British Columbia

'We're behind on all our targets': Despite best efforts, Vancouver moves slowly on affordability measures

A pair of news releases issued by the City of Vancouver Thursday morning outlined how difficult a task it has in providing more affordable housing. 

Work continues on short-term regulations and building more low-income housing, but city admits challenges

A property under investigation by the City of Vancouver for violating short-term rental laws earlier this year was removed from Airbnb days after CBC News inquired about its status. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

One day after the City of Vancouver expropriated two SROs in the Downtown Eastside for $1 each, a pair of news releases outlined how broad the city's attempts at providing more affordable housing truly are — and how difficult it is to achieve. 

At 8:26 a.m. PT, it declared that the first year of regulations on short-term rental units had been a "success", trumpeting the fact that more than 2,000 listings had disappeared from websites like AirBnb.

The city put in the regulations partly to entice more people to put unused space in homes toward long-term rental housing. 

"The short-term rental market is complicated, and it's been encouraging to see the steady progress we've been able to make," said Kathryn Holm, the city's chief licence inspector, in a news conference later in the morning. 

The city held the news conference a day after council passed a number of changes to the bylaw, including increasing the annual renewal fee for an individual's short-term rental business licence from $51 to $99 and a new clause making clear that licence holders may not knowingly provide false information on their applications. 

"We do know that there are occasions where folks have been misrepresenting themselves," said Holm. 

The city said they've collected $113,000 to date in violation tickets, along with six convictions in provincial court.

However, the city data showed there were still 1,000 units on the market that were operating without a licence, and Holm acknowledged there were a "number of very egregious operators that continue to persist."

"I think the thing to remember here is every city in the world is struggling with this," she said. 

"There is a persistence of operators who choose to not comply with bylaws and that is not unique to Vancouver."

Kathryn Holm, Vancouver's chief licence Inspector, updates the media on the city's short-term rental program on Nov. 7, 2019. (CBC News)

Not building enough low-income housing

Two hours later, the city sent out another release, where it revealed it had only approved 649 purpose-built rental units to date this year, less than one-third of its target for 2019. 

In addition, the city has only approved 529 units of social and supportive housing this year — less than half of its 1,200-unit target for 2019 — and just 34 per cent of housing units approved were deemed affordable for people making less than $80,000 a year. 

"There have also been limited social and supportive housing approvals compared to last year, which was the highest level of approvals in a decade. Continued inter-governmental partnerships will be needed to improve this trend," the city said in a statement.

A failure to meet housing goals is also taking place at a regional level. This week, Metro Vancouver revealed that in 2018, only 941 rental units of housing were completed for people making under $60,000 — just 27 per cent of the estimated demand. 

Rental housing built for people making more than $60,000 eclipsed demand by 176 per cent. 

Shortly after both releases were issued by the city, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart spoke in front of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. 

"Frankly speaking, we're behind on all our targets when it comes to workforce housing," he said. 

Stewart highlighted the effect the Squamish Nation's proposed development at the foot of the Burrard Bridge could have for renters, but said it was largely up to higher levels of government to provide the funds needed to build housing that could be affordable for all incomes.

"The CBC recently called me Vancouver's lobbyist in chief," he said.

"I'd rather think of myself as fighting for our city."

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