By approving its Short Term Incentives for Rental program, the Vision Vancouver caucus has caused a STIR.
But critics have lined up against the idea, claiming it will provide neither affordability nor adequate rental housing stock to address low vacancy rates and high rents in the city. STIR passed late in the day June 18 at council’s planning and environment committee meeting, by an 8-2 margin, with COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth and NPA councillor Suzanne Anton opposed. (COPE councillor David Cadman was absent.)
“Generally, I want us to develop more rental housing in this city,” Woodsworth, who tried unsuccessfully to defer STIR in chambers, told the Georgia Straight by phone. “But I want us to develop more affordable rental housing. So my concern around this is, I don’t see how it’s going to create more affordable rentals.”
Woodsworth, like Anton, claimed she was not given enough time to study the 22-page council report. She said this means the public is also being shortchanged.
STIR provides a package of incentives for developers from July 6, 2009, to December 15, 2011. These include a waiver of development-cost levies in construction of rental accommodation—a total loss of $7,600 per unit of rental housing. The City of Vancouver would also lose about $1,260 per unit in development-fee reductions.
Developers will be asked to submit proposals with rental units secured “for the life of the building”—as long as the building exists or 60 years, whichever is longer—and will be “encouraged” to achieve 100 percent rental or at least eight units of rental in the building. A “negotiated” stream allows flexibility if the project does not fit the program criteria. Under the latter stream, the minimal rental term is only 20 years.
Based on three possible “financial implications” scenarios, the total cost to taxpayers is estimated to be between $10.6 million and $12.9 million, according to the staff report.
Vision’s Raymond Louie moved the multipronged motion. “This will help provide a level of accommodation and a level of affordability in our city in the near term,” he told council.
His caucus colleague, Coun. Geoff Meggs, dismissed the COPE–NPA accusation that there had been insufficient debate, claiming that Vision Vancouver ran on a platform of providing adequate affordable housing.
“The consultation was the election and this was the delivery,” Meggs said.
Former development consultant Elizabeth Murphy told the Straight she found it interesting that Louie flagged the civic “partners” as being those in “the development community”.
Murphy said that if Vancouver is going to increase its rental stock, it should do so in a way that does not compromise—or directly replace—existing rental housing. She also said the “rate of change” bylaw, which places limits on coversions of rental stock, is not applicable in the zones targeted under STIR, including any “C-2 zones and also the downtown, and that includes the heritage district”.
Murphy also questioned the “economic stimulus” argument that Louie flagged in his council speech.
“Rental housing is one type of housing that doesn’t require presales,” Murphy said. “So it’s more likely to be built right now than strata, without incentives, because you’ve also got really low interest rates. You’ve got low vacancy rates. It’s really questionable whether or not they need all of these relaxations.”