"Thin streets" pilot projects among recommendations stemming from Vancouver housing task force
"Thin streets" pilot projects, a city housing authority and zoning changes near transit corridors are among the priority actions recommended in a report going before city council next week.
Based on the final report from the Mayor's Task Force on Housing Affordability, which was released today (September 26), staff are recommending the implementation of an interim rezoning policy as the first action. The policy would establish a "transition zone" in some areas to enable housing types such as duplexes, row houses and stacked townhouses between higher-density arterial streets and single family areas.
“I would expect it would be on anywhere you would have a major bus route—streets like Main, Fraser, Dunbar, Hastings,” explained deputy city manager David McLellan in an interview.
Olga Ilich, who co-chaired the housing affordability task force with Mayor Gregor Robertson, said the city needs a process specifically for townhouses and similar-sized developments.
"If you take a look at the housing stock of Vancouver right now, there’s not a lot of townhouses—so there will have to be some zones where you can start to bring that in," Ilich told the Straight by phone.
"They have a zone for high-rises, they have a zone for apartments, they have a zone for single family, but they don’t really have a bylaw that says this is what a townhouse would look like."
Staff are recommending that the “thin streets” concept, which was the winner in the city’s re: think housing competition, be launched as part of three community plans currently underway in Grandview-Woodlands, Marpole, and the West End, according to McLellan.
“We think that through those exercises we’ll be able to identify some locations for landing these in at least the pilot sense,” he said.
The model, which was proposed by Christina Demarco, Ted Sebastian, and Charles Dobson, would divide some under-utilized streets into equal parts to create narrower right-of-ways and two new residential lots per block.
Another recommendation made by the task force is the revision of council’s inclusionary housing policy, which requires 20 percent of units in large developments to be comprised of social housing.
The staff report states that when sufficient funding to achieve 20 percent of units as social housing is not available “in a timely way,” other options will be considered to achieve a minimum of 20 percent of units as affordable housing, such as market rental that is privately run, or owned and operated by a non-profit provider.
“To get true social housing usually takes a substantial equity investment, and normally we used to get that from people like the province, and their programs are pretty tightly focused and not as generous as they used to be,” said McLellan.
The recommendations in the report are targeted at Vancouver residents with moderate incomes, ranging from $21,500 to a single or dual income of $86,500 a year. In the introduction to their final report, Ilich and Robertson noted that households at the lowest end of the income range were not the main focus of the recommendations.
“…the City, along with other non-profit and government partners, is already strongly committed to action in this area through recommendations adopted by Council in its Housing and Homelessness Strategy,” the co-chairs wrote.
The Coalition of Progressive Electors and the Vancouver Renters’ Union both raised concerns about that targeted income range, and about the proposed inclusionary zoning changes.
Nathan Crompton, an organizer with the renters’ union, called the policy a “disaster” for affordability in the city.
“They’re making it appear to be that the inclusionary zoning is watered down, but once you’ve done that, it’s gone…essentially the inclusionary zoning is out the window,” he argued in a phone interview with the Straight.
Former COPE city councillor Ellen Woodsworth criticized the task force’s focus on creating housing options for moderate-income households and said that over 20 percent of Vancouver’s population falls below the targeted income range.
“These are the people who are either homeless or couch surfing or at risk of homelessness,” she told the Straight.
“We’re talking about youth, we’re talking about seniors, we’re talking about immigrants.”
Other steps recommended in the final report from the mayor’s task force include expanding the laneway housing initiative and encouraging more three-bedroom units in new development.
The final report and action plan recommended by staff will go to city council for debate on Tuesday (October 2).