Spot rezonings can save rental housing

As a long-time advocate of spot rezoning to create affordable rental housing, I find it extremely frustrating to hear NIMBY-ish rants and fear-mongering from some local residents [Straight Talk, April 15-22]. From some quarters, it sounds a little like social cleansing, as happened in the Downtown South and Yaletown in the 1990s. I guess with the city centre pretty much built out, it was only a matter of time before the West End succumbed to gentrification pressures.

Note that there was no outcry when the YMCA and First Baptist Church proposed their 42-storey condominium tower, which overshadows the Nelson Park area and has units selling for up to $6 million.

The West End is one of the last large rental areas in Vancouver. There has been a rapid erosion in affordability due to a revised provincial Residential Tenancy Act and a slower erosion of stock through conversions. Vancouver city council has devised a program to create some affordable market rentals, and it is hoped that they will alleviate some of the pressure on existing, older rental stock.

The proposed buildings do not require any demolition of existing housing and fit into the West End’s building mix. A community plan would be nice, but it would freeze any development for years while it wound its way through processes. Meanwhile, we would lose more housing and affordability, and West Enders would be forced out to the suburbs. In the five to 10 years it would take, we would likely have another council, and we’d probably have luxury condominiums instead of rental housing.

If council doesn’t provide incentives for affordable market rentals, no one will. The provincial Liberals cancelled B.C. Housing’s low-end-of-market program in 2001, and the federal Liberals cancelled theirs in 1994. Don’t hold your breath for the current provincial or federal governments to provide a mixed-income rental-housing program until hell freezes over.

> Blair Petrie / Vancouver




Apr 23, 2010 at 12:23pm

I had no idea there actually was such a person as a “spot rezoning” advocate.

Am I reading this right? The only place left in Vancouver to build rentals is the West End, already the densest part of the city? That’s like saying the only place left to build rentals in NYC is Manhattan.

Let’s be clear, spot rezonings = no zoning. An excellent example of a city with no zoning is Houston. If that’s what’s in future for the West End I’d say a little planning is a good thing.

Creating a plan doesn’t have to take years. If we urgently need to build rentals, then let’s fast track the plan. If it is urgent then it can be done. “We’re too busy right now ”¦” from the planning department is not a good reason to allow a developer “free for all” destroy a mature and wonderful neighbourhood.


Apr 23, 2010 at 7:30pm

I agree with Nelson100. Jeez, can't people in the West End even ask the city for a little planning and discussion before their zoning gets tossed out the window without being called NIMBY's? That seems like a more than reasonable request to me.

Social cleansing? Holy crow, seems like Mr. Petrie isn't above a little fear mongering himself. Hey, we're talking about city zoning here, not Rwanda. Get a grip.

Pot? Kettle?

Apr 23, 2010 at 9:04pm

Ironic that Mr. Petrie was an advocate to preserve one of the lowest density blocks in the West End (Mole Hill) as low density, but is now suddenly supporting density on everyone else's block? Sounds a bit like the "I'm alright, Jack" argument. The West End needs an updated plan before random "spot" rezonings take place. And there is nothing "affordable" about the proposed rezonings. If he is worried about gentrification, a bunch a shiny new high-rise apartment units is one of the best ways to achieve it.

Blair Petrie

May 4, 2010 at 2:30pm

Mole Hill is actually one of the more populated blocks in the West End. About 500 people live in the block as opposed to around 400 or less in other West End blocks.

The Downtown South was a majority low-income rental neighbourhood fifteen years ago. Now it is highrise luxury condominiums and boutique hotels. Where did all the renters go? Likely the street, where some probably died, and to the remaining SROs in the Downtown Eastside, that are notoriously dangerous places to live, particularly for the seniors who were displaced.

Spot zoning is just that: one site, one zoning. Not wholesale rezoning of the West End or even the block. Likely two or three buildings would be approved for the West End. Why is there no outcry when high density luxury condo towers are built in the West End such as the tower on Barclay and Burrard?

The STIR units that will be built at 1250 Bidwell will rent for $950.00 per month; without STIR they would be $1250.00. In Mole Hill, a social housing project, a similar sized unit would be around $1040.00 plus an electricity surcharge for a low end of market tenant.

Give Your Head a Shake

May 8, 2010 at 10:30am

The STIR units that will be built at 1215 Bidwell will rent for whatever the market will bear - not $950.00 per month. STIR does nothing to "buy down" the costs of the rent - its only "benefit" is to drive down the costs to the developer of creating these units. If you think that the landlord of these units is going to pass reduced costs to the renter you truly live in a fantasy world. These rezonings are a give-away to the development industry.


May 13, 2010 at 8:50am

Sorry but the Westend isn't even the densest neighbourhood in Vancouver anymore. Yaletown, Coal Harbour and False Creek are all more dense. The Westend needs revitalization and with the kinds of things proposed in this project we should support it. There's only a handful of sites in all of the Westend that could take densities.... This is one of them. How else are we going to keep rents at a somewhat affordable rate? I think this project must remain rental in perpetuity. We haven't had these built for 40 years...