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City puts on a big push to demo new programs for lower-cost housing: rentals geared to income, infills

July 25th, 2017 · 1 Comment

The Vision council is using the slow summer months to push out lots of news on its planned “housing reset” — new policy aimed at trying to shape supply in the city more than it has in the past to create lower-cost housing. The target market, planners and politicians keep saying, is the households with incomes of $30,000 to $80,000.

First off earlier last week was the expected policy on allowing infills (backyard houses that will be bigger than laneways) behind pre-1940s houses, a measure intended to both encourage owners to retain existing houses and add new stock. As I tweeted the day of, this housing, which the city will allow owners to stratify and sell (contrary to laneways), is probably a good option for a certain group of households in Vancouver, say the $80,000 to $120,000 group, but hard to see what it does for the target market of the housing policy.

Sunday, the city unrolled a new initiative — one that aims to figure out a mechanism to require or incentivize developers to have 20- to 25-per-cent of the rentals in a rental building go for rates lower than the market, i.e. geared to the incomes of the 30-to-80 group.

It’s a piece of policy that’s been surprisingly slow in coming. I asked the mayor (twice) why it hadn’t arrived sooner. His answers are in the story.

It’s true that Vancouver — indeed, all Canadian cities — are hampered compared to American cities in being able to get this kind of housing. That’s because the U.S. federal government has, for decades, offered investors tax credits if they invest in low-income housing, where a certain percentage of units in a project have to be rented out at rents affordable to those making below the median income in a city. As well, in Washington, the state government has empowered cities to offer a property-tax abatement to developers with those kinds of projects. I did a story on that a while ago.

So it will be interesting to see what the city can do with its limited array of policy tools here to try to copy that.

Vancouver could lead the way on this. But it won’t be for a while. Given that it can take up to five years to get a rental project approved, I wouldn’t expect to see anyone break ground on this kind of new project until well after next year’s civic election.

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