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Idea camp for rental housing prompts many suggestions and many questions

April 26th, 2009 · 22 Comments

It was quite the scene at the stunning new Celebration Hall in Mountain View cemetery Saturday — I definitely want to be buried there now with the great views and lovely, modernist new hall for all my friends to party at when they send me on my way — as developers, architects, and housing advocates gathered to hear what the city’s plans are for creating rental housing and to put out their own.

It was a sunny afternoon, but the who’s who of the development scene was there (I kept saying that if a bomb fell on the place, the industry would be wiped out) along with the most battle-hardened of the housing advocates. And people came with lots to say. Rob MacArthur from Polygon brought along a three-page single-spaced list of suggestions and background — just a sign of the level of detail people were willing to get into.

After a little speech from housing planner Jill Davidson on what the city is hoping to do (create some short-term incentives for rental to be in place by the summer break! kiss your family goodbye, staffers!!) and some anxious questions from developers on what the city might impose, everyone broke into small groups to bat around ideas. It was fascinating to see the groups at work: Brent Granby from the West End Residents Association at a table with Bob Rennie, Andrew Grant of PCI, and architect Gregory Henriquez while city planner Chris Warren took notes; in another corner, the city’s head planner at the whiteboard with developer Bruno Wall, community activist Ned Jacobs, architect Walter Francl and real-estate analyst Jay Wollenberg of Coriolus. Mayor Gregor Robertson hovered here and there, leading two groups to claim that they were his “favourites.”

It’s impossible to capture all the suggestions everyone made — or to imagine what staff are going to do with them, especially since a few of them directly contradicted each other. A and it wasn’t just the developers disagreeing with the advocates, by the way.

There were also some important questions raised, especially about whether the point is to create just any old rental housing or affordable rental housing. The city can probably tinker with things enough to make rental housing projects feasible.  A little graph in the initial presentation showed how the city could tinker a bit — reduce parking, give a little density, reduce fees — to shave $2 million off the cost of a four-storey wood-frame building in East Vancouver, and that would be enough to tip from not worth doing to viable. But is just creating more supply the point? Many people raised the issue (a disgruntled Wendy Pedersen sitting beside me being one of them) that increasing that kind of supply doesn’t really bring on the kinds of apartments that are really lacking in the city: places that rent for less than $1,000.

Real-estate services director Michael Flanigan said obviously the city wants to do both, but the first wave of incentives is probably going to encourage just regular supply through quick and fast regulation and fee changes, while a second wave, which can be done on sites where the city gets into a negotiation with developers, could produce deeper discounts on the cost (along with agreements to specify who will get those cheaper units). He didn’t mention it, but obviously a theme throughout the afternoon was that, if the city were willing to give its own land at a discount, that could create rental at prices that would get down to the lower rates.

Okay, all of that being said, here were some of the suggestions that came up . This is only a partial list, which doesn’t get into the technicalities that some people brought up, like CMHC financing.

– consider allowing smaller units, 275 or 325 sq ft

– allow developers who are willing to create rental in one building to transfer the bonus density they get for doing that to another building

– give an additional FSR to all existing zoning, if the extra space is used for rental only. (Planning speak for newbies: FSR is floor-space ratio and it’s how the city decides how much building you can put on a lot. Most single-family lots are .6 FSR, which means the number of square feet in your house must equal 60 per cent of the square footage of the lot. A small commercial building might be 2 FSR. The Shangri La tower is 13 FSR.)

– don’t insist that building projects be 100 per cent rental. Allow a mix of owned condo and rental.

– shorten up the time for a rezoning (lots of agreement on that one)

– rents for anynew building should match the demographics of the neighbourhood

– let investors be allowed to put a covenant on their title promising to keep the unit as a rental unit for at least 10 years (this crafty suggestion from Bob Rennie, as an answer to something the city is worried about — what if all those individual condo investors currently renting their units all decide to sell when the market improves. Could be a renters’ disaster scenario)

– don’t encourage property-tax exemptions as this could result in inequality and would get murky very quickly

– consider allowing the six-storey wood-frame buildings that the province has been proposing (this came up several times)

– allow building condo apartments that have internal, locked-off parts that owners can rent out, so that apartment owners have the same kind of potential for mortgage help as homeowners do with basement suites

– look at other types of rental forms than the tower and podium or 3/4-storey low-rise.

