A must read regarding fundamental issues affecting Vancouver’s affordability crisis. This relates to the rezoning for 105 Keefer Street and 544 Columbia going to the Public Hearing slated for May 23, 2017. See the staff report there. Full page on the rezoning here. Incidentally two developments are proposed nearby: 129 Keefer (DE420078) and 137 Keefer (DP-2017-00379, going to the Development Permit Board on May 29).
Opinion: How Vancouver city hall exacerbates the affordability crisis (opinion in Vancouver Sun, 13-May-2017)
For the original text please visit the Vancouver Sun.
- If you’d like to understand why the housing-affordability crisis continues in Vancouver, look no further than the recently posted City of Vancouver staff report in support of the rezoning of 105 Keefer/544 Columbia streets.
- On May 2, city council referred the rezoning application to public hearing. The hearing will be held May 23. The contentious rezoning application, originally submitted by the Beedie Group in 2014, is for a 12 storey, mixed-use building in the heart of Chinatown and includes 106 residential strata units. According to the staff report, the developer’s application “will support and advance the objectives of the Housing and Homeless Strategy” because it will also include “25 social-housing units.” The additional density achieved through the rezoning, states the report, will be the city’s “contribution” toward the creation of more social housing.
- But what is social housing in Vancouver? It’s not what you might think.
- In 2014, council changed the definition of “social housing” to mean rental housing where 30 per cent of the units are affordable to households with incomes below Housing Income Limits (HIL). According to B.C. Housing, HIL “represents the income required to pay the average market rent for an appropriately sized unit in the private market.” The 2016 HIL in Vancouver are $38,500 for bachelors, $42,500 for one-bedrooms and $52,000 for two-bedrooms.
- Where 30 per cent of the rental units are affordable to people with incomes below the HIL, the City of Vancouver considers 100 per cent of units to be “social housing.” In other words, social housing in Vancouver, by definition, now includes market rentals. Although the 91-page staff report doesn’t include proposed rents for the 25 units, the city’s report does state that “at least 30 per cent (eight) units will be geared to households within incomes below housing-income limits.” There is, however, no guarantee that rents for the remaining 17 social-housing units will have any measure of affordability. In fact, they could be expensive luxury rentals and still fall within the city’s definition of “social housing.”
- This is hardly a public benefit worth touting.
- In addition to not creating true social housing, the city is also shifting onto taxpayers a financial burden that should be borne by developers. This is because the Vancouver Charter and the city’s bylaws exempt developers from paying Development Cost Levies (DCLs) when the land will be used for social housing, as it’s defined by the city. DCLs are an important source of revenue and help pay for things like parks, infrastructure and child-care facilities. On this particular project the developer will be exempted from paying about $155, 570 in DCLs for providing market rentals. However, these various capital projects are still necessary to service the development. Where does the funding come from if not from the developer? You guessed it — taxpayers’ pockets.
- And the fact that the staff report says that these 25 units will ultimately be bought by B.C. Housing, a Crown corporation with the mandate of providing government-subsidized housing for residents of B.C., raises other important questions. The staff report contains no details of this planned purchase. What are the terms of the agreement? How much has B.C. Housing agreed to pay? And why is the developer being exempted from paying DCLs for market rental units that will ultimately be purchased by the provincial government?
- Vancouver’s housing crisis is a real issue. Anyone interested in better understanding the scope of the problem should read the city’s report in support of this rezoning application: http://council.vancouver.ca/20170502/documents/p3.pdf.
Nathalie Baker is a lawyer with the firm Stevens Virgin.