[Update: The Public Hearing has recessed and will reconvene on April 20, 2021, at 6 pm to hear from remaining speakers] The fourth and final item at the Public Hearing on April15th seeks area-wide changes to some of the apartment zones in Vancouver that currently provide a large stock of mature housing. The RM-3A and RM-4/4N zones can be found in Kitsilano, Fairview, Mount Pleasant, Grandview-Woodland and in the southern part of Marpole. City staff seek to allow an outright height of 65 feet (19.9m) with a Floor Space Ratio of 2.5 for any development proposal that meets the city’s current definition of 100% social housing (see our Update on Vancouver’s bizarre definition of ‘social housing’). In other words, such proposals could then be approved behind closed doors by the City’s Director of Planning (currently acting director Theresa O’Donnell) or by the Development Permit Board. Thus they seek to expedite such projects by not requiring approval by City Council at a Public Hearing. There would then be no accountability by City Council.
It’s worth noting that there can be many unintended consequences of these proposed changes. The staff report is looking at making it easier for existing operators of low-cost housing to redevelop their existing sites. There is quite a bit of housing in 3 and 4-storey forms in these zones. A fair chunk of the housing was built in the time span between 1990 and 1970, as noted by staff. The changes could essentially end up targeting existing affordable rental units, some with long-term tenants who have lived under rent control protections for many years. The City’s twisted definition of ‘social housing’ means that only 30% of the units must have some level of affordability (below market, see the footnotes on page 8 of the staff report for more details). Thus market rents for parts of new developments are on the table. New apartments always hit the market far above the price of existing units.
Demovictions and displacement of existing residents would most certainly take place with redevelopments, and there’s no guarantee that there would be a net increase in the number of true social housing units (or even a net increase in below market units and in affordable rental rates). The negatives of the proposed changes may far outweigh the positives.
While there might be a desire to expedite and build only 100% shelter rate housing, this specific targeted change is not being met by the proposed changes. Related to the proposed change in density to 2.5 FSR, it’s worth noting that this FSR can be achieved in 4-storeys. It’s seen in C-2 zones (with a usual FSR of 2.5 and a height of 45 feet). 6-storeys at 2.5 FSR is essentially giving extra ‘height lift’ for more expensive rental units. The additional heights being proposed would also provide a new starting point for city/developer negotiations in a rezoning process.
While the staff report repeatedly states 6-storeys for the building height, there is no such language in the draft zoning bylaws. Instead 65 feet or 19.9 metres is the stated height. It’s quite possible to build 7-storeys in a 65 foot height (floor heights of 9.28ft, or perhaps 11 ft for 1st storey and 9ft for floors 2 to 7). There are 4-storey buildings in the current 35 ft. height limit of the RM-3A and RM-4 zones, so it’s possible to squeeze in extra floors. The draft bylaws give a lot of latitude for relaxations of setbacks as well as a host of other relaxations for buildings meeting the City’s definition of the so-called 100% ‘social housing’.
We would strongly like see a review of this document by independent professionals who have no interest in the proposed changes in policy. Residents in the RM-4/4N and RM-3A zones were not given notification of the proposed changes to these zones. City staff are using their assumptions for the Housing Vancouver Strategy. To date, staff have not released the data that was promised for the end of July 2020, so it’s unclear what the real foundations are for the Housing Vancouver Strategy.
In our previous Council preview summary, we’ve made the following observations (reproduced for reference):
The final item is of particular interest, as this would be an area-wide rezoning for large sections of apartments zones in Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant, Fairview, Grandview-Woodland and Marpole (in RM-4 and RM-3A). Some of the most affordable existing rentals in the City can already be found here. Planning staff are proposing to change the outright zoning in these areas to 6-storeys and 2.5 FSR for development applications that meet the City’s unconventional definition of ‘social housing’ which can mean the whole building gets the developer incentives of being considered ‘social housing’ even though 70% of the units are actually market-priced (i.e., expensive) rental (with the remainder below market). The staff report notes that much of the affordable housing was built between 1970 and 1990. They are looking at incentivizing the redevelopment of housing in the 30-50 year range, which would have environmental impacts from sending perfectly serviceable mature housing stock to the landfill. If approved, this could potentially result in waves of demovictions (with 70% market rental units being too expensive for current renters, and in cases, the new supposedly ‘affordable’ housing would actually be more expensive than what is being paid by current tenants who have rent control over long-terms). While it is possible to build 2.5 FSR in 4-storeys (as done in C-2 zones), city staff are proposing 6-storeys. The extra 2-storeys can give additional ‘height lift’ so developers can have more expensive market rentals (compared to the current 4-storey form currently allowed). As well, these proposed changes would set a new baseline to start a rezoning process from (that is, to go from 6-storeys / 2.5 FSR to perhaps 9-storeys / 4.05 FSR) as developers and City staff work together to ratchet things up. Parts of the City’s Grandview-Woodland Community Plan would be overwritten by these proposed changes. Essentially no public consultation went into producing the staff report and the changes they are recommending. Planning staff could have, but are not, proposing making the changes only for buildings that are 100% social housing at shelter rate.