City manager cautions Vancouver councillors against pushing for affordability in Rental 100 projects

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      Vancouver councillors have been told by the city manager that they’re “causing a lot of problems”. That’s because councillors, or at least a few of them, have been pushing for more affordability in new rental developments.

      These projects are known as “for-profit affordable rental housing”, where starting rents are up to $3,702 for a three-bedroom unit, based on last year’s guidelines.

      So far, the current council has approved four of these developments, and more are coming its way.

      Coun. Jean Swanson has consistently voted against these market-rate rentals.

      Coun. Pete Fry has been vocal against the city’s policy of providing taxpayer-funded subsidies for these projects. Last month, Fry joined Swanson in opposing the two latest rental developments brought before council.

      In a subsequent council meeting on February 27, Fry noted that these projects are “increasingly disconnected” from what is typically considered affordable housing. Swanson, for her part, asked staff when the city is going to stop supporting these developments.

      Council was informed that staff will be reporting back toward the end of the year about possible policy changes.

      In the same meeting, city manager Sadhu Johnston reminded council that the city is “reliant” on private developers for the delivery of new rental homes.
      Johnston cautioned against calling for more affordable rents in projects that are currently being considered until the city finishes its review of its rental-development policy.

      “Until we do that review, I really encourage council to not try to put—we’re having a policy conversation now, not a specific rezoning conversation—that trying to jam the affordability into the very last minute has been causing a lot of problems,” Johnston told council.

      According to Johnston, he and staff are concerned that developers may get spooked by calls from councillors to make rentals more affordable.

      Johnston said that potential proponents may either “slow down” or “wait” until the city finishes its policy review if there are continuing calls for affordability in pending projects.

      The city started to provide incentives for developers of “for-profit affordable rental housing” during the term of the previous Vision Vancouver–led council. Incentives under the Rental 100 program include exemptions from paying development-cost levies (DCLs).

      To cite an example, council on February 26 this year approved such a project at 1906–1918 West 4th Avenue. The developer will not pay about $795,683 in DCLs for the residential portion of the project.

      The rents that will start to apply at the development this year are: $1,646 per month for a studio unit; $1,903 for a one-bedroom; $2,756 for two bedrooms; and $3,702 for three bedrooms.

      Voting in favour of the Kitsilano project were Mayor Kennedy Stewart and councillors Rebecca Bligh, Christine Boyle, Adriane Carr, Melissa De Genova, Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick, Sarah Kirby-Yung, and Michael Wiebe.