$1,500 for 500 square feet: Vancouver’s shockingly high ‘affordable’ rents
Pegged at $1,164 in 2015, the "affordable" market rents that are part of a social housing building in Yaletown have now climbed to $1,500
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Among the many questions about a complicated Yaletown land swap between the City of Vancouver and Brenhill Developments is why 500-square foot “low end of market” rental units are now being advertised for between $1,500 and $1,700 on Craigslist.
The deal has been under the microscope since March 13, when NDP MLA David Eby raised questions about BC Housing’s involvement in the arrangement in the legislature.
The city previously told Metro that it had no say in how rent amounts are set after the first set of tenants move in. But that is not correct, Metro has learned and the city has now confirmed: the city has a long-term operating agreement with the housing operator, a non-profit called 127 Society, and the two organizations worked together to set the rent rates.
The new social housing building was completed in July 2016, and replaced an 87-unit social housing building 127 Society had operated at 508 Helmcken St., next to Emery Barnes Park in Yaletown.
In 2012, the City of Vancouver and Brenhill agreed to swap 508 Helmcken St., which the city owned, with 1099 Richards St., which Brenhill owned. The city rezoned 508 Helmcken St. so Brenhill could build a condo tower.
As part of the deal, Brenhill was to build a replacement social housing building which would contain 87 replacement low-income units, as well as 75 market rental units.
In a 2015 planning report prepared by the city, those 75 rental units were also supposed to be affordable to “residents who have incomes higher than those on welfare or old age security, but may struggle to find or afford market rental housing.” The report says rents will probably be around $1,164 a month. By comparison, in 2016 average one-bedroom rents for downtown Vancouver were $1,434, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
That calculation has since changed, communications staffer Tobin Postma wrote in an email to Metro (Metro has asked the city several times for an interview with housing planning staff who were directly involved in the deal, but has never been granted one).
Postma said that the original 2015 calculation had used CMHC’s average rent as the base. He said it’s common to use that measure before rental units have been built and can be appraised.
Based on that market appraisal, the city is now comparing the rent rate to the average rent of a newly built rental apartment in Yaletown: $1,700 a month. Based on that measure, these are considered affordable units, the city says.
Rent or mortgage payments are generally considered affordable if they take up no more than 30 per cent of annual income. Therefore, tenants of New Jubilee House would have to be earning at least $60,000 in order for the $1,500 rent to be considered “affordable.”
New Jubilee House is expected to use the market rents to help pay for the operations of the subsidized portion of the building. Metro also learned from BC Housing that 20 people were moved from the Quality Inn (which was used as emergency housing following a months-long tent city occupation of Oppenheimer Park in 2014) to New Jubilee House. That means that more of the units are currently being devoted to social assistance-rate rents, although, Postma said, the goal is to gradually return the building to 87 units of social housing and 75 units of “affordable” market rental.