New direction in housing policies needed
OPINION: Renovating existing homes can accommodate growth
By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, August 31, 2019
Artist’s rendering of a 14-storey tower proposed at Broadway and Alma St.
For a decade, the top issue in Vancouver has been housing affordability. Yet every policy response from the City of Vancouver has not improved the situation, in fact making it progressively worse. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. That is the definition of insanity.
Ending homelessness has not been achieved and has increased by multiples. The contagion spread to price out almost every income bracket. The exponential growth and supply economics has proven to be a dismal failure as the older more affordable housing is demolished and replaced with new, more expensive stock. Yet we see these policies continue to play out as history repeats itself.
In the Great Recession of winter 2009, Vancouver’s new Vision council was dealing with most large condo developments being cancelled. Many developers were considering building rentals instead of condos since the market was entirely stalled for strata.
Then-mayor Gregor Robertson was looking to partner with the development industry on rental housing. This was the first evolution of the Vision rental incentive programs called Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR).
Ironically, this was initiated through industry consultation in a graveyard. So began the death of liveable Vancouver.
A large meeting was held with the biggest players of the development and real estate industry at the city-owned Mountain View Cemetery’s just completed architectural modernist crematorium. Only a few token “others” were invited, including myself.
Driving up the heavily guarded graveyard roadways that were lined with luxury cars, it was an indication of what to expect at the meeting. The industry attendees had their calculators out and directly demanded that the city officials get to the point. How much of a density and height bonus was the city prepared to approve?
The resulting STIR program created large controversial projects such as 1401 Comox St. in the West End and the Rize at Broadway and Kingsway. These and other STIR projects were grossly out of scale with the surrounding communities.
In January 2012, then-director of planning Brent Toderian, outlined the problems with the STIR program: huge height and density increases of mostly strata condos were used to secure very few rental units; waived amenity contributions; and STIR rents were high.
The program was then cancelled and replaced with the Secured Market Rental Housing Policy, and Rental 100. This would be 100-per-cent rental and limited to six storeys, but generally still out of scale with surrounding areas, with waived amenity contributions and unaffordable rents.
The high rents from these programs have inflated market rents generally and also set precedents for land inflation, with increased development expectations in surrounding areas.
Then in 2018, in the dying days of the Vision council, they initiated another rental program to attempt to include affordable rents. The Moderate Income Rental Housing Program (MIRHP) is currently being carried forward by the city under the new council. Continue reading