Social housing for the rich: families earning over $100,000 qualify at Vancouver West End project

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      Families earning up to $104,440 are still deemed eligible to live in the “social housing” component of a proposed Vancouver West End development. Singles with a maximum income of $71,200 can also qualify for these homes, according to a city staff report.

      The so-called social-housing units are a component of a 32-storey condo tower planned at 1055 Harwood Street.

      An annual income of $104,440 is not what poor families typically earn. In fact, that income is even way above the earnings of what the City of Vancouver considers moderate-income households. Based on the city’s measure, a family is earning a moderate income if it gets between $30,000 and $80,000 a year.

      High-earning families can now qualify for social housing because social housing is no longer what many people think it is. It used to be that low-income people often lived in social housing, but not anymore in Vancouver. Under the leadership of the ruling Vision Vancouver party, the city has redefined social housing.

      “Social housing” now means developments wherein 30 percent of the units are earmarked for renters who cannot pay average market rents. Although the rest of the units are rented out at market rates, the entire assembly is considered social housing.

      It’s a bit different in the Downtown Eastside. In this neighbourhood, “social housing” means projects wherein 33 percent of the units are dedicated to tenants who can only pay the equivalent of welfare shelter rates.

      In the case of the 1055 Harwood development, there will be 44 social-housing units, on levels one to eight of the 32-storey building. The upper levels will have 82 condo units.

      The city staff report on the proposed project noted that 30 percent of the 44 social-housing units will be for households earning “at or below” B.C. Housing’s Housing Income Limits, or HILs. Based on B.C. Housing’s definition, HILs represent the income required to pay for the average rent of an appropriately sized unit in the private rental market.

      For 2018, B.C. Housing’s HILs for Vancouver are the following: an annual income of $41,500 to afford rent for a studio unit; $48,000 for a one-bedroom; $58,000 for two bedrooms; $68,000 for three bedrooms; and $83,500 for fourbedroom units.

      According to the city staff report on 1055 Harwood, 30 percent of the 44 social-housing units to be rented at or below HILs are meant for singles and families earning between $15,000 and $67,000.

      The rest of the social-housing units will be offered at “Low End of Market” rents. These would “target singles with annual incomes of up to a maximum of $71,200 and families with annual incomes of up to a maximum of $104,440”.

      “Staff intend to work with senior levels of government and non-profit partners to deepen affordability,” according to the report.

      The value of the social-housing units is estimated at $21.3 million. The homes will be turned over to the City of Vancouver by the developers. As owner, the city will later select a nonprofit to operate the social-housing component of the development.

      The 32-storey project is a joint undertaking between Strand Development and Intracorp Projects Ltd. on behalf of the registered owner, Harwood Street Project Nominee Inc.

      The proponents have applied tothe city to rezone 1055 Harwood for a tower. The location currently has a three-storey residential building.

      Future residents will enter the building through two separate doors: one for condo dwellers and another one for social-housing residents. A design rationale forming part of the rezoning application states that the development was “designed to function and appear as two separate but interconnected buildings”.

      City staff have recommended approval of the rezoning application, subject to a public hearing scheduled to be held on July 31 this year.