The West End is bracing for a rush of rezoning activity this year.
Following Vancouver city council’s approval in December of the redevelopment of 1215 Bidwell Street, residents expect at least three more applications to move forward. These involve plans for residential towers at 1401 Comox Street, 1754 Pendrell Street, and 1245 Harwood Street.
According to Brent Granby, president of the West End Residents Association, the new projects will fall under the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental program. But he doubts these will produce affordable housing.
“One of the points that we tried to push council on is you need to be able to guarantee what the rent is going to be in those places,” Granby told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “You should actually be entering into an agreement on what rent would be charged in those units.”
This is something that the city isn’t prepared to do, according to Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie.
“We know intuitively that rental housing is more affordable than the purchase of strata-titled units,” Louie told the Straight by phone. “So there’s a level of affordability. Certainly, it’s not at the lowest level. I think that should be addressed at the provincial and federal levels.”
The citywide STIR program provides a package of incentives for developers of rental accommodations. These include a waiver of development-cost levies and a reduction in development fees, meaning that certain developers are essentially being subsidized.
A 22-storey, all-rental building with 193 units is being proposed at the Comox address. Granby expects the developer of 1754 Pendrell to resubmit under STIR an application to build a 19-storey tower with 34 condos and 10 rental units. Details are not yet available for the Harwood project.
In the case of the Bidwell site, the developer will put up a 20-storey building with 49 market rental units and 98 condos.
According to Granby, the average annual household income in the West End is $38,000. “If you spend 30 percent of your income on housing, you should only be spending $950 per month,” he said.
Louie noted that the new rental units are expected to command higher rents than existing ones. However, “as these units degrade and get older, they become more affordable,” he added.
Louie said that what the city is doing is creating stability in the rental stock by requiring new units built under STIR to be designated as rental for the life of the building.