STIR program continues to stir controversy

I have the utmost respect for Blair Petrie and his long-time advocacy on behalf of low-income renters [Letters, April 22-29]. I therefore assume that his criticism of West Enders who are opposed to spot rezonings for market rentals is due to a lack of accurate information in regard to the ill-conceived Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program and these dreadful proposals, which are not consistent with area plan guidelines.

Last spring, I heard Mayor Gregor Robertson characterize the STIR program to developers as an “economic stimulus” to help bail out their supposedly ailing industry. The developers complained that the incentives were insufficient. The city complied by upping them to the point where Vancouver taxpayers will be subsidizing pricey rentals to the tune of nearly $100,000 per unit, resulting in the loss of much-needed amenities to serve the existing and expanded population.

STIR was whisked through council without public consultation, and now the city is attempting to “fast-track” spot rezonings before citizens can respond.

Fortunately, West Enders are waking up—and fast. Many who signed a petition (5,000 signatures and swelling) are renters, who along with condo owners value public amenities and responsible planning. At an overflow public meeting on April 22 attended by about 400 residents, a panel that included a planner, an economist, and an accountant accurately exposed these developer subsidies and the STIR program.

There is a superior alternative—inclusionary rental policy—which would require rentals in new development throughout Vancouver without loss of amenities, excessive bonus density, or bad planning. Speculators oppose inclusionary zoning because it constrains land price inflation, the number one enemy of affordability. When he ran for mayor, Robertson also promised inclusionary policies. We got STIR. I wonder why.

> Ned Jacobs / Vancouver


Blair Petrie refers to West Enders as NIMBY-ish and resorting to fear-mongering in expressing concerns about the STIR housing proposed for the West End. In fact, West Enders are well aware of the need for change in their community.

What they want is the opportunity to provide input into how these changes will occur. There are already mechanisms in place for this process, but the city and council have seen fit to bypass these and rob West Enders of their due process.

To suggest that a community plan is a nice idea but a luxury we can’t afford is scary. This supports the already suspect thinking of the city and the developers who came up with STIR, which would provide the West End with rental housing it doesn’t actually need. The vacancy rate, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation statistics from October 2009, was 2.1 percent, up tenfold from July 2008, when it was 0.2 percent.

Other sections of the city face similar struggles around getting their planning needs heard as the city and council increasingly turn a deaf ear to everything but larger scale development. Each time citizens fail to mobilize around these issues it’s another win for the developers.

If standing up for what we value makes us a bunch of NIMBYs, so be it. I would suggest instead that West Enders be commended for recognizing a slippery slope when they see one!

> Anne Bullock / Vancouver



Blair Petrie

May 6, 2010 at 9:25am

It seems that those opposed to the STIR program believe it is about wholesale rezoning or at least the start of major rezoning of the West End of Vancouver but nothing could be further from the truth. Spot zonings are just that: one site, one specific rezoning based on it meeting the criteria set out in the program and local planning guidelines. The very name of the program is Short Term meaning that this is not a comprehensive planning direction for any neighbourhood but literally a micro zoning tool to stimulate the creation of affordable market rental housing. In the long term perhaps inclusionary zoning would be a tool to rezone larger areas such as the RM districts of the West End although how would you decide where to draw the lines to devalue private property?

The notion that in this city, under our current capitalist economic system, you can build affordable rental housing without subsidies is faulty. All of these housing initiatives require a subsidy whether inclusionary zoning or social housing. In social housing projects the subsidies go to the private sector for development and construction. In operations the subsidy goes, perhaps indirectly, to the big banks as the non-profit has to repay their mortgage. With inclusionary zoning the subsidy comes from the property owner as values are reduced but also from the public as tax revenues are also reduced.

In the West End it is likely that two or three buildings would be approved under the STIR program and would probably take at least two years to complete. The West End has had a volatile vacancy rate for decades -- what will it be in two, five or ten years? Should we wait until then for more rental stock even if the means are no longer there to build it? Why is it okay to constantly build condominiums but not to build affordable rentals? Perhaps we should look a little deeper at possible motives for opposition.

Three or four hundred rental units coming on stream would certainly help to alleviate a dip in vacancies. Many West Enders, as well as advocates from the rest of Metro Vancouver, have been asking for more rental housing for years and we now have the mechanism to create some. Delay will be the change that will affect the future of the West End as a predominantly rental community. As the three storey walk-ups near the end of their physical lives owners will be faced with enormous bills to retain them as rental housing. Many will opt for demolition or conversion to condominiums and they won't be cheap to buy. The West End is a very desirable place to live and that will only increase with the years.

H. Hayfield

May 26, 2010 at 2:31pm

There is nothing short term about high rises. Blair Petrie writes that the STIR initiative is a short term initiative and therefore westenders are overreacting when they fear wholesale rezoning for their community. The program may be short term but the proposed five high density buildings over twenty storeys in a small area would be there for a long time and will have significant impact s on the neighborhood. These buildings will negatively impact the amount of green space and will destroy heritage properties, for which the developers are being indirectly rewarded; in exchange for preserving part of an historical building, they are allowed to build more than current zoning would allow! As well as negatively impacting on the views (that people have already paid for) and affecting the amount of light and shadow, the developments would also bring in several hundred more people in an already densely packed community. Parking is already nearly impossible and these buildings are deliberately planned with fewer parking spaces than units, with the mistaken belief that people moving in will gladly give up their cars. The library, community centers, and the school are already so crowded it's hard to imagine adding several hundred more people. And there is no guarantee that the city and developers will stop at these proposed buildings.

The frustration west enders feel is that no one is listening. Despite everyone agreeing that these high rises will not bring down costs of housing, the city appears to be going ahead with no concern for the strong feelings of most westenders. Yes, there are certainly people who approve of these buildings but it is very clear when you live here and talk to people on the street, as I have, that there is a very strong sense of outrage over this. City Hall seems to be determined to push these through without taking the time for proper expert and community consultation. The only thing short term about these proposed buildings is the short term thinking of city council.

rich Moulaison

Jan 31, 2012 at 7:52am

who is this Blair Petrie? and where did He come from? Hamilton ?