– city should not allow strata councils to restrict rental

I’m sure I’m missing a lot that was interesting here, so I’ll turn the blog over to the commenters for their additions and analysis.

As I said up above, I’m not sure what staff is going to do all of this. There were so many suggestions and many of them, I have to say, can’t be totally new to anyone. You almost didn’t need everybody there to come up with much of this list, though I have to say, it was fascinating to me to hear developers presenting their ideas with such passion and specificity. And it was also an interesting exercise to get housing advocates, architects and developers to debate the ideas together.

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  • Great summary of what must have been a fascinating meeting to observe.

    Out of curiosity, was there any discussion on how to reduce the costs of building affordable housing suites? (Besides building smaller suites, which I think is a great idea).

    I’ve heard that the “affordable” housing at the Olympic Village has deluxe features and amenities that have driven up the per-unit construction price (ie top-of-the-line appliances; $10 psf tiles; expensive floors and countertops — things most of us who don’t receive gov’t subsidies for our housing can’t afford or wouldn’t pay the extra for).

    Presumably not insisting upon these high end designer specs could help developers produce affordable housing.

  • fbula

    Wendy,

    There was some discussion of the Olympic village housing, but not in that way. Yes, the village social housing units have an unusually high price, which has been widely reported, because of high-end touches that were put in to help those units fit in with the overall look of the village. But that isn’t typical of most “affordable”, i.e. social, housing at all. That’s an unusual case.

    The regular affordable housing that gets built does not have those high-end touches — well, I know Michael Geller will chime in here and say the 14 planned social housing sites have unaffordable features that are the result of the provincial insistence on building according to high environmental standards — so just saying strip away expensive touches doesn’t really apply to the standard run of affordable housing. The reality is that you could build plain boxes with the cheapest of interior fittings and they would still not be affordable — at today’s construction and land prices — for people who can only pay $350-$500 a month.

  • Urbanismo

    Wendy y Frances,

    There are developers and there are developers . . . I would suggest the Olympic Village people just caught up . . .

    I (the architect) have just completed a 65-unit condo. I was boggled to watch the numbers rise from a twinkle in our eye, 2005, to occupancy 2009. Even avoiding C$5,000 marble counter tops costs obesiti-fied.

    We are sold out now with some rentals. As for the “affordability” factor . . . hey I can’t afford . . .

    Condition are interesting (in the Chinese sense). We, understandably, have yet to acknowledge. Even then: what to do? I have no ideas about “economics” but as an observer it is obvious we are in for a jolt. Our dilemma is, we believe “good times” are just around the corner . . .

    The misplaced, hysterical Olympic hyperbole has done much damage: not very many of us are going to benefit.

    When we beatify real estate and financial services, at the exclusion of every other wealth-creating endeavor, know we are in trouble . . .

    Expect a decade of paralysis in paradise . . .

  • I’m sorry, is there really a rental shortage in the city? There are basement suites all over the city that are not unreasonably priced. If there were truly a rental shortage, wouldn’t rents be increasing faster than inflation, and in some cases pushing the rent control limits of close to 3.5% per year? The data I have seen suggest this is not the case.

    From your description, I have the feeling the group missed the elephant in the room: when incomes from rents are detached from property prices, it is not sustainable. Vancouver is not immune to market forces; it just seems that way in the past 10 years.

    I believe zoning has very little to do with developers not building purpose-built rental housing. They can make way more money selling condos. The concept of requiring rentals in a mixed-condo-rental buildings is merely asking developers or taxpayers to subsidise housing. Why not wait for the market to bring rents in line with prices again? Or do we think Vancouver is permanently immune from market forces?

