allowed downtown.
  • Creating a new “definition” of Social Housing that specifically excludes low income earners.
  • Creating massive loopholes from zoning restrictions for buildings that have just “some” Social Housing.
  • Creating a new “secured market rental” category that allows developers to double the size of their buildings.
  • Granting “automatic” density bonuses without prior approval by City Council, with no public input.

Under the new definition of Social Housing, if just one-third of a building consists of tiny units rented at $850 a month, density limits are removed. The public is given no opportunity to comment on whether, or where, the building gets built. Worse, these new “social housing” units remain out of reach for truly low income people who can’t afford $850 a month for rent.

Developers get unlimited density. Neighbourhoods get destroyed by massive towers. Low income people lose out completely.

Downtown Eastside activist Jean Swanson wrote in a message to community activists, “The city is proposing a bunch of changes to its Downtown official development plan.  This is mostly outside of the DTES so I wouldn’t normally be interested in it, but at least one change, the definition of social housing,  is so outrageous and is promoted is such an Orwellian manner, that I can’t help thinking we should oppose it.
Compare the proposed new “social housing” definition carefully with the definition to the city definition of “for profit affordable rental housing” (as exposed in the West End Neighbours v City of Vancouver, B.C. Supreme Court case). This is simply small-sized market rate rental housing. The two definitions are almost identical. Basically, anything can be considered social housing. This means developers will get (1) bonus densities from the Development Permit Board, and (2)  a waiver of Development Cost Levies for simply providing small-sized rental units at the best market rates they can get, under the guise that it is “social housing.”
Look at projects approved under STIR and Rental 100 (“for profit affordable housing”) which the court expressly held was simply market rate rental housing. Figures are identical to what the City is trying to define now as social housing/low end of market on the Brenhill development at 1099 Richards.

“Social housing” is proposed to mean nothing but market-rate rental of tiny units. See the January 13, 2014 Staff report re 1412-1424 East 41st avenue. The developer received a waiver of DCLS for “for profit affordable rental housing.” Proposed rents for a “studio” were $850 (proposed unit size 338 square feet) and for a one-bedroom $1,200 (530 square feet). The Brenhill project at 1099 Richards proposed 34 studios and 41 one-bedroom units at “average rents” of $1,142.
The City must put some resources into dealing with this topoic: Airbnb and similar online room sharing services, and the City’s incentives to developers to create social housing and rental units.
Note CityHallWatch‘s previous coverage about how buildings approved with huge incentives for developers under STIR and Rental 100 policies are being rented out by Airbnb users, in violation of regulations. The public should question how the City will be monitoring to ensure that this can no longer go undetected for the full duration of the sixty-year agreements with the developer. “Is City permitting STIR & Rental 100 developer incentives to be exploited by Airbnb users at $240/night?” (CityHallWatch, March 2015)
The issue is not just with Airbnb but also more — 9flats, Alterkeys, BeWelcome, CouchSurfing, Flat-Club, HomeAway, Hospitality Club, Hospitality service, Pasporta Servo, Roomorama, Servas Open Doors,, Travelmob, Tripping, Vacation Rentals By Owner, Wimdu, and more that are likely to appear in the next sixty years.
The process by which the city is advancing the amendments is flawed and unfair. No consultation with the community has taken place in advance of City staff making the recommended amendments.
The City of Vancouver’s General Manager of Planning and Development, Brian Jackson said this:

“We want to make sure that these people understand we are changing the definitions. We want everybody to be able to provide comment.”

The above approach runs directly counter to the scathing ruling by Justice MacEwan in the CANY v CoV case: “A public hearing is not just an occasion for the public to blow off steam.”

In its report to council, city staff plan to replace a requirement for low income housing with a definition of social housing that will completely exclude low income people.

The report trashes their  definition of “low cost housing” because it is “outdated” and defines who the homes will be designed for (i.e., for persons receiving War Veterans Allowance, Canadian Pension Commission Disability Pension, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Spouses Allowance or income from Guaranteed Annual Income for Need).  Staff don’t like it because, they say, “it is a term which is infrequently used…nowadays.”  The proposed new definition, they claim, is “updated” and reflects “modern day practice.”  However, the report neglects to say that the new definition, one third of units at HILS ($850 for a bachelor) completely excludes all the people listed in the low income definition who can’t afford $850 a month for rent.  If it were really a matter of dealing with out-datedness, the city could simply amend the low income definition changing Guaranteed Available Income for Need to social assistance.

In other words, a policy that used to help low income people won’t help them any more.  The city is completely abandoning low income people with this new definition.  The city’s 2009 social indicators report, page 71, says 26.6% of city residents have low incomes.

This is especially bad, given that federal and provincial governments are also abandoning low income people’s housing needs.

So, if you want to protest, there is an open house on the 19 and a public hearing on the 24th, details below:

 It would be easy to change the low income definition to “update” it by changing Guaranteed Annual Income for Need to social assistance. 

What the staff report says:
“Social Housing” Prior to the amendments associated with the Downtown Eastside Plan and West End Plan, the DODP included an outdated definition of social housing and a dated definition for “low cost housing”. The term “low cost housing” dates back 20 years (1995) and identifies who the homes will be “designed” for (i.e. for persons receiving War Veterans Allowance, Canadian Pension Commission Disability Pension, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Spouses Allowance or income from Guaranteed Annual Income for Need). It is a term which is infrequently used in the affordable housing sector nowadays and the low-cost definition also omits the requirement for the use of housing agreements to secure the homes for the long-term, or the requirements related to who owns or operates the units, nor what the affordability requirements should be for tenants. The DODP amendments that relate to Victory Square include deleting the definition of “low cost housing” and updating the definition of social housing. The proposed new definition of “social housing” has been drafted to reflect modern day practice and to align with other bylaws enabling and supporting social housing across the city. The proposed definition incorporates provisions to ensure that social housing is provided to those persons who are most in need (at least 30% of social housing at Household Income Levels as defined by BC Housing), that the housing is operated by those persons who are most experienced (non-profit or government agency) and that the units are secured over the long term (by Housing Agreement, 219 covenant or other security).



