West End twin-tower development revives question about Vancouver definition of social housing

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Condo owners and social housing residents will live together in a massive development proposed in Vancouver’s West End.

      The residential project involves two skyscrapers of 47 and 48 storeys connected by a podium bridge at the northwest corner of Barclay and Thurlow streets.

      The high-density development will include 481 condo units and 162 social housing units.

      A city staff recommendation has yet to be submitted to council regarding the rezoning application filed for the site at 1040-1080 Barclay Street.

      Randy Helten, a city watchdog, is interested to see what city staff will say about the social housing component of the project.

      “I'd like to see a clear definition of social housing,” Helten told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      This is because the 162 units of social housing in the project may be mostly market rentals.

      The City of Vancouver defines an entire residential development as social housing if 30 percent of the units will be lived in by people who earn below the Housing Income Limits (HILs) determined by the province.

      According to B.C. Housing, HILs is the income needed to pay average rent in the private market.

      Even if 70 percent of the units are rented at market rates, the entire development is considered social housing, based on the definition adopted by the city in 2014.

      According to Helten, the city’s new definition of social housing is “arbitrary”.

      Moreover, the definition extends to social housing components of condo developments.

      An example was the unsuccessful proposed rezoning of 105 Keefer Street in Chinatown.

      The 105 Keefer Street proposal of Beedie (Keefer Street) Holdings Ltd. involved 106 condo units, and 25 units of social housing.

      However, only eight of the 25 supposed social housing units will be occupied by people who earn below the HILs.

      A city staff report explained 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”.

      Helten noted: “It seems by putting the tag ‘social housing’ on it, according to the city’s arbitrary definitions, then the developer gets huge benefits in terms of relaxations and higher density.”

      View from downtown of the twin towers.

      According to the rezoning application for 1040-1080 Barclay Street, the social housing units will be turned over to the City of Vancouver.

      “Social housing is seamlessly integrated into the towers and connecting structure, and provides shared spaces for social connectivity,” according to the application.

      The project is a joint undertaking by Bosa Properties and Kingswood Properties.

      In 2013, the city approved the West End Community Plan to guide future developments in the neighborhood.

      The plan allows rezoning for skyscrapers provided social housing is included in the project.