  • Marc

    Was there really nothing on inclusionary zoning? All new multi-unit development should have to provide 20% (give or take) of the units as affordable rental.

  • Frances, at the risk of repeating myself, I would like to re-post the comments I made immediately following the session, since I think they might be more helpful in the context of this post……

    So I attended the session, and am pleased to offer the following initial personal observations. I have also posted some of the ideas that I took to the session on my blog at http://www.gellersworldtravel.blogspot.com:

    1. The session was generally worthwhile. There was a good cross section of interests present…developers, architects, government officials, housing activists, and Wendy Pedersen.

    2. The session began with a presentation of the mayor’s goals…that can be summarized as follows:
    1. Expand the supply
    2. Take unilateral action, using city resources to kick start
    3. Provide leadership in difficult economic times
    4. Encourage 100% new multi residential in perpetuity
    5. Balance community visions with the need to accommodate new rental housing, focused in local shopping areas and near transit
    6. Adhere to rate of change regulations
    7. Maintain urban design quality
    8. Apply programs city wide
    9. Encourage rental housing in association with transit
    10. Seek value for money (supply relative to incentives)

    3. The session started with a presentation by city staff that focused on how to close the financial gap between economic rent (what it costs to build and operate) and market rent. While opinions varied, the point was made that even with free land, rental housing development is not always profitable. The ideas presented by staff included reduced parking requirements, reduced DCC’s, reduced development and building fees, extra density through rezonings, etc.

    4. There followed a brief discussion on general concerns. It quickly began to distinguish between the provision of rental housing, and the provision of AFFORDABLE rental housing. While there is clearly a need for the latter, I’m not sure everyone agreed there is a need to spend significant city funds just to create additions to the rental housing stock.
    In this regard, there was a discussion re: the current vacancy rate. Staff reported that CMHC says it’s 0.3 %; however this does not include basement suites, or condo’s that are rented. I reported that at a recent UDI workshop, the consensus was that the vacancy rate is more like 5 to 6 %.

    5. The participants then broke out into small groups to present their solutions. These were then briefly reported back by city staff who served as the ‘presenters’, which in my opinion was a mistake. (I was told that the organizers thought staff would be more concise than participants!)

    6. Not surprisingly, there was a variety of opinions. Many architects and developers suggested that even with the proposed incentives, the gap between economic and affordable market rent could not be closed. Unfortunately, time did not allow any discussion on the ideas presented.

    7. There was a general consensus that a key initiative should be to speed up the city’s approval process, both for rezonings, but also for development approvals. The highly regarded and experienced architect in my ‘break-out’ group said it currently takes 22 to 24 months to take a rezoning through the system. On this basis, no one is going to seek a rezoning to build rental housing. Others noted that while the politicians seemed keen to act, they worried whether staff could depart from their more lengthy, professional reviews that end up taking much tooooooo lonnnnnnng.

    8. Some people seemed to share my personal view that the city should not be offering reduced DCC’s, reduced permit fees, and property tax holidays, just to encourage the supply of market rental housing. In addition to the question of whether this is money well spent, it raises issues of equity, and management…what do the operating agreements allow, etc.

    9. Some ideas that I thought were worth considering included requiring a payback of any city monetary incentives under certain conditions; encouraging mixed market condo/rental buildings, with permission to subdivide the rental component into ‘chunks’ of units (say on a floor by floor basis) to attract smaller investors (we did this in a rental building at Bayshore), allowing ’secondary suites within multi-family buildings (as done at SFU’s UniverCity), accelerating the laneway housing, and possibly allowing conversions of existing buildings into affordable rental units.

    10. The session focused on both short term and longer term solutions. While I applaud the city for wanting to take action, I still question whether we should spend limited funds just to encourage some rental apartments over shops along an arterial (that might otherwise have gone condo) or a larger rental building. I think many are ready to build rental anyway. However, I do support parking reductions, reductions to minimum unit sizes, density bonuses and accelerated approvals as a way to encourage some projects to proceed.
    (I would support the city offering tax relief to any landowner who was willing to allow relocatable modular housing that provided affordable rental suites!)
    Limited public funds could then be used to assist lower income individuals and households to get into units they might not otherwise be able to afford.

