Renting a condo may be cheaper than owning one, but it doesn’t mean that the rental unit is affordable.
This is a central argument in a new legal challenge against the City of Vancouver program that provides incentives to developers of market rentals.
On February 3 this year, the West End Neighbours Residents Society filed an amended petition seeking a court declaration that Rental 100: Secured Market Housing Policy—and its now-expired predecessor, Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing, or STIR—violates the Vancouver Charter.
The two policies were introduced by the ruling Vision Vancouver party.
“They’re giving away too much to developers in return for not enough back to the public,” WEN director Randy Helten told the Georgia Straight by phone on February 18.
According to Helten, the case will be heard by the B.C. Supreme Court on April 9 and April 10 this year.
In effect since 2009, STIR and the subsequent Rental 100 allowed council to waive development-cost levies (DCLs), reduce parking requirements, approve smaller apartment sizes, and allow developers to build more units than they would otherwise have been permitted, all in return for producing affordable market rental housing.
According to the WEN petition, the city waived about $10 million in DCLs between 2010 and 2013.
The Vancouver Charter allows council to forgo development levies only on three types of projects, one being “for-profit affordable rental housing”.
Moreover, the charter mandates that council defines through a bylaw what constitutes an eligible development.
In September last year, WEN launched a court challenge against STIR and Rental 100. It claimed, in part, that the city didn’t define what constitutes affordable rental housing to justify the non-collection of development levies.
Because of the suit, the city agreed to amend its rules. On December 3 last year, the Vision Vancouver–dominated council defined for-profit affordable rental housing as those whose initial rents do not exceed the following: $1,433 a month for a studio unit; $1,517 for a one-bedroom; and $2,061 for a two-bedroom.
In its amended petition, WEN argued that what the amendments do is simply allow the waiver of development-cost levies for “market rate rental housing” but not necessarily affordable rental housing.
It noted that the average monthly rental rate for a bachelor unit in the West End is $902, and $714 in Marpole. This means that the city “deems developments, with potential rental rates almost twice the City average, to be ‘affordable’ rental housing simply because they are rental as opposed to freehold”.
The amended petition also stated that staff were given “unfettered discretion to waive DCL’s for projects that are not ‘affordable’ at all, but simply market rental”.