Housing activist calls City of Vancouver’s 'for-profit affordable' rentals an 'oxymoron'

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      In January this year, Vancouver city council approved two "for profit affordable rental" projects.

      The rezoning applications for 3532 and 3435 East Hastings Street were taken up in the first public hearing of the current council that was elected last year.

      For both, the starting rents, which will apply on the day of the public hearing, are $1,496 for a studio; $1,730, one-bedroom unit; $2,505, two-bedroom; and $3,365, three-bedroom.

      Two more ‘for profit affordable rental projects’ are scheduled for public hearing on Tuesday (February 12).

      One is at 815-825 Commercial Drive and 1680 Adanac Street. Like the ones at 3532 and 3435 East Hastings Street, starting rents on the day of the public hearing are $1,496 for a studio; $1,730, one-bedroom unit; $2,505, two-bedroom; and $3,365, three-bedroom.

      The other is at 1906-1918 West 4th Avenue. Starting rents are $1,646 for a studio; $1,903, one bedroom; $2,756, two bedrooms; and $3,702, three bedrooms.

      According to housing activist Sara Sagaii, the rents for these developments are anything but affordable.

      “An oxymoron,” Sagaii said in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight about the city’s definition of these projects as ‘for profit affordable rental’.

      Sagaii is a member of the steering committee of the Vancouver Tenants Union.

      “The city just uses this false logic calling it affordable just because the cost of rent is lower than the cost to own,” she said. “So they compare it with ownership. So that means that this program is…not for people who are desperately looking for rentals in a market that…has less than one percent vacancy.”

      Sagaii said that Rental 100 is “geared actually for people who want to own homes, but maybe can’t quite afford it yet”.

      “So it’s a solution to homeownership really,” she said.

      A Cornerstone Architecture rendering of a proposed ‘for profit affordable rental’ at 815-825 Commercial Drive and 1680 Adanac Street, where rent for a three-bedroom unit starts at $3,365 at the day of the public hearing.

      Rental 100 is a program that was started by the previous Vision Vancouver administration.

      “It’s a failed project,” said Sagaii about this program that provides various incentives to developers, including exemptions from paying development cost levies (DCL).

      Sagaii pointed out that Rental 100 projects are getting anywhere between $500,000 to $1 million in DCL waivers.

      “These DCLs could have been put towards building social housing, but they’re not,” she said.

      Sagaii said that council should put an “immediate moratorium” to the processing of Rental 100 applications until the program has been evaluated.

      “Council needs to stop this program,” she said.

      Another option, according to her, is for council to consider real affordability measures in assessing rental projects.

      These include tying starting rents to median incomes in neighbourhoods where developments are proposed.

      Another measure is vacancy control, which means rents are tied to the units and not the current occupants.

      Under Rental 100, starting rents apply only to the first occupant. In addition, the actual starting rents are different from those presented to council as developers can increase rents yearly starting from the day of the public hearing.

      Sagaii spoke before council during the public hearing for 3532 East Hastings Street. The project will replace an existing rental, whose rates are $650 for a studio; $600-$700 for a one-bedroom unit; and $750-$850 for a two-bedroom unit.

      Councillors Jean Swanson and Christine Boyle voted against the application for 3532 East Hastings Street. Councillor Pete Fry abstained. Councillor Lisa Dominato was absent. Those who approved the proposal were Mayor Kennedy Stewart, and councillors Rebecca Bligh, Adriane Carr, Melissa De Genova, Colleen Hardwick, Sarah Kirby-Yung, and Michael Wiebe.

      Swanson of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) cast the only negative vote for the application for 3435 East Hastings Street. Dominato was absent.

      Sagaii recalls that Councillor Fry mentioned that DCL waivers are tax breaks.

      “Taxpayers are going to have to pick up the bill so essentially, the public is funding these projects for which private developers are going to earn profits and most people are not going to afford them,” Sagaii said.