    As Jesse will note, I am in agreement that the rental crises we often hear about…low income seniors being forced to vacate older apartments in the West End, or low income families not being able to find a suitable apartment in East Vancouver, or the homeless on the streets, are not likely to benefit from these initiatives….

    As one of the participants noted, perhaps all our efforts should be devoted to helping those in greatest need, rather than simply increasing the supply of new market rental units.

  • Michael, thank-you (and Frances/others) for the great summaries of the event. It sounds like many people are engaged and trying to find innovative and productive solutions to providing affordable rentals.

    I would like to hear a definition of what “affordable” means. I am guessing I have a different interpretation from others.

  • “While opinions varied, the point was made that even with free land, rental housing development is not always profitable. ”

    I am interested as to why this is. I am assuming there are some regulatory constraints that could make purpose-built rentals more expensive to build and administer. Yet tens of thousands of buy-to-let condominium owners are renting their units out as we speak. Are they too not profitable?

  • Joe Just Joe

    Those investors that are renting out condos are for the most part cash flow negative (at least in the short term). They are counting on selling for a profit later on that would cover their short term loses now. Others plan on holding and over time the property becomes cash flow positive.
    Developers (for the most part) are not interested in long term gains. Pension funds on the other hand are interested in steady streams of income and those will probably be who we see come to the table if the numbers work for them.

  • JJJ, you are saying there is speculation in the market making it impossible for rental incomes to produce a decent return. What problem needs to be solved: tweaking the system to allow for more affordable rentals, or having people admit there is a speculative bubble?

    I’m no expert, but I wonder if the current incarnation of the affordable housing crisis and the solutions offered in that framework would look the same in 5 years’ time, even if nothing is done by City Hall.

  • gmgw

    Re Jesse’s (facetious, I hope) question re the existence of a rental housing shortage in this city, and in response to his request for a definition of “affordable housing”, I would respectfully suggest that it might be useful to direct those questions to the Vancouver portion of the quarter of a million people in this province who are attempting to survive on a minimum or near-minimum wage. To say nothing of those who are unemployed, whether short- or long-term. You will receive very different responses, I should think, than you would from those comfortably ensconced on the green and pleasant streets of Kerrisdale, Shaughnessy, Dunbar and Point Grey (et. al.). As the old adage would have it: “Where you stand depends on where you sit”.
    gmgw

  • CMHC defines affordable as 30% of family income on shelter . .

  • EastVancouverite

    Thank you Frances for the thorough post on the housing idea camp.

    The economics of high-rise rental apartment buildings seem to be broken, I understand largely due to taxation policy at the Federal level. With that in mind I do not want the City’s limited resources, including land, to be put towards incentivizing the large development actors to move into rental construction against their will. I think that most of the meaningful new rental housing will come in the medium- and low-density parts of the city and be built by individuals and small developers. Ultimately I think that we have to resuscitate one of the most historically successful residential built forms in Vancouver: the walk-up apartment building.
    For all the criticism they have received the Vancouver Special has been one of Vancouver’s most successful housing types. It is cheap to build, maximizes volume while minimizing footprint, doesn’t leak, has high livability and can easily accommodate a secondary suite or duplex conversion. What we need is a highly replicable “Vancouver Special” model of a Modern Walk-up apartment building.

    Such a building would be an update of the standard three-story walk-up apartments that can be found throughout the city. My experience living in a 105 year old three-story walk-up has led me to believe that this built form is extremely successful, highly livable, and ripe for rediscovery.

