British Columbia

Vancouver to consider rental-only zoning, including 4-storey rentals on side streets

Vancouver could see a lot more places where mid-sized rental apartments are allowed if city council approves a new staff report. 

Report recommends changes that could dramatically increase rental density 

Vancouver is looking to increase the rental housing stock by 20,000 units by 2027. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Vancouver could see a lot more places where mid-sized rental apartments are allowed if city council approves a new staff report. 

The report, which heads to council on Nov. 26, recommends allowing four-storey apartment buildings on side streets in residential areas to be fast tracked, but only if they contain 100 per cent rental units.

If approved, the city would have a framework for rental-only projects that are within 400 metres of parks or schools, and are also on a major road that's part of TransLink's frequent transit network or within 150 metres of those roads.

It could also mean some of those projects wouldn't have to go through a lengthy public hearing process.

"This is not going to solve our housing crisis but it is a good step toward bringing a lot more rental housing to the city — thousands of units," said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. 

The province introduced legislation last year that would allow municipalities to zone areas specificially for rental housing, but few cities have made use of the legislation so far. 

Vancouver is aiming to build 20,000 new rentals by 2027.

Stewart said the changes would help shave about a year off the rental application process by allowing pre-zoning areas for higher density. 

"We have been talking to the public over the last year. We've seen publicly available polling that shows that people are ready for these types of changes," Stewart said. 

Under the city's plan, the areas highlighted in blue would be prezoned to allow four-storey apartments that are 100 per cent rental projects — without a public hearing. (City of Vancouver)

Need for urgent solutions

SFU public policy assistant professor Josh Gordon said the city needs to be careful when invoking the housing crisis to justify policy changes, as it will take years for any new apartments built under the proposal to be filled with renters.

"There is already a lot of building. And so the need to dramatically ramp up supply again is something that should be investigated carefully," Gordon said. 

He said he is skeptical about whether having more rental housing will substantially improve the rental situation. 

"The main determinant of the vacancy rate and rental rates is the state of the economy rather than how much rental construction is happening," he said. 

Gordon suggested focusing on being more strict with home sharing services, like AirBnB, might be more effective in providing urgent, short term-relief for the housing crisis. 

Councillors will vote on the 236-page report on Nov. 26. 

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