More questions (excerpts) for staff and City Council regarding the documents, thanks to a citizen’s analysis …

The proposed definition of “social housing” has been “drafted to reflect modern day practice” (p.7).  Modern day practice according to whom?  How widespread or common is this usage?  Is a similar definition commonly accepted in other jurisdictions?
2.       What safeguards are in place to ensure “secured market rental housing” contributes to housing affordability?  The secured market rental units are eligible for large density bonuses (i.e. up to 100% density bonus, Appendix B, p. 17, Section 3 (4)).  What prevents these units from becoming luxury rentals at exorbitant rates (see, for example, the $300,000 per month apartment in New York:
3.       What does “rental housing” mean in the definition of social housing (Appendix B, p. 6)?  
“Social Housing” means rental housing:
(a) in which at least 30% of the dwelling units are occupied by households with incomes below the housing income limits, as set out in the current “Housing Income Limits” table published by the British Columbia Housing Management Commission, or equivalent publication…
(underline added).  Does “rental housing” refer to dwelling units in a single building?  Could this apply to dwelling units in a group of buildings on one site?  Dwelling units in a group of buildings on different sites?  The language is imprecise – what prevents a developer, the City, or the DPB from warping the interpretation?
4.   Further to the above, does the distinction “social housing” apply to the entire building (or development or site), to all of the dwelling units, or only to the 30% or more of dwelling units that satisfy the housing income limits and other conditions?
5.   Section 3(1) uses different terminology for different areas of downtown in outlining maximum density.  In some areas it says the maximum FSR shall be ___, in others it refers to the maximum FSR for new construction or a building, for regions L1 (New Yaletown) and M it refers to the maximum FSR for a site.  What differentiates a “site” from a “building” from an unspecified entity?  Why is this distinction used?  Is it necessary?  Can a site include multiple buildings?
6.   Section 3(4) also uses the term “site” – what does this mean?  Section 3(4) describes the DPB’s ability to increase FSR beyond the automatic bonuses for some regions of downtown (‘G’, ‘K1’, ‘K2’, ‘K3’, ‘L1’, ‘L2’, ‘M’, ‘N’, and ‘O’), but again refers to a “site.”  Again, how is a “site” different from a building?  Could 1099 and 508 combined be considered a “site” due to the integrated nature of the two developments?  What about two adjacent properties?  
7.    Section 3(13) uses the term “development” instead of “site” – what is the distinction?  Section 3(13) describes the DPB’s ability to increase floor area for a development in some regions of downtown (other than ‘K1’, ‘K2’, ‘K3’).  Why does Section 3(4) refer to a “site” and section 3(13) refer to a “development?”  What is different?
8.    Why in Section 3(4) is the Development Permit Board given the ability to increase FSR without explicitly considering public input? This should be changed to require public input be accepted and meaningfully incorporated into any decision.
Despite subsections 1 and 3, the density of residential use must not exceed a floor space ratio of 3.00, except:
a.      in the areas denoted by the letters ‘G’, ‘K1’, ‘K2’, ‘K3’, ‘L1’, ‘L2’, ‘M’, ‘N’, and ‘O’ on Map 1; and
b.      in the area denoted by the letter ‘C2’ on Map 1, if social housing comprises a minimum of two-thirds of the floor space ratio or if secured market rental housing comprises all of the residential units, on a site with a maximum frontage of 23 m, the Development Permit Board may permit an increase in density to a maximum floor space ratio of 6.00 if the Development Permit Board first considers:
                                                               i.      the intent of this official development plan,
                                                             ii.      the height, bulk and location of the building and its effect on the site, surrounding buildings and streets, existing views and general amenity of the area,
                                                            iii.      the liveability of the proposed residential units,
                                                           iv.      the retail continuity requirements in Section 2, and
                                                             v.      all applicable Council policies and guidelines.
9.       Further to Section 3(4) above, what levels of oversight or mechanisms are in place to ensure the Development Permit Board (an unelected body) acts in the best interests of the public and neighbourhoods?  The DPB is required to “consider” various factors; it is not clear that those considerations must be incorporated into decisions.  If the public feels the Development Permit Board has failed to properly consider factors, what is the recourse?  Another lawsuit? Serious improvements are needed here to make the process more transparent, accessible, accountable, and democratic.
10.   In Section 3(13), the ability for the Development Permit Board to increase floor area for any development that includes social housing is essentially unlimited (Appendix B, p. 19):
Despite subsection 1 of this Section 3, for any development that includes social housing, other than in the areas marked “K1”, “K2”, and “K3” on Map 1, the Development Permit Board may increase the permitted floor area, except that: 
a.      the Development Permit Board shall consider:
                                                               i.      the advice of city staff and city officials responsible for housing and real estate,
                                                             ii.      the cost to the developer of providing the social housing,
                                                            iii.      the value of the increased floor area,
                                                           iv.      the value of any relaxation of other regulations,
                                                             v.      the impact on neighbourhood livability and environmental quality, and
                                                           vi.      all applicable Council policies and guidelines;
Why is there no maximum limit placed on floor area, such as percentage increase over the allowed floor area before bonusing, for example? This is a serious problem. Limits must be imposed, lest the City, Council, and staff be open to corrupt influences. 
11.   Why is public input not explicitly included the above list of considerations for increase in floor area (Section 3(13))? It should be added.

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