Affordable housing does not mean affordable for everyone: City of Vancouver report

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      Defining what constitutes affordable housing is a tricky business in Vancouver.

      As demonstrated in a City of a Vancouver staff report regarding a proposed “for-profit affordable rental housing” on West Broadway, affordable does not mean the same thing for all people.

      The report notes that the term “does not necessarily create rental units that are affordable to all Vancouver residents”.

      Under the Vancouver Charter, city council is authorized to define what constitutes for-profit affordable rental housing.

      Council does so to determine if a project is exempted from paying development cost levies or DCLs.

      As the staff report regarding the property at the southeast corner of West Broadway and Birch Street notes, DCL waivers provide “opportunities for the creation of a range of rental levels”.

      According to the report, this is “in accordance with the housing continuum objectives of the Vancouver Housing Strategy”.

      Council defines what qualifies as for-profit affordable rental housing through a bylaw, specifically the Vancouver Development Cost Levy By-Law No. 9755.

      The bylaw, which is cited in the staff report, provides that a for-profit affordable housing project is eligible for a DCL waiver if the “average rents per unit type for initial occupancy do not exceed” certain amounts.

      These are: $1,242 per month for a studio unit; $1,561, one bedroom; $1,972, two bedrooms; and $2,338, three bedrooms.

      The bylaw also provides that rents may be 10 percent higher than these amounts if the housing is located on the west side of Vancouver.

      The property that is the subject of the staff report used to be the location of a Denny’s restaurant.

      In July 2018, council enacted a comprehensive development zoning bylaw for 1296 West Broadway for a 16-storey market rental tower with 153 housing units, and commercial uses on the first two levels.

      Now the developer, 1061511 B.C. Ltd (Jameson Development Corporation), has filed a new application to amend the property’s zoning.

      The developer’s new proposal is for a taller building with more rental units.

      Based on the staff report on the application, which now has a new address, 2538 Birch Street, it’s going to be a 27-storey rental tower with 258 rental units, and commercial uses on the first two storeys.

      The new application was made under the city’s Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program or MIRHP.

      An entire project qualifies as MIHRP if 20 percent of the residential floor area is dedicated to renters earning between $30,000 and $80,000 per year.

      According to the staff report on 2538 Birch Street, the development will provide 22 percent of its residential area for MIHRP.

      This means that around 58 units will have the following moderate rental rates per month: $950, studio; $1,200, one bedroom; $1,600, two bedrooms; and $2,000, three bedrooms.

      These rates are below what are specified under Vancouver Development Cost Levy By-Law No. 9755.

      According to the staff report, the developer is therefore eligible for exemption from city levies on the entire residential portion of the project.

      Based on the report, 1061511 B.C. Ltd (Jameson Development Corporation) is entitled for levy exemption of more than $4.7 million.

      However, the developer will have to pay a levy of $591,831 for the commercial component of this development.

      The balance of 78 percent of the rental units in the proposed project will charge market rental rates.

      Although most of the units will be rented out at market rates, the entire development will be classified as a moderate income rental project.

      Council is expected at its meeting Tuesday (March 31) to refer the application to public hearing at a future date.