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What can Vancouver learn from New York’s aggressive approach to social housing?

New York aims to make 25-30 per cent of new housing permanently affordable for a wide range of incomes

Thomas Hawk, Flickr, Creative Commons licence

Stagnant incomes. Rising rents. Pressure on long-time tenants to move out. Sound familiar?

Vancouver city housing staff are hoping to learn from New York’s experience of putting in place an ambitious plan to increase the supply of affordable housing, not just for low-income people but for a full range of low-to-middle incomes.

New York has increased developer incentives, relaxed some rules, such as how much parking a building must include, and increased enforcement of regulations that protect renters, said Vicki Been, commissioner of New York City’s department of housing, at Vancouver’s Re:Address housing conference on Oct. 27.

The city has also introduced a policy mandatory inclusionary zoning, mandating that new development must always include 25 to 30 per cent of permanently affordable housing.

That affordable housing isn’t necessarily tied to the lowest income rate, Been said. It can be targeted to a range of incomes, from a security guard who makes $32,000 a year and can pay $816 a month for rent, to a home health aide making $62,250 who can afford $1,630, all the way up to a firefighter making $106,080 who can pay $2,652.

The City of Vancouver already uses a similar concept to encourage developers to include a certain percentage of market rental and, for some projects, seniors’ or other types of social housing.

“A long-standing policy in Vancouver is for around 20% of the new housing to be something that is affordable,” said Abby Bond, director of housing policy for the City of Vancouver.

In Vancouver, requirements to include affordable housing can be included in a community plan, like the requirement to include 60 per cent social housing in the newest Downtown Eastside community plan. Alternatively, developers are allowed extra density in exchange for including certain type of units.

Bond hopes to learn more about New York’s approach at the conference.

“It’s one of the questions I have for Vicki — to talk about how New York does it,” Bond said.

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