  • gmgw

    EastVancouverite:
    Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), walk-up apartment buildings (and I nostalgiacally remember my residency in one in lower Kitsilano in the mid-70s) would never be permitted nowadays for one simple reason: disability issues. Disabled people, especially those in wheelchairs, would justifiably complain loud and long that the absence of an elevator in a newly-constructed apartment building was blatantly discriminatory. Human rights awareness and legislation, including that pertaining to accessibility issues, has evolved exponentially since the pre-70s, when the vast majority of existing Vancouver walk-ups were built; and a “Modern Walk-Up” simply wouldn’t fly. Sorry, EV; nice try, but no prize for you.
    gmgw

  • This affordable/tenancy debate doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

    Evidently 56% + Vancouver city residents are tenants. Many strata units, probably most, are rentals. CMHC does not include basement suites in their rental availability calculations, probably because many of them are sub-code and illegal.

    Housing prices are ridiculous and have more to do with imagery than economics. Affordability means 30% of family income goes to shelter: ergo both partners must work.

    The “Canny Scot” mayor seems to be bewildered by the problem. And that is no surprise considering the myth, Quoting Frances, April 23:

    “The details of Judy Rogers’ severance agreement. Not much new in terms of the money, aka the $572,000 total package that we all reported last month as the total buyout.”

    This myth is self-promotion: i.e. she is doing the city a favour by just walking in the door. Indeed “financial services” has been promoting this myth for decades and it is emphatically untrue.

    The city CFO is a functionary, essentially a clerk that does what she is told: at that salary she has an inflated opinion of her position.

    And she is not alone. Recent hagiography, beatifying various city department heads, is misplaced. To wit: a recent contract was awarded to study the skyline of a proposal to high-rise East Hastings. OMG, skyline when people are living on the street, blatant cronyism at its worst! These cronies have power they cannot handle and should not have, as this one example, among many, attests.

    The power should be in the hands of elected official and those officials should know the score.

    For all the stratospheric salaries, the city of Vancouver is dysfunctional. The sooner we get a handle on that no amount of cemetery (how appropriate) talk will change anything.

    Frances’ blog is the only media that faces this. Thinq Edward Bernays http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/1999Q2/bernays.html

    Realize we are being duped.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    If the NPA still have a braintrust left…

    Michael Geller should be their NPA Mayoral candidate for 2011 and they should build around him now and stop wasting time.

    He, once again, shows here why he is so understandably revered.

    There has never been a more astute answer-provider on pertinent local issues, with as much broad appeal across the political spectrum.

  • Rand Chatterjee

    I find it particularly striking that not one comment here made reference to the experience of other cities, anywhere on earth, let alone anywhere else in Canada.

    Eighty percent of all cities (>100,000 residents) in all developed countries, including all OECD nations, are firmly in the affordable residential rental property business. And, yes, this includes Canadian cities! Whether through independent Housing Authorities or departments of city hall, the municipal provision of a substantial stock of rental housing, varying from 20% to 50% of the entire rental market, is a global norm.

    This is not just a matter of social justice, but a firm basis of economic sustainability, providing housing for no- to mid-wage employees near services or their employment, establishing a standardized floor for housing quality, and significantly reducing rates of homelessness–with all its attendant costs.

    From Athens to Oslo, Boston to Los Angeles, and St Johns to our Olympic neighbour Whistler, municipally-run public housing works to build social capital, reduce governmental costs, and in fact subsidize the public purse. Yes, most housing authorities not only provide low-income housing under unionized management, but provide a real financial return to the city in which they operate.

    Why not in Vancouver? The answer lies in our cultural history, not in some funding or tax policy failure in Victoria or Ottawa.

    The economics are clear, and compelling. Vancouver’s land-inflation-adjusted return on assets for its “Property Endowment Fund” is non-existent. Companies that handled property the way Vancouver does became the targets of LBO firms decades ago.

    The management of our public lands is shameful, as shameful as our addiction to homelessness. What if the city, or a properly-constituted civic Housing Authority, were to develop this land itself, as is done world-wide?

