News / Vancouver

Vancouver passes "bold" housing strategy

Plan promises more housing targeted to a range of incomes in Canada's most expensive city.

A housing project under constructions at 288 E. Hastings on Mar. 30, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro / Vancouver Freelance

A housing project under constructions at 288 E. Hastings on Mar. 30, 2017.

It was praised for being “bold,” criticized for vagueness and sparked warnings that it will push housing prices higher.

On Wednesday, Vancouver city council passed a new housing plan that promises to add 72,000 more housing units over the next decade.

City planning staff said the new housing would be added in a way that doesn’t lead to more property speculation. The plan also promises to provide “the right supply” for a city that is increasingly unable to house its low-to-middle-income workers.

Council heard from dozens of speakers prior to the vote.

“This strategy resists what often happens in the media, suggesting we just need to do something about demand or just do something about supply,” said Paul Kershaw, a UBC professor who founded Generation Squeeze, a lobby group for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

“The strategy doesn’t embrace that either/or thinking. That is a real benefit.”

But Kershaw criticized the vagueness of many of the targets in the plan, which breaks down housing need by income level.

“Think about some of the metrics it’s proposing for a three-bedroom unit that can be rented. The below-market price that it’s aiming for is about $2,000 a month,” he said.

“For that to be affordable, you need a median household income of $80,000. In this city, the median household income is $67,000 so we’re not even planning for typical households to be able to afford to live here as renters.”

Karen Sawatzky, chair of the city’s volunteer renters advisory committee, said the members of her committee like much of what they see in the plan, including an intention to allow more low-rise rental where zoning currently only allows single family homes.

“This month our committee passed a motion asking council to investigate ways that long-term, purpose-built rental can be built on non-arterial streets, because we have been concerned about existing city policies that focus new rental on arterials, which are much noisier and more polluted than residential streets,” Sawatzky said.

“We want renters to have options for housing inside of neighbourhoods, not just on the edges of them.”

But Joseph and Jeanette Jones, who live in the East Vancouver neighbourhood of Norquay, said allowing more townhouses and stacked rowhouses in that neighbourhood had not resulted in lower housing costs. They were sceptical that this plan would deliver family-sized housing that is actually affordable.

Speaking to reporters on Nov. 28, Vancouver’s chief planner, Gil Kelley, said the city would keep a lid on speculation by requiring denser housing planned for single family zones to include affordable housing. But, he said, "We’re not going to roll back the prices that have been baked in.”

NPA councillors Melissa De Genova and Hector Bremner voted against the plan, saying there had not been enough consultation, enough emphasis on affordable home ownership and that it included piecemeal rezoning rather than a city-wide plan.

The first concrete action likely to come out of the new plan is a pilot project to speed development applications for affordable housing projects.

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