News / Vancouver

Vancouver's plan: More housing, less speculation

City sets itself a nearly impossible task

July 20, 2017.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Chief Planner Gil Kelley hold a press conference outside of 4028 Quesnel Drive on options to densify single family neighbourhoods that have been losing population.

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

July 20, 2017. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Chief Planner Gil Kelley hold a press conference outside of 4028 Quesnel Drive on options to densify single family neighbourhoods that have been losing population.

Can Vancouver densify its single-family neighbourhoods without setting off a wave of speculation that will kill any chance of making housing more affordable?

That was the question on several city councillor’s minds on Tuesday as city planning staff laid out more details of a revamped housing strategy.

“Even in areas we haven’t rezoned, there has been massive speculation,” observed NPA Coun. George Affleck, describing areas like the Broadway corridor, where a subway extension has been planned and Renfrew Street.

The new plan, which was first introduced back in March, promises more affordable housing will be included in new developments, increased densification in single-family neighbourhoods and faster processing times for building.

The city has been criticized for waiting too long to rethink its housing plans, following a property price spike that began in 2015 and has upended any relation between regional incomes and home prices. While the detached home market flattened following the introduction of a 15 per cent foreign buyer tax, global and local investment has simply flowed in to the Metro Vancouver condo market.

Gil Kelley, the city’s chief planner, said the city believes it can dampen speculation. But don’t expect land prices to drop: "We’re not going to roll back the prices that have been baked in,” Kelley said, “but we hope to curb future price increases that are purely speculative in nature.”

How does the city hope to stop the runaway train that is the Vancouver real estate market? There are things the city has the power to do right now.

“Wherever we start a new plan that might result in up-zoning, that will come with some limitations on development without providing a lot of affordable housing,” Kelley said.

A slide from city staff's presentation to council showing the disconnect between housing costs and incomes.

City of Vancouver

A slide from city staff's presentation to council showing the disconnect between housing costs and incomes.

“We will consider the land values at the start of the process as opposed to a lot of the speculative gains over the two years or so it might take to do the process.”

The city also hopes senior levels of government will agree to allow rental-only zoning; put in place a tax on property flipping; increase the property transfer tax on luxury properties; and reform income tax and capital gains tax to “close loopholes.”

In single-family neighbourhoods, where population gains have been modest or negative over the past 15 years, the city wants to allow low-rises and townhomes near schools and community centres — but it also wants them to include housing affordable to different bands of income.

David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC, said rental-only zoning could help temper land value costs.

When it comes to single family lots, where lower-density building is planned, “the greater the density the greater the likelihood the numbers will work,” Hutniak wrote in an email to Metro. “So the task will be finding that balance.

“The land value/cost is pretty much the driver of the entire current housing crisis.”

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