Green councillor Adriane Carr questions affordability of new rental units
Green councillor Adriane Carr wants to see more information about the affordability of new rental units created through the Short Term Incentives for Rental Program.
Carr will introduce a motion at the next city council meeting on February 26 to request that staff give a report within three months on the number of rental units built under the STIR program that were projected to rent at $975 a month.
The councillor noted that number was identified by city staff as the amount a single person in Vancouver can afford based on average income and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s definition of affordable housing as no more than 30 percent of household income.
“That prompted me to think well, we’ve had this program that taxpayers have supported, the STIR program, and now we have follow-up programs to it…we’d better make sure we’re very clear about what it achieved or not so that our current programs can achieve affordability, which is supposed to be the goal,” Carr told the Straight by phone.
“So I want to know how many of the rental units that we approved actually met the affordability criteria for the average Vancouverite, and if any are completed now, what are they running for now?”
The STIR program no longer exists–it has been replaced by the Secured Market Rental Housing Policy–but council has recently considered rezoning applications that came forward under the initiative, such as a 22-storey building at 1401 Comox Street. A public hearing on a proposed infill development at the Beach Towers complex near English Bay, another STIR project, concluded on Wednesday (February 20), and council is set to vote on that application next week.
The 1401 Comox Street proposal, which was approved in June 2012, was targeted at moderate income households, with rents ranging from $860 to $1,209 for a studio suite, $1,128 to $1,465 for a one-bedroom apartment, $1,611 to $1,988 for a two-bedroom, and $2,320 to $2,541 for a three-bedroom townhouse. City staff said the rental units were intended to provide “an affordable alternative to home ownership”.
But Carr questioned whether these kinds of rents meet the original aim of the STIR program.
“I have been upset in seeing Vision redefine affordability, including some statements that I’ve heard that all rental is affordable, and that’s completely wrong,” charged Carr.
“All rental is not affordable. And if we keep approving rental housing that’s aiming at the upper income levels, even if it’s upper middle income levels, and leave the majority still unable to pay for their housing, I don’t think we’re achieving the objective of any affordable housing program in the city.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang refuted Carr’s claim that the definition of affordability has been redefined.
“There’s a range of rental housing we need to build, not just at $975, but also higher,” he told the Straight by phone. “And so there’s no redefinition here. I think it’s a fundamental understanding that we need to build a range of housing, which has been the policy of this council long before she came.”
The councillor said the STIR program was intended as a measure to “kickstart the economy”.
“It was started when there was no construction at all,” Jang stated. “So we were trying to get a way to get the economy back on track, and we aimed at affordability, but we also recognized that affordability meant different things to different people. At the end of the day, it’s increased new rental stock.”
The motion will go before council on February 26. Council will vote on the Beach Towers proposal the same day.