British Columbia

Vancouver approves more market rental housing after contentious public hearing

In a 6-3 vote, Vancouver council voted in favour of a proposed five-storey, 35-unit apartment on Grant Street, just a block west of Commercial Drive.

Several councillors have regularly said no to divisive rental projects — but they're from different parties

A model of the 35-unit rental building that Vancouver council approved on Grant Street between Woodland and Cotton Drive, which will displace seven rental units in four houses currently on the property. (City of Vancouver)

Vancouver city council approved rezoning for a new rental apartment in the heart of the city's eastside on Tuesday, but it didn't come without considerable debate.

By a 6-3 vote, council voted in favour of a proposed five-storey, 35-unit apartment on Grant Street, just a block west of Commercial Drive.

It will replace four homes that have been purchased by the developer, and the proposal met the guidelines for the Grandview-Woodland community plan passed earlier this decade. 

"The choice here is not to leave these homes. It's either for a four-storey condo building, or what's in front of us," said Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who voted in favour of the apartment building, along with councillors Christine Boyle, Melissa De Genova, Lisa Dominato, Sarah Kirby-Yung and Michael Wiebe.  

"So that's the choice. We need rental housing more than we need a million and a half condos." 

The public hearing took place over two days, with dozens of speakers and 168 letters submitted. 

Councillor Jean Swanson voted against the rezoning, arguing it would only displace low-income residents and add to gentrification in the area. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Are the rents affordable?

But the project was opposed by councillors Adriane Carr, Pete Fry and Jean Swanson, who argued the proposed rents — $1,869 for a one-bedroom unit, $2,547 for two bedrooms, and $3,235 for three bedrooms— were not affordable. 

"Our crisis in Vancouver is a crisis of [having] the right supply, supply that will meet the majority of Vancouverites, and this doesn't," said Carr. 

The project means seven existing rental units in the four houses will disappear. All the tenants will be given a right of first refusal to rent in the new apartment building, but Swanson expressed skepticism that would happen. 

She also argued it would add to gentrification in the area. 

"Approving this rezoning will be giving incentives to developers to continue doing something that I think this council has to be paying a lot more attention to, and that is gentrifying," Swanson said.

But other councillors argued that new market rental buildings will always be out of reach for some when the first open, and it was encouraging to see increased density proposed for somewhere other than a high-traffic road. 

"I don't think saying no to it is going to achieve affordability," said Sarah Kirby-Yung.

"This is a progressive step, not perfect, but it is one where I think we need to show we are welcoming rental housing in different communities."

Does the city's program make sense?

Tuesday's vote continued a trend in Vancouver council where opposition to new market rental housing came not from any one party, but a combination of people from different parties. 

"It is a bit of a rock and a hard place situation," said the Green Party's Fry, who has voted against a number of rental proposals in recent months, along with the NPA's Colleen Hardwick and COPE's Jean Swanson. 

Fry said much of his opposition comes from the city's policy of waiving development cost levies on projects if they meet its current definition of "for-profit affordable rental housing" — which for Vancouver's eastside is the same as the project's proposed rents. 

"I think we're shortchanging our city in the long term," said Fry, who said he was hopeful a staff review of the program would result in changes. 

"Our city is not just about building housing. It's about building complete communities, and services to address the new population that we're dealing with." 

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