British Columbia

Vancouver staff recommend raising the rents in affordable housing pilot program

The City of Vancouver wants to increase the rates for moderate income rental housing as part of a strategy to build more affordable homes, but a former city councillor says the initiative is just a way for developers to make more money.

Staff report says current rates under the program aren't viable and are stalling projects

A picture of the skyline in downtown Vancouver, featuring dozens of glass condos.
A report from staff at the City of Vancouver says rents need to be increased in a program to create more affordable housing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver city staff are proposing an increase in the rates for moderate income rental housing as part of a strategy to build more affordable homes, but a former city councillor says the initiative is just a way for developers to make more money.

City councillors are scheduled to discuss the staff report at the Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities on Wednesday morning. 

It recommends that council approve an amendment to the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program to increase the rent to 20 per cent below the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation's average rent for Vancouver. 

The program started in 2017 as an incentive for developers to build more affordable rental housing. In exchange for setting 20 per cent of the units at below market rates, the city granted them more density or waived development fees. 

Rents were set at 30 per cent of the incomes of target households: renters who can't afford market rentals but make too much money to qualify for social housing, defined as households with incomes between $30,000 and $80,000.

Under the new rates tied to current average rents, the rents would be:

  • Studio: $1,135 (currently $950);
  • One bedroom: $1,303 (currently $1,200);
  • Two bedroom: $1,818 (currently $1,600);
  • Three bedroom: $2,447 (currently $2,000).

The proposed amendments would also allow rents to increase between tenants. The report says the pilot program didn't include the ability to account for market conditions such as inflation or rising operating costs, making the projects unviable over time. 

The conditions made it difficult for developers to secure financing, the report says, with 60 initial inquiries whittled down to only 16 approved projects seven years ago.

For Rent sign at 100 per cent occupied outside a property in Vancouver's West End.
The program was designed to incentivize developers to build more below-market rental housing. (David Horemans/CBC)

Of those, the report says, none have been completed. Nine are under construction, three have received rezoning approval and four are still waiting for rezoning approval. 

"After nearly seven years of implementing the pilot, there is a need to adjust the policy to ensure these projects move forward from application to construction and occupancy," the report says. 

"It is also important that the projects are set up to operate successfully over the anticipated life of the buildings."

'There are other tools in the city's toolbox'

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle said the city needs more affordable housing, and the idea of increasing rents as part of the program makes her nervous. 

Boyle said she would rather the city consider other tools to make the projects more viable for developers, like increasing density or waiving other fees. 

"A rental home that doesn't get built is of no use to anyone," Boyle told CBC News.

"But there are other tools in the city's toolbox that we should be prioritizing and exploring before what's being proposed." 

Vancouver city councillors Christine Boyle is pictured during a meeting at city hall in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, July 24, 2019.
Coun. Christine Boyle says the city should explore other options to make the program more viable instead of increasing rents. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Former COPE councillor Jean Swanson said developers are already generously compensated through the program.

"It's not just that the developer is doing this out of the kindness of their heart. They're getting a lot of benefits out of it," Swanson told CBC News. 

"In exchange for those benefits, they need to keep the level of affordability."

More money from senior government needed: Boyle

Boyle says the problem "points to the challenge of cities trying to get more affordable housing out of the market."

"The market isn't producing the deeply affordable housing that we need," Boyle said, calling on senior levels of government to step up and commit more money for housing.

The report says the 2017 rates are now nearly 50 per cent below market rates. 

"These rents do not reflect the original intent of the program, which was to serve moderate income renters through private sector delivery with no ongoing subsidies," the report says. 

"This raises concerns that some of these projects may not proceed through to occupancy." 


Maryse Zeidler


Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at