Vancouver city council increases “for-profit affordable rental housing” incentives

by Carlito Pablo for the Georgia Straight

If only it wasn’t touted as affordable.

Vancouver councillor Adriane Carr wrestled with this problem when she considered her vote on a move to provide developers incentives to build three-bedroom rentals.

That has been the Green politician’s problem overall with the city’s Rental 100 program, which until a vote today (May 27) provided builders rewards for putting up studio-, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom rental units.

They’re called “for-profit affordable rental housing”, and Carr doesn’t think they are. She said she would vote yes if only the word affordable was taken out.

In the end, Carr voted against the new incentives, as did Non-Partisan Association councillors George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball, and Melissa De Genova.

“We are producing rental housing. There’s a value in producing rental housing,” Carr said in council chambers. “But what I don’t want is when we report out that we’re achieving so much affordable housing. Yet it isn’t affordable to the vast majority of people.”

Under the scheme recommended by staff, averaged monthly rents for three-bedroom units in projects that would qualify for exemptions from development cost levies (DCL) are $2,338 on the east side of the city, and $2,572 on the west side.

For smaller rentals, the qualifying rental rates for DCL exemptions are studio, $1,242 (east side), $1,366, west side; one bedroom, $1,561 (east side), $1,717 (west side); and two bedrooms, $1,972 (east side), $2,169 (west side).

Vision councillor Raymond Louie maintained that the creation of new rentals will meet some of the demand in the market.

“There will be more supply,” Louie said in council chambers.

Louie also reminded opposition councillors that senior levels of government had in the past provided incentives like tax breaks and loan programs to encourage the creation of a range of housing options.

“It’s easy to say ‘no’. It’s easy to point to perhaps some minute challenges with a program,” Louie said. “But ultimately, this program, this allowance, will build more units. They will give families a chance to live in our city.”

Louie’s Vision colleague Kerry Jang pointed out the new rentals being produced under the program are in fact more affordable than others.

Jang cited the two rezoning applications considered by council on Tuesday (May 26).

One was for 5648-5678 Victoria Drive, a mixed-use project with 48 ‘secured for-profit affordable rental housing units’.

According to a staff report, the applicant’s estimates of rents of $809 for a studio, $1,191 for a one-bedroom, and $1,603 for a two-bedroom are lower compared to “average rents in newer buildings in East Vancouver”.

The other application was for 3819 Boundary Road with 23 rental units. A staff report about this development noted that the initial rents will be $950 for a studio, $1,050 for a one-bedroom, and $1,450 for a two-bedroom.

“When compared to average rents in newer buildings in East Vancouver, the proposed rents are lower,” staff reported. “When compared to home ownership costs, the proposed rents in this application will provide an affordable alternative to home ownership, particularly for the larger units.”

During council’s deliberation about new incentives for developers of three-bedroom rentals, Jang claimed that the Rental 100 program appears to be turning the tide in favour of tenants looking for more affordable places.

Jang also dismissed criticisms as a “deliberate undermining of a very successful program”.

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