Tim Louis: City needs to look at Beach Towers redevelopment with affordability lens

The proposed infill redevelopment in the West End, at Beach Avenue and Harwood Street, is another example of Vision Vancouver’s approach, which provides incentives and benefits to developers without ensuring affordability for tenants.

The city is promising incentives to the developer, but is not asking for any affordability requirements in return. As a result, the new housing will be too expensive for most Vancouverites. The owner has already admitted that they expect one bedroom apartments to rent at $1,400 to $2,600 per month. As renters will know, this is at the higher end of the market, far exceeding average rents in the West End (which are $1,179 for a one bedroom, according to the city’s own numbers).

Meanwhile, the owner, Devonshire Properties, receives gifts from the city. They get their land rezoned, increasing the amount of developable land. This is like giving the developer “free land”—an extremely valuable thing in Vancouver!

Normally the city recoups this land value increase, but in this case the city calculated the value of 133 units’ worth of new land as being less than $300,000, an unbelievably small amount. This estimate is based on the developer’s own calculations and expected profit rate (pro-forma), none of which has been made public. The city justifies their underestimate by saying that Devonshire properties will eat up costs associated with renting the new housing, but as we’ve seen these are market rents, for which there are no “costs”. The city’s calculations haven’t been made public either. That’s pro-developer mathematics.

A progressive city hall would publicize the developer’s pro-forma, including expected profits, as well as the city’s own calculations on land value increases. Transparency and accountability around rezonings is particularly important in a context where half of the campaign contributions to Vision Vancouver and the NPA come from property development corporations.

A progressive city hall also wouldn’t give free land to corporations without ensuring affordability requirements. In exchange for free land or tax breaks, at the very least rents should be fixed to the established definition of affordability, calculated as 30 percent of income.

For example, the city admits that the average annual income of renter households in Vancouver is $34,000, making affordable rent—according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation definition—less than $1,000 per month. So it makes sense to impose a requirement for the average new unit at Beach Towers to be $1,000 per month. In addition, the city could ensure that there are subsidized units for low-income tenants. COPE’s recent housing affordability report calls for one-third of units in new developments to be low-income.

The city will surely tell us that infill is good, but infill is better if it’s truly affordable. They’ll also say that rental is good, but rental is better only if it’s affordable. At COPE, we will continue to ask the questions: Density for what? Affordability for whom? We need a city hall that looks at housing with with an affordability lens, which will not happen so long as parties funded by property development corporations continue to run city hall.

Comments (12) Add New Comment
KD
I notice that the report that is being presented to Council also doesn't mention that the vacancy sign has been up at Beach Towers consistently for over 2 years - it makes me wonder how desperate Vancouverites are for even more rentals in this particular development?
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Jiff
Was this edited from its original version?
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PendrellSt
Tim Louis is bang on. The West End is already full of rentals, you can see "for rent"signs everywhere. The problem is that they are too expensive. Isn’t constructing luxury buildings on the waterfront an absurd way to attempt to lower rents? That will just push up rents the same way luxury condos in Coal Harbour did by turning the West End into an exclusive high end neighbourhood. Vision's goal of increasing the number of rentals is admirable, but it's time they admitted that their approach is flawed and STIR was a mistake. Why not just try some common sense for a change? Find a lower cost piece of land and build something humble (but safe and liveable) that regular folks can afford? Perhaps Vision ought to spend less time brainstorming with developers and more time brainstorming with regular citizens (instead of just calling them NIMBY's all the time).
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Martin Dunphy
Jiff:

Meaning?
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Jiff
Martin:

It is likely pre-dementia on my part, but I could have sworn when I first read it that there was a part in there along the lines of, "there is nothing in place to stop the developers from eventually turning unrented units into condos."
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Jiff
Mystery solved. The (paraphrased) statement I imagined was actually in the comments section of the prior Beach Towers article:

http://www.straight.com/news/347426/beach-towers-rezoning-application-ra...

Pardon my dementia.

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cuz
When Tim Louis owns the building, then Tim Louis can do what he wants with it. In the mean time he should butt out.
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pradeep raj takhar
I commend Tim to leave no stone turned to make am ethos ..time sensitive and glaring inconsistency on part of both vision & npa ..still unable to represent moderate residents & citizenry..shut out of attaining suites on that healthy coastline commune.Mr.Louis is kind not to mention the havoc the landlords have created by heavy handedness..that to seek tenancy logjam..redress...greener Burnaby tenancy office..arbitration is another..UrBan
engrossed..binds in developers ..pun Dos capital ..appraised free enterprises..novelty Ordinary mass in greater Vancouver suburban sprawling..innate..ehh
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pradeep raj takhar
Civil Canada equals affordable housing for all.not blame it on indo Chinese investors...on one aspect..but do nothing for the crux of the same revolving problems...over n over again like developed politicians who rake it rake it first past the same landlorded lol..Fucken can Posts..say toasts..!
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commercial drive guy
It is laughable that Tim Louis talks about affordable housing when he owns a million dollar home on the west side of the city. By the way Tim, when you were a City Councillor your party (COPE) took money from developers.... does that make you like the NPA?
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Martin Dunphy
commercial:

A leaking stucco box in your neighbourhood is worth a million. A million-dollar home on the West Side is a dump.
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Connie Hubbs
I heard someone comment the other day that the Vision Council was starting to use the expression market housing to mean affordable housing. They are not the same in Vancouver! I am glad to see more rental stock in our city but who exactly is served here? I am not sure that this development does anything to solve our housing crisis.
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