A Vancouver city councillor is asking why taxpayers should continue to subsidize developers of market rental homes.
Adriane Carr wants to know whether or not the city’s financial incentives have delivered on its promise that these will create affordable housing.
“I am not sympathetic to an argument that all rental housing is affordable; that’s ridiculous,” Carr told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Since 2009, council has implemented two programs that waive development-cost levies, reduce parking requirements, approve smaller apartment sizes, and allow developers to build more units than they would otherwise have been permitted.
These were done through the Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing and their successor, the Rental 100: Secured Market Rental Housing Policy. Both programs were hatched by the developer-backed ruling civic party, Vision Vancouver.
Earlier this year, Carr tried to find out if any new rental homes produced under STIR actually rent for $975 a month. This figure was cited by city staff to council on February 12, 2013, as the affordable rental cost for an average single person in Vancouver.
She tabled a motion on February 26 directing staff to report in three months on the number of these rentals. Her motion passed unanimously, but no such report has been submitted to council to date.
“I’m keen to see the data get into the public realm,” Carr said in the interview. She added that she has been informed by staff that the city is still gathering information.
The city’s lone Green councillor also said she plans to ask for an update about the Rental 100 program. “Vision has been playing games with the definition of affordability,” she said.
The delay in the submission of the staff report was brought to the Straight’s attention in early September by citizen watchdog Randy Helten. Helten is a director of the West End Neighbours group, which launched a court challenge on September 19 against the city’s authority to implement STIR and Rental 100.
City hall continues to process applications filed under STIR before the program ended on December 15, 2011. Two of these projects were scheduled to undergo public hearings before council on Tuesday (September 24) after the Straight’s editorial deadline.
One application is by Bhandal Homes Ltd. for a six-storey, mixed-use commercial and residential building at 5650 Victoria Drive. The developer is asking the city to waive development-cost levies of $344,500 for the 30 apartments it will build. Bhandal plans to rent a one-bedroom unit for $1,250 and charge $1,600 for a two-bedroom.
The other application is by Pawa Holdings Ltd. for a six-storey, mixed-use commercial and residential building at 3058 Kingsway. The developer wants the city to forgo development-cost levies of $328,125 for 30 rental homes.
One-bedroom and two-bedroom units in the Pawa Holdings development will rent for $1,275 and $1,700, respectively.
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs explained that the development of rental housing, “even at market rates”, is important. According to Meggs, this will “contribute to improving the housing supply and reduce the pressures at the lower end”.
“We established early on that if you increase the supply of rental housing, it adds in the part of the continuum that people move to after they get out of supportive housing,” Meggs told the Straight in a phone interview.
He stressed that the city doesn’t have the resources to subsidize rents and homeownership.
“But we did have the ability to…encourage the creation of rental housing, and that in itself would assist in creating a more affordable housing stock overall,” Meggs said. He also noted that “over time, the cost for rental housing grows more slowly than the cost of mortgages”.
“I see the joke that if it’s a million dollars…it’s accessible to a millionaire,” Meggs said about the criticism that Vision’s definition of “affordable” homes covers even the rich. “That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re trying to generate more housing stock for working families.”