I'll take my rental housing policy with a twist of lemon, please
Over a period of several months in 2008 I sat on a VCPC sub-committee led by former TEAM city councillor Setty Pendakur on the subject of increasing Vancouver's rental housing stock. We concluded in our report, which we informally submitted to city council last year, that the matter of creating new rental was an urgent one. We provided some creative, and controverial proposals that we hoped would spark developer interest in making rental apartments when it was much more profitable to build for-sale housing units.
From what I can see from the city's STIR program, the Vision council took our committee's proposals a few steps further into reality. Our report (which has many similar points as one produced by the Mayor's office a few months later) proposed putting rental housing on the level of a public amenity, but also cautioned against creating too much of a free ride for developers – proposing that developer cost levies stand pat, for example.
Is the desire to aid in the creation of rental housing at too high a cost of traditional amenities like parks and community centres? Will Vancouver neighbourhoods consider market rental housing as a community asset alongside parks or playing fields? We felt that the discussion was worthy of a public debate.
We can appreciate that this city council has a housing imperative, especially for Vancouver's homeless and those below the poverty line. But the incentives for rental – pegged at $112,273 per unit – are aimed at market rental housing.
For that reason, we suppose, Councillor Suzanne Anton asked that council try to be a little more transparent with STIR's breaks to developers. In a meeting of regular council last week, the following motion (voted down 10 to 1, natch) was put forward by Anton:
THAT this matter be referred back to staff to amend the report so as to be transparent about the costs and benefits of the bonus density (excluding the density for the heritage building) as follows:
- The 49,785 sq ft bonus density for the rental housing is worth $6.5m (49,785 x $130 per sq ft);
- The city could achieve a community amenity contribution (CAC) of $4.5m from the bonus density (70% of $6.5m);
- Alternative uses for $4.5m in the West End could include contributions to the Aquatic Centre renewal, community centre, child cares or library;
- The $4.5m foregone revenue represents an average of $91,836 per unit of rental housing; and
- The other foregone revenue set out in part 8 of the report is $20,537 per unit, for a total foregone revenue to the city of $112,373 per unit.
Given that I signed off on the work of a VCPC committee advocating for innovative rental incentives, I'm certainly not being critical of council's plan. Nor do I hear Anton opposing the idea. However, I agree with her that this plan needs a full public debate.
Communities must know that they are, in part, subsidizing market housing near to them, by foregoing contributions to traditional local amenities.
Take our new CityCaucus.com Poll! Should market rental housing be considered a public amenity, like a park or swimming pool?