    The fact is that construction costs in Vancouver for durable, safe, mid-rise, wood-framed housing is less than $140 per square foot (and cheaper elsewhere in BC). A 500 sf apartment with a capital cost of $90,000 (including allowances for common space and poche, but not parking) would amortize to $650 per month over 30 years at a low-risk 8% return to the provider of capital–a princely return whether to the city or a private funder. Add in up to 20% management and maintenance costs, plus a subsidized transit pass, and a $15/hr worker in the first quartile of Vancouver wage earners could afford to rent such a place at cost and at the CMHC suggested 30% of gross income. The current provincial housing allowance would entirely pay for a somewhat smaller unit.

    In other words, this would cost the public purse nothing, and in fact provide a healthy return, especially after full amortization.

    Why is this so hard to grasp, let alone to do? You might note that I’ve left out DCLs, carriage and bridge loan payments, and a number of other professional and frictional costs, but public housing–in world-wide practice–does not incur these. Design competitions and donated land, labour, services, and materials in fact usually reduce costs further.

    It all goes back to Vancouver culture and the groupthink development agenda at Saturday’s “Ideas Camp” at Celebration Hall, as was so astutely pointed out by Michael Geller and others.

    This is about building needed community living spaces for a fair return to the city, our underemployed construction professionals, and the cautious investor.

    The rest should contribute to our history, or become it.

  • Not running for mayor

    AG I agree I could get behind Michael Gellar, Personally I liked Peter Ladner as well but he didn’t do a good job marketing himself and there was still the Sam stuff lingering. What should they do with S. Anton though? Keep her for her experience or clean the slate completly?

    Both the NPA and Vision are closely connected to the development industry, I’m sure the idea camp was more of a feel good excerise for the public and that most of these ideas had already been discussed amongst themselves and some ideas completely removed before the event even started.

  • MB

    Note to EV: Vancouver Specials do not have a small footprint. They are noted for bringing their mass right up to the setback lines, the maximum allowed lot coverage.

    And they do leak, not just through their usually unvented tall stucco facades, but often through the concrete floor slabs via hydrostatic ground water pressure.

    These are just a couple of many examples indicative of the cut corners and cheating many small builders who specialize in Specials commonly practice, which include placing the excavated organic soils back into the pit before pouring a floor slab without the benefit of subsurface drains or a proper vapour barrier.

    Overlooking cheap construction, Specials are perhaps mostly liveable with respect to the maximized interior spaces designed for families. But their contribution to neighbourhood liveability is questionable, especially when older perfectly habitable (and usually much more interesting) houses are smashed to smithereens and hauled away in a dumpster in order to make way for a larger Special. Older homes contain high quality materials, like Douglas fir studs, which is now the price of oak.

    Then there are the totally paved yards and adjoining double garages, the tacky adornments and peel n’ stick rock, the colours ….. and modern demographics where half our adults are singles, and a quarter of singles again are elderly.

    However, some people do buy Specials and convert them to unique Modernist-influenced gems. But not without a lot of effort and expense, and certainly in numbers too few to make a real difference in this uber formulaic approach to the lowest scale detached housing market.

    My 2 cents: With large timber frame construction methods I believe it’s possible to revolutionalize the mid-rise apartment construction. This would include buildings up to 6 storeys, perhaps eight with the right engineering. Bolting together large prefabricated laminated timbers with heavy steel plate jointing seems to me a lot faster — and cheaper — than building cast concrete structures of equal size.

    Further, laminated wood uses lower grade softwood waste from the BC forest industry, including beetle-killed pine of which there is a great supply at present. Unlike concrete, the emissions associated with using waste wood (even with epoxy) are low, and could actually lead to a net decrease in emissions if new trees are planted … not to mention injecting a little positive energy into the embattled forest industry.

    Is there a design competition in this idea?

    Moreover, with the right architect(s), if reasonable-cost steel-braced heavy timber mid rises could be developed for the Vancouver market, they might just have a unique look and economic adaptability that the public finds appealing not just for sales, but for renting at lower rates than for concrete buildings.

