City councillor Adriane Carr takes aim at Vancouver's rental incentives

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      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.”

      Comments

      18 Comments

      Arthur Vandelay

      Sep 25, 2013 at 6:00am

      Vancouver has a problem with rental stock in general. It is currently much more profitable for developers to build condos for sale than it is to develop a similar apartment block for sale to an owner who will then rent the units at market rates. That is the premium that condo owners are willing to pay to own the unit and it's large, in the ballpark of 40% or so over the value of the same unit that would be put out to rent. Consequently, there is a shortage of market rentals in Vancouver which impedes our economic growth and hence job creation, tax base, etc. One solution to help elevate this economic disincentive toward construction of units for rent is for the City to forego its normal fees that it collects and also to allow the developer more units that it would otherwise be allowed to build. Ms. Carr knows all of this and yet she continues to disingenuously muddy the waters with her discussion of the separate issue of affordability of these new rental units. She is the worst kind of political opportunist (implying to voters that the City should and may be encouraging developers to build premium market rate rental units that will rent for $975/month) and deserves to be shown the door in next November's elections. I will be encouraging all of my contacts to vote accordingly.

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      WestEnder

      Sep 25, 2013 at 10:24am

      AV, it is you who is confused.
      Staff in Council Reports suggest proposed rents at each of the STIR or Rental 100 rezoning applications. In only one rezoning, the Beach Towers application, has Council approved with the proviso that the suggested rents be the actual rents. In every other approval the owner can and in completed projects is charging market. Have a look at what Prospero is asking for the now available Alexandra STIR units at Davie and Bidwell and ask yourself how these can be affordable to the average West End renter. The Alexandra STIR units are on levels two through four and allowed the developer to sell condos above at $800/sq. ft. or higher. Virtually nothing came back to the city except the 30 odd STIR units. Have a look at all the West End streets that have been dug up in the past year and ask who paid for all the new sewer and water lines. I can tell you who didn't and that includes Concord Pacific and Westbank.

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      WestEnder

      Sep 25, 2013 at 10:36am

      The rental agent for Alexandra is Prompton.

      Suite Sizes Available (For Lease):
      ◾Studios: 400 – 505 sq.ft. from $1290/month
      ◾1 Bedrooms: 546 – 563 sq.ft. from $1630/month
      ◾2 Bedrooms: 951 sq.ft. from $2470/month
      ◾See below for active listings

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      Taxpayer

      Sep 25, 2013 at 10:56am

      It's important to distinguish between what the developer says the units will rent for when they make statements such as: "One-bedroom and two-bedroom units in the Pawa Holdings development will rent for $1,275 and $1,700, respectively." And what these units will actually rent for. The "suggested rents" for STIR projects at 1142 Granville Street and 1215 Bidwell (now renting at $1480 per month for a studio) have not followed through to the finished product. The public will have more information on this once (if?) City Staff fulfills City Council's request to report back on the actual rents in the STIR projects that benefitted from signficant muncipal incentives.

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      Save Vancouver

      Sep 25, 2013 at 11:21am

      @WestEnder-as you show, that's hardly affordable. Why is Meggs appaluding giveaways to developers for the contruction of rentals, "even at market rates"? If theyre egetting market rates, they can pay the market cost to develop a site.

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      James G

      Sep 25, 2013 at 11:33am

      @ Arthur Vandelay

      Yes, I am with you in some ways. If it is more profitable to build condos, that is what will be built and the issue is as difficult to come to terms with as what Councilor Meggs has said. I (ahem) agree with both of you.

      Nonetheless, whether one wants bigger or smaller government, surely we all want more accountability. The STIR program was to have ended. It seems ongoing to me, being right near such a project. If council was to have a report prepared months ago, it should be done.

      As for encouraging contacts to tilt towards or against candidates, I won't speak for you but for my own self, I would believe doing so might drive away more support than I could attract.

      Adriane Carr seems increasingly nice as a person to me but then I haved liked a variety of politicians from the other parties over the years (Joe Clark comes to mind). They just didn't get my vote since others better addressed my own needs. She is just as much an elected City Councilor as any from Vision or the NPA. If the program was to have ended, if council requested that report, then surely she is entitled to have it done?

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      enough already

      Sep 25, 2013 at 1:03pm

      love how this always seems to fall on to "blame the developer" argument.
      If one had to sell a product that they put the time, money, and risk to create, should you not be entitled to sell it for what the market bares?
      These projects cost millions to build and the return on investment is not felt until 10 years later. Due to this, these projects are often sold of to large pensions funds as that have the cash and can wait for a steady guaranteed return on there investment.
      The pension funds inturn can pay the people that have contributed so they can pay the rent.
      is it a perfect system?....no....but it works.
      So disagree with these developers all you want but unless you are willing to do the same for no profit I suggest you get off the high horse of judgment your sitting on and do better.
      and just for the record, Just remember wealth is created from a society willing to do the work to better it....don't like?...move elsewhere.

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      WestEnder

      Sep 25, 2013 at 1:35pm

      If the developers intent is to sell the project to a pension plan on completion obviously at a profit then the city should recoup the DCL's and CAC's forgiven.

      Other taxpayers are bearing the cost of the city infrastructure and the city is not achieving the affordable rentals that STIR was supposedly designed to deliver.

      Sure know why Vision receives developer donations.

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      Collarbone O'Hare

      Sep 25, 2013 at 2:33pm

      Although I don't live there, it's sooo nice to see comfortable condo owners like WestEnder be concerned about affordability for renters in the West End. What ever there cost, these new STIR units will free up stock in the West End, will meet an almost insatiable demand for rental housing, and could not have been nearly the rents proposed were it not for some form of concessions from the city.
      Perhaps WestEnder would give up his homeowners grant - a subsidy - to some poor soul to help them pay their rent.
      Me thinks he doth.........

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      Pure Math

      Sep 25, 2013 at 3:58pm

      Not sure why people don't grasp the reality that the word "market" is just that. Rents are based on what people suggest they can pay which is what "market" means. I am really getting tired of people complaining about developers making all the profits when the reality is that if people want cheaper rents then the only way around the economics (and yes believe it or not developers and anyone I am aware of do not work for free) then you need to increase the supply of these rental projects to justify the costs involved in building them. Not to mention that "market" also means that if the price is too high then rents should come down....but unfortunately no one will be complaining then about how the city and the developers are making out like bandits. Pure selfishness. The people who complain all the time say that we don't want increased supply (i.e. density/towers) but and the same time they don't want the rents to be too expensive. It's pure math and apparently those who are complaining should have spent more time in school mastering this and they probably could have afforded the rents they are complaining about now.

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