November 27, 2017

Will the new Housing Vancouver Strategy Improve Affordability?

This month, the City of Vancouver released its proposed Housing Vancouver Strategy (2018 – 2027), made in response to the previous strategy’s inability to address the worsening housing crisis. A public hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday, November 29th.
The plan includes for the construction of 72,000 homes − an increase of 25% to Vancouver’s current housing stock over 10 years; by comparison the 2012 plan aimed for an increase of 14% to the stock over 10 years. Further, the new plan has increased its target for social and supportive housing units by 50% over the old plan.
To put both sets of numbers in perspective, consider that in 2012 the total rental stock in Metro Vancouver was 37% of all housing stock, and the new plan will decrease that number to roughly 35% by 2027*, assuming the other cities in the metro area maintain their average contributions over the last 5 years.
At face value, the quantity of new units appears to be ambitious, but will this reduce (or reverse?) the effects of the housing crisis – and if so, for how long? The homeless rate has grown by 47% since 2011, only one year before the inception of the previous plan. Will doubling the number of new affordable units be enough?“More supply” is the tired trope of the development industry; are housing units the metric of success we should be measuring? “The source of the housing crisis is embedded in the commodification of property, and therefore some more direct targets might include:

  • Decreasing the number of for-profit housing units as a percentage of the overall stock (in effect, saturating the market with affordable housing units thus reducing speculation)
  • Specific methods to capture the monetary windfall gained from upzoning a property. The strategy currently outlines the use of community amenity contributions to this effect, a process which can increase the value of adjacent properties and inadvertently cause gentrification (City of Vancouver staff will bring back a policy report in early 2018 to advise on different approaches to stabilize land values)

There are three ways to sign up to speak at council on Wednesday, Nov. 29: by filling out this form, by emailing speaker.request@vancouver.ca, OR by calling 604-829-4323. You will receive a confirmation from the city with more information. Sign up before Tuesday, Nov 28 @ 9:30 a.m. to get on the list.
To the readers of Price Tags, I am looking for the following data to create a more robust analysis:

    • A tally of property owned by not-for-profit interests versus private interests by year
    • A tally of rental stock versus total housing stock by year

(*) These numbers were calculated based on the Metro Vancouver Housing Data Book.

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As reported by Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail and as posted on the City of Vancouver website the City is finally developing a ten-year strategy to create thousands of new rental units in the city and to ensure these units are scaled to income with the hope of providing accommodation and lowering speculative building. You can view the report  here which also  includes four separate accompanying indexes. Yes we are also a year away from the next municipal election in Vancouver, one that could be challenging for the current council as housing affordability, accessibility and homelessness have increased to alarming levels.
As Ms. Bula observes “Ultimately, city planners say they want to see 72,000 new units of housing built in Vancouver in the next 10 years, but in specific categories.They have set targets of 24,000 purpose-built rentals, 12,000 social-housing or co-op units and 36,000 ownership units, which would include coach houses as well as condos. It is expected that about 12,000 of those purchased units would end up being rented out. About half the units in the plan are geared to households with less than $80,000 a year in income.”
Some of the concepts have already been debated including incentivizing development potential if 20 per cent of units in a building are accessible to citizens making low incomes. And there’s a proposal to permit homeowners in single family areas to build infill houses and add up to two units in older homes built over 75 years ago.
New ideas include constricting development speculation and demand by spelling out rental and subsidized housing requirements in areas with new neighbourhood plans.  With the achievable market units already clearly outlined, developers “will be less likely to pay exorbitant amounts of money for land – something that happened in recent years along the Cambie corridor after it was rezoned for apartments to create density along the Canada Line.”  Areas where this strategy will be implemented include the Broadway corridor and the three SkyTrain station precincts.
The City will change regulations to allow more than five people living in a house that are unrelated, and will create a “tenant-protection” manager at the City who will ensure that tenants are not evicted for renovations if those permits are not actually in place. This ten-year strategy is a game changer for the City of Vancouver which has been criticized for slow response on these important issues. The report is scheduled to go to Council next Tuesday the   28th of November. Staff has indicated that the actions contained in the report will be immediately acted upon if the report is approved on Tuesday.


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