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Why we need better info: a summary of the city’s record on rental, low-cost, social housing

November 14th, 2014 · 9 Comments

Several weeks ago, I asked the city communications department if they could pull numbers for me to help quantify what kinds of housing Vision Vancouver has been instrumental in creating since its was first elected in 2008 and what stats were available on the rents. Here was my request:

Does the housing centre have any reports/stats available on the exact number of 1. social housing units built since 2008 2. market rental units built since 2008. 3. analysis of the rents charged for each. (I know that the big towers are all rented at welfare rates, but I think there are some other projects called “social housing” that are a mix of deep subsidy, shallow subsidy and near market)

I got this back this week, which is somewhat helpful, though a bit densely packed. A second chunk of info at the bottom of the post has very interesting numbers on how much councils have spent on housing since 2002, up from $33 million in 2003-2005 to $275 million in the most recent council term.

But I have to say, it’s rather stunning that a government that had affordable housing as an essential plank didn’t compile and convey this information consistently, effectively and repeatedly. As I said in a previous post, it should be essential work at all times for cities to “audit” their initiatives and find out if they are working.

I happen to think the Rental 100 program is a good one — the buildings have filled up instantly, showing that there was a real hunger for this. And even though the rents are at market rates (though not as high as the maximums set out in the bylaw), the units give higher-earning households a place to go. That way, they aren’t bidding up the rents for older suites or basements because that’s all that’s available. Then those older places can stay cheap.

Weirdly, Vision politicians didn’t make that case very often, didn’t ask for more of this kind of information and, I have to say, didn’t combat a lot of the misinformation that went out through social media.

Anyway, after all that, here is the info I got:

  • 50% of residents rent in Vancouver – more affordable than owning – approx. number of units is 67,500 purpose built market rental buildings (secure rental units for life of building), social housing 24,500, all other 54,185 units composed of  (as of end of year 2013): condo 24,000 (not secure rental units – can go to owner at any time), single family homes suites 26,500 (secure rental), 1,100 laneways (secure rental), rented  houses 2500 (not secure rental)
  • Very few purpose built  secure rental buildings built since the 1970’s
  • In Vancouver, Rental is more affordable than owning across the board (whether old, secondary, or new) – rents are controlled by the Province and this makes a big difference over time
  • In 2009 Mayor and Council directed staff to find a way to make it financially feasible for developers to build market rental – within the tools and capacity the city has (ie not dependent on any other level of government)
  • STIR brought forward in June 2009 – concept – provide waiver on DCLs, waivers on some of parking requirements (which make buildings more expensive), flexibility in zoning so that if secure market rental, allow density not normally permitted if it was strata;  ensure that specs were not high end  so as not to increase rents – this was to increase more affordable new purpose built market rentals – affordability was relative to ownership of equivalent size unit
  • 1343 units approved under this STIR plan
  • STIR results reviewed in   May 2012  and changes made by Council for new evolved program (Rental 100) – no mixed developments  – no mixing with strata and secure rental  – too expensive when combined with market ownership units; more clarification re placement of Rental 100 projects across city and what density increase available; more focus on family size units (25% have to be 2 bedroom); new guidelines for unit size to keep rents modest – a further 200 units were approved with these changes
  • In December 2013 – a new bylaw was passed for Rental 100  to provide greater certainty re rent maximums which could be charged at occupancy in order to quality for DCL waiver  – 2 projects have now been approved under new bylaw passed in December 2013 – 160 more units (for overall total of 1700+ units under the programs STIR and Rental 100)
  • Concept is that even though rents are higher than long standing and much older stock, due to the fact that these are brand new units, they will have their rents controlled over the life of the building and they will become even more affordable at a much faster rate than market ownership.
  • So basic premise:

o   Cheaper than a purchase – documented on every council report

o   Rental stock secured by bylaw for life of building

o   Supply is increasing

o   Subsidy is a waiving of DCL and other requirements and provision of density versus an equity contribution

o   Totally within the purview of the City to enable this – no need for senior government involvement

o   Deeper affordability does require senior government involvement

  • In addition, there have been a further 2000 units of purpose built market rental approved – no subsidy and therefore not in STIR or Rental 100 program – this will add to the capacity for market rental in the City of Vancouver
  • Finally since 2012, approximately 800 single family suites and laneway houses have been added per year to rental stock in city (these are also secured rental)
  • Average rents for Rental 100 since bylaw – see Council report links below:

o   7350 Fraser: 1-bed $1,154; 2-bed $1,543 (see page 9):

o   3511- E Hastings Studio:$1,100; 1-bed: $1,300; 2-bed: $1,500 (see page 40):

  • So overall rental capacity has increased by approximately 6000 approved units since 2009


Social housing and social housing with support = over 2050 units – 2/3 are supportive housing of which virtually all are rented at welfare rates due to focus on homeless population; 1/3 of units are social  housing without supports and tenants are  mixed income – rents vary from welfare  to low end of market using BCH Housing Income Limits.


And a second chunk of information:

This data outlines expenditure using different fiscal tools for the delivery of housing including social housing, permanent supportive housing, interim supportive housing and land purchases for the latter. Of note, at year end 2008 and 2009,  the PEF had a substantial negative fund balance which related to the situation in the Olympic Village. Pending resolution of the financial risk of the City related to the Village, spending to enable affordable housing  was therefore decreased significantly from the PEF and other opportunities were pursued through the capital budget, rezonings, capital grants and DCL exemptions. The spend is totaled for each council term.


Council Terms PEF Capital Fund Secured Hsg thru’ Rezoning Grants DCL Exemptions Total
2003-2005 $27.6 $4.8 Not Available Not available $1.3 $33.7
2006-2008 $31.5 $15.2 $1.0 $4.8 $6.4 $59.0
2009-2011 $4.7 $54.7 $29.0 $2.8 $7.1 $98.3
2012-2014 $31.2 $87.9 $148.0 $3.9 $4.5 $275.5



Tobin Postma  |  Communications Manager
Corporate Communications | City of Vancouver

453 West 12th Avenue

Vancouver BC V5Y 1V4
t. 604.871.6914

  1. 604.218.5952
    [email protected]


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Frances Bula | Urban Issues Writer
Vancouver Magazine City Columnist | |
Phone 604.812.6205|
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