Rental 100 freeze: Vancouver councillor Adriane Carr wants city to stop subsidizing property developers

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      Coun. Adriane Carr wants the City of Vancouver to slam the door on new applications to build “for-profit affordable rental housing”.

      Carr says the city should freeze Rental 100, a program that was introduced by the previous Vision Vancouver administration.

      Rental 100—and its predecessor, the Short Term Incentives for Rental, or STIR—provides developers with substantial rewards like exemption from paying development-cost levies, or DCLs.

      “We have given away a lot of money in terms of waived DCLs in order to get rental housing, but not affordable rental housing in most cases,” Carr told the Straight by phone.

      Based on 2019 guidelines, developers are eligible for incentives, including extra density, if starting rents for East Side projects are $1,607 a month for a studio, $1,869 for one bedroom, $2,457 for two bedrooms, and $3,235 for three bedrooms.

      On the West Side, starting rents are “affordable” at $1,768 for a studio, $2,056 for one bedroom, $2,703 for two bedrooms, and $3,559 for three bedrooms.

      These rents apply on the day of council’s public hearing on a Rental 100 rezoning application. Developers can still increase rents yearly during the construction period.

      Moreover, these rents apply only to the first tenant. After the first occupants move out, developers can charge whatever rents the market can bear.

      Carr said she is planning to introduce a motion for the city to stop accepting new applications for Rental 100. However, Carr explained, the freeze will not apply to pending projects that are in various stages of review by the city. She indicated that these applications may likely be approved even though some councillors, like her, do not believe that they are affordable rentals.

      Carr said developers have invested money and time in bringing these applications for the city’s consideration. “To tell them at the end and to actually then say, ‘Sorry, we haven’t yet changed those policies but we’re going to, and right now we’re going to say no to you,’ I just think that’s unfair process.”

      Carr said that’s the reason she voted in favour of four Rental 100 applications that were referred to public hearing by the current council. “Even though I disagree with the level of affordability…I voted for projects because of the issue of fairness.”

      In a separate interview, municipal-law expert Nathalie Baker pointed out that councillors have another choice.

      According to Baker, councillors are not duty-bound to approve rezoning applications. The associate counsel with the Eyford Macaulay Shaw and Padmanabhan law office explained that Rental 100 is “merely a policy”.

      “The fact that Vancouver has a general policy that supports rezoning applications for increases in density to build rental housing doesn’t mean council is required to approve a rezoning application submitted under the policy or that a property owner has a right to the rezoning,” Baker told the Straight by phone. “To the contrary, each rezoning application must be reviewed on its own merits, and council should decide whether it is in the public interest to rezone the land after hearing from staff, the applicant, and the public at the public hearing.”

      Otherwise, councillors’ discretion would have been “fettered”, which, Baker said, goes against the Vancouver Charter. “I think it’s important for council to understand that just because council—whether it’s previous council or current council—has adopted this general policy that that doesn’t mean that council must act a certain way on a rezoning application,” Baker said. “And it doesn’t give the property owner any right, either.”

      COPE councillor Jean Swanson has consistently voted against Rental 100 applications. She said that if it were only up to her, she would have the program suspended. She noted, however, that it’s difficult even getting another councillor onside.

      “Well, I tried to talk about it, but I am having a hard time getting a seconder,” Swanson told the Straight by phone.