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Are there any housing solutions possible for Vancouver? NPA, Vision, Green, COPE offer very different ones

November 7th, 2014 · 21 Comments

Lots of people smarter than me think it’s almost impossible to tackle housing affordability issues in a city like Vancouver. The house prices in certain pockets are so out of whack that it’s hard to imagine that any level of income increase or city subsidy would bring them down.

But mayoral candidates, of course, can’t say that. They have to say something on the topic (well, most of them do).

And I do think there are alternatives around, as long as everyone understands that there is no way to reduce the cost of a current $2 million house to $600,000 or create a breand-new $850-a-month apartment without a very significant level of subsidy. The city can create more alternatives, in between the $300,000 one-bedroom condo and the $1-million house.

We can’t make land or construction cost less, but we can create two- and three-bedroom townhouses or apartments for those families who are willing to trade less space for the advantage of being in the city. (A trade-off that many are willing to make, if they can find the product.) Cities can give density bonuses in order to get things from developers. Or they can simply set certain requirements for developers.

I got to sit in on a meeting with the three major mayoral candidates and Adriane Carr from the Green Party the last two weeks and heard a few more details. (I also looked at COPE’s extensive plan, though not all, as some links aren’t working.)

I wrote a story on three of them (the three we’d done to that point), but they really seem to boil down to this:

Vision/Gregor Robertson:

-Keep giving developers some density bonuses/incentives to get them to build rental that’s guaranteed as rental for 60 years. Yes, it rents at market rates, but every unit built is one that, theoretically, preserves some crummy basement suite or tired old cheap rental from being reno’d for those who can afford more.

– Tinker with above to see if any lower i.e. below-market rental rates can be mandated. (But means likely giving more density.)

– Continue on with the experiment of providing city land to a group of non-profits/co-ops to see if they can create a cluster of housing where the expensive units subsidize some below-market rates.

– Continue collecting money from developer fees and putting it into housing subsidies. In the last three years, the Vision council put $275 million into its housing fund — almost nine times what the council of 200202005 did.

Green/Adriane Carr

– Carr is the most enthusiastic about a model where all developers would be required to give one out of every 10 units they build to the city at cost. So developers wouldn’t get any density bonus. They’d simply be told that the cost of doing business in the city is that price. Unknown whether developers would simply all move to Burnaby or what. Carr acknowledged it would be tricky to figure out who is entitled to get this subsidized housing, which the city would rent or sell for discounted prices, but she was inclined to favour what cities like London have done . There, key city workers, like police, firefighters, medical personal, paramedics, teachers, nurses, and so on, are at the top of the list.

COPE/Meena Wong

– Create a housing agency where the city, through contracts with builders, constructs 800 units of mixed-income housing a year. Half would be rented at welfare rates; I’m not sure what the split on the other half would be. That would mean the city would need to 1. provide the land and 2. come up with all the construction money, unless it could get the province and federal government to chip in. If it couldn’t, my estimate was that the cheapest the city could build the social-housing-type units for is $200,000 a unit. That would mean $80 million a year just for that half. Then there would be most costs, although partially covered through future rents, for the other half — maybe $40 million a year? So $120 million a year, or about 10 per cent of the city’s current budget.

There is currently $150 million in the affordable housing fund, so that could . As well, one part of the plan is for the city to develop some other chunks of its land, build market housing, and take all the profits from that, also to be put towards building the mixed-income housing.

– Many other provisions for either raising money to build low-cost housing or to prevent it from being eradicated. One that caught my eye: setting up a system at the city where a landlord couldn’t get a renovation permit for a unit unless said landlord promised to rent the same unit back to the same renter at the same price, once the work was done.

NPA/Kirk LaPointe

– The NPA platform has only one page on housing issues. LaPointe has mainly said he wants to have a conversation with residents about how to create low-cost housing. One paragraph in his plan does talk about some kind of mixed-use projects where lower-density housing would be combined with higher density. When I asked a few times at the meeting about whether that means developers would get some kind of density bonus to provide low-cost housing, he said yes, under certain circumstances.

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