    However, with Vancouver’s high land costs (at least in the central areas), it’s possible that affordable rents may only be achieved through innovative land exchanges, density bonuses and other instruments and assists focused on particular sites to keep the initial land cost down.

    It seems the issue of public subsidies wasn’t a big part of the discussion, and obviously senior governments are leaving it up to locals to discuss. But I think housing co-ops have a lot of promise, as does co-housing.

  • Ned Jacobs

    In reply to Marc who asks about inclusionary zoning: yes, in a small-group discussion at the roundtable I proposed inclusionary policies as a way to steadily increase the supply of purpose-built rentals throughout Vancouver without the inherent inequities, unintended consequences and dangerous precedents of the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program that City staff presented to the bigwigs of the development industry (and a few token affordable housing/community advocates such as myself).

    I said it was a serious mistake to have allowed strata-only developments in the first place. The initial requirement would be small: 10-20%. The rental minimum would increase with new building permits over a period of years. It would not require special incentives; rentals would be treated as a required use, not an “amenity.” In present market conditions financing is dependant on rental value, making this an ideal time to introduce inclusionary zoning.

    One developer objected that this would diminish the value of his property by 20%. Not true, I countered; he would get a return on the rentals—any devaluation would only be a small fraction of the rental portion. Trying to derive public benefits from density bonusing leads to diminishing returns; the expected bonus gets priced into the land. Making rental units a requirement helps constrain speculation. Besides, I added, these high land costs are socially and economically unsustainable. Planning Director Brent Toderian commented that one viewpoint holds that land values need to come down further to produce affordability, and that gradually increasing the required rental units would allow costs to adjust (he got it). The developer wasn’t buying—this idea was anathema. What he and his colleagues are praying for is that this “soft market” will quickly firm up and they can start re-inflating the bubble. I was struck by the absurdity of the situation–asking a bunch of big developers to come up with ideas to increase the supply of less-profitable housing–like mice asking the cat if it would please be so kind as to wear a bell.

    What was this Roundtable on Affordable and Rental Housing really about? Not inclusionary zoning to increase supply of market (or subsidized) rental housing. Not expanding the rate of change bylaw to protect rental stock, or measures to protect tenants from predatory evictions, or policies to encourage retention and renovation of existing homes with affordable secondary suites.

    It was really about redefining market rentals in new developments as an “amenity” provided by the developer in return for waiving fees and development cost charges (which pay for genuine amenities); abating property taxes (shifted to other taxpayers); drastically reducing on-site parking (in buildings near major intersections); abrogation of approved local area plans and Community Visions and–incredible as it may seem–giving away city-owned land for market development. In short, it wasn’t about fixing existing problems—it was about creating new ones.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “8. Some people seemed to share my personal view that the city should not be offering reduced DCC’s, reduced permit fees, and property tax holidays, just to encourage the supply of market rental housing.”

    vs.

    “10. I would support the city offering tax relief to any landowner who was willing to allow relocatable modular housing that provided affordable rental suites!”

    Before you plan the parade, AGT, you should note that “some people” are keenly aware that permitting breaks and tax incentives are the key, tried-and-true tools that any municipality — independent of higher levels of government — can use to encourage social and affordable housing developments. Indeed, there are numerous precedents and success stories in other cities and our own past. So to ignore this and give these incentives a blanket thumbs down isn’t a realistic option if we are genuinely trying to solve the problem. I’ll leave it to you to figure out why developers and architects might be against the City taking measures that are proven to successfully increase the supply of something other than cookie-cutter condos….

    And for a developer to say he doesn’t support these incentives EXCEPT if they are applied to his own “affordable” projects seems to illustrate quite clearly the fact that these incentives work and will attract developers to build affordable rental housing!

  • stuart

    Developers are the enemy because they care about only one thing: profit. The City should develop rental housing on City owned land. Next – prevent developers from first selling condos to people who don’t live in BC. Second, prevent multiple sales to the same individual. Third, any condo vacant for six months out of 12 becomes City property.
    Reign in the power of developers – that’s the first thing needed or nothing will change!