News / Vancouver

Lower-income renters left out of transit-oriented density in Metro Vancouver: study

Lower-income renters are more likely to take transit, but few affordable apartment units are included in station density zones.

A SkyTrain passes condo buildings along Quebec St., on Mar. 23, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

A SkyTrain passes condo buildings along Quebec St., on Mar. 23, 2017.

Transit-oriented development in Metro Vancouver isn’t delivering affordable rental housing, even though lower-income households are more likely to ride the bus or SkyTrain.
That’s according to a study released by Metro Vancouver Regional District on Nov. 3. Metro Vancouver found that demand for rental housing geared towards people making $50,000 or less is not being met across the region.
That’s because land values along transit corridors and near rapid transit stations has soared, making it difficult for private developers to justify building rental housing for people making a low-to-middle income.
There is already a huge gap between the return provided by a strata condo and a rental unit. Many of the rapid transit stations around the Lower Mainland have been zoned to encourage maximum density — but the higher cost of concrete construction means it’s even less likely affordable rental will be part of the mix. 
A stark example of this dynamic is Burnaby’s Metrotown neighbourhood, where low-rise rental apartments have been demolished to make way for strata condo towers.
High density building can work in some markets where market rents are high enough to support the cost of construction, the report points out, but it doesn’t work at all in municipalities like Langley or Surrey, where concrete construction isn’t economically viable even if the land was free.
If municipalities want to encourage more rental for lower-income people, they’ll have to look at reducing construction and development costs. That could include reducing the number of parking stalls required in new developments, lowering development fees and even helping to finance construction.
Reducing property taxes could help reduce the overall operating costs for rental buildings. But, the report notes, municipalities would have to make up the resulting shortfall by increasing tax on other properties.

More on