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Streetcars to the left, housing projects to the right in Van civic election

September 22nd, 2011 · 24 Comments

It’s that time again, when political parties tell us about great new projects that are on the way that will make the city great but won’t cost taxpayers anything.

Wednesday, the NPA’s Suzanne Anton announced that it would push ahead to get a downtown streetcar, which would not require a city investment. Or maybe. I couldn’t tell.

I asked at the news conference how much the city would be prepared to put up to get the project moving, in case the private sector didn’t have the $80 million. She said a future task force would decide that. (The NPA’s details on this attached below.)

You lovely blog-people have already posted numerous thoughtful comments on this under my last entry. (Sorry, guys, bad day yesterday and no time to post or even barely tweet.) Perhaps you can continue the conversation here.

That story got a lot of coverage.

One that got no coverage was the city’s news release about an invitation for developers to propose affordable-housing projects for a piece of city land on the east side. This new effort to create affordable housing would entail the city providing land at a discounted rate for a developer that promises to build at agreed-on affordable rates. (NOT $1,600 for a one-bedroom, like the Olympic village or STIR projects in the West End, presumably.)

Those with long memories will recall that Gordon Campbell tried precisely this idea on a grand scale, giving heavily discounted land to a company that promised to build affordable housing. Jack Poole created the Vancouver Land Corporation, using union pension funds, to take advantage of that offer.

I’ve seen ideas like this work. But the public needs to be sure that what the city is giving as a benefit to the developer really does produce affordable units or things can get ugly.

More info below from the sources involved:

NPA news release

Vancouver, BC – NPA Candidate for Mayor Suzanne Anton today announced that she will re-establish Vancouver’s historic Downtown Streetcar network. The NPA plan calls for a public-private partnership proposal that would connect Granville Island, the Olympic Village and Science World to Chinatown and Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver.

“The Downtown Streetcar represents an important connection between our city’s past and Vancouver’s future prosperity,” said Anton.  “In addition to connecting the newest and oldest neighbourhoods of Vancouver, the Downtown Streetcar is likely to pay for itself within a decade of operation.”

To accelerate the Downtown Streetcar Line, Anton’s NPA campaign platform will include commitments to:

establish a project task force at City Hall within first 60 days of an NPA administration to lead project development, co-ordination with transit officials, community engagement and prepare a business plan for Council approval
prepare a request for expressions of interest to potential private sector partners including the development community, transportation sector & BC corporate sector
begin working with federal Ministers, officials and MPs from all parties regarding collaboration with Granville Island and other agencies

Separate information with details:

Q. How are you going to pay for it?

One of the first jobs of the task force is to do a quick update of the numbers.

The projected 2005 cost to construct the Phase One Streetcar line (Granville Island to Canada Place) was just over $80 million – small compared to $1.6 billion Evergreen Line.

That number should come down a bit because some significant work has been done since 2005 between Granville Island and Canada Line Station for the Olympics

The initial 2005 projection was done when the Canadian dollar was very weak so that may have a positive budget impact as well.

The 2005 ridership studies concluded the operation of the line will more than pay for itself within the first five years of operation.

That said, I am not proposing Vancouver taxpayers pick up all these initial capital costs – even though it is us who will reap the benefits for generations to come.

Vancouver has already made a significant investment in the Line and the value of the land alone represents a significant investment.
There will also be some room to do things within the Capital Plan that is being proposed this year.
More than that though, the Downtown Streetcar is a natural partnership opportunity with the federal government.

City calls for innovative, affordable rental housing proposals

The City of Vancouver is challenging the development community to propose innovative, livable, and cost-effective rental housing solutions for a site at Nanaimo Street and East 26th Avenue.

A Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI) has been issued for the undeveloped portion of 4186 Nanaimo Street. The site is expected to accommodate 40-50 homes.

Qualified applicants are being asked for their ideas on affordable rental housing that could include modular, prefabricated and container forms, as well as traditional construction.

Modular housing can reduce construction time and on-site costs, and the savings could allow for lower-than-market rents. This type of housing has already been piloted in Europe, Australia and the United States, and is becoming increasingly popular for addressing housing challenges.

In Vancouver, a proposed non-market project in the Downtown Eastside could see the installation of 12 container units on an infill lot to form six self-contained studio suites. The Province of B.C. and its partners recently opened an affordable modular housing complex for seniors and persons with disabilities in Cranbrook, and relocated modular apartments used during the 2010 Winter Games to Surrey for a permanent affordable housing project.

The City has been approached by developers wanting to explore different housing forms and the RFEOI will provide them with an opportunity to present creative ideas for designing and building cost-effective housing solutions.

The RFEOI will evaluate the range of possibilities and partnerships available for affordable rental housing in Vancouver that includes non-traditional forms of construction. Rental units could be used for social housing, tenants such as artists or single parents, or workforce housing for single persons and families.

Details of the RFEOI are online at  The deadline for submissions is October 18, 2011.

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