A proposed plan for Vancouver’s Northeast False Creek has promised 1,800 social housing units.
But according to Larry Benge, a city hall watchdog, the actual number that may be delivered could be much less.
Benge is the co-chair of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, and he doubts whether all of the 1,800 housing units will be affordable to low-income people.
It may just be a third, or about 600, if one were to use the city’s definition of what is social housing, which now includes market rentals as well.
“I’m quite concerned that the definition of social housing is so flexible, and has been for the last few years,” Benge told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I would think a lot of people would be very hard-pressed, myself included, to give you a solid definition of what the city means by social housing. And that’s part of the problem.”
In 2014, city council adopted a new definition of social housing as being any development where 30 percent of the units are to be occupied by people whose earnings fall below the Housing Income Limits (HILs) determined by B.C. Housing.
Based on B.C. Housing’s definition, HILs is the income required to pay the average rent unit in the private market.
So even if 70 percent of the units are rented at market rates, the entire development is considered social housing.
“There’s too much obfuscation,” Benge said.
City staff have also extended this definition to social housing components of condo developments.
One example was the proposed rezoning of 105 Keefer Street in Chinatown, which council eventually denied in 2017.
Beedie (Keefer Street) Holdings Ltd. applied to develop a 12-storey containing 131 mostly condo units, which include 25 units supposedly for social housing.
According to a city staff report on 105 Keefer Street, only eight of the 25 social housing units, which were planned to be purchased by the province, will be occupied by people whose earnings are below the HILs.
The staff report stated that the “social housing component of the project meets the criteria” of what is social housing “where a minimum of 30% of the dwelling units are occupied by households with incomes below BC Housing Income Limits”.
In a letter to the mayor and council, Benge’s Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods noted that a portion of the Northeast False Creek area is mostly owned by the city, and should be devoted entirely to social housing.
The coalition was referring to False Creek North Sub-area 6D, which are the blocks east and west of Main Street between Prior and Union Streets.
This is the same area where the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts land. The redevelopment of Northeast False Creek is premised on the demolition of the viaducts, which will free up lands.
Based on the proposed plan, there will be 900,000 square feet of mixed-use development in Sub-area 6D, including 300 units of social housing.
“The majority of this publically owned land, if not all, should be used for what is definitely needed in the neighbourhood: social and affordable housing, not more market condos,” the coalition stated in its letter.
According to the proposed Northeast False Creek plan, some 12,000 new residents are expected in the new community after it has been fully built in 20 years.
The Northeast False Creek plan is scheduled for a council vote on Tuesday (February 13).