British Columbia

Vancouver fails to build any affordable market rental in 2018 for households making $30K to $50K

Enacted in 2017, the new strategy was noteworthy for targets tied to what people could afford using 30 per cent of their monthly income. 

Mayor Stewart says a program that gives incentives to developers choosing to build rental needs tweaks

(Peter Scobie/CBC)

The City of Vancouver is close to its targets for new homes aimed at people below the poverty line or above the median income — but lagging far behind for those in the middle. 

"I'm just kind of sobered by the whole report," said Mayor Kennedy Stewart, after staff released its progress report on the first full year of the city's 10-year housing strategy.

Enacted in 2017, the new strategy was noteworthy for targets tied to what people could afford using 30 per cent of their monthly income. 

But while the city is at 93 per cent of its targets for households making under $15,000, and above its targets for households making more than $80,000, there are big gaps in the middle. 

The City of Vancouver met zero per cent of its target for purpose-built rentals for households making between $30,000 and $50,000 in 2018, and just 39 per cent for those making between $50,000 and $80,000. (City of Vancouver)

In particular, just 85 units of supportive and social housing were built in 2018 for people making between $15,000 to $30,000 (the target was 320) and no market rental units were built for households making between $30,000 and $50,000 (the target was 250). 

"Perhaps, there are some gaps in our incentive programs, and we have to bend them more to get more in that particular wage band," said Stewart. 

However, he praised the work of staff on the progress that had been made, highlighting the fact that 2018 had the highest level of approvals for social and supportive housing in a decade. 

"I do feel the gears riding away and really working on this hard. I know the public appreciates it," he said.  "We've been really producing a pipeline of supply, [but] we'd like to shift the affordability and hit the targets on income"

Two years into its 10-year housing plan, the City of Vancouver has exceeded its targets for new housing, but only because of significantly higher amounts for households making more than $80,000 a year. (City of Vancouver)

Incentives to build more rentals

The report comes as council is set to debate a motion this week on the future of Rental 100, a program which gives incentives to developers choosing to build rental properties instead of condos.

"How can we say we're meeting the targets for social housing when we have so many people who are homeless?" said Coun. Jean Swanson, who put forward the motion.  

But the program might survive, as Stewart and a number of councillors have voiced support for it.  

"Could we make it even better? Could we make it more effective? Could we get more bang for our buck? And that's [why] we have our expert staff ... and we adjust as we go along."

Swanson's motion also argues the city "now has the ability to zone for rental only, so we don't need incentives for rental construction as a way of preventing condo construction," but Stewart said it would be some time until the city used that power, likely along the incoming Millennium Line extension to Arbutus Street.

"I'd be worried about panic, using a new power," he said, alluding to a lawsuit in New Westminster by property owners upset their rental units had been rezoned, diminishing their potential future value. 

"I don't think that you rush to use a new tool just because you have it. You have to do some training first."

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