British Columbia

Vancouver rejects councillor's proposal to fast track future social housing towers

On a 7-3 vote, council rejected a motion by Christine Boyle that would have asked staff to come forward with a future motion that could allow social housing buildings of up to 12 storeys to be built in certain neighbourhoods without a rezoning requirement. 

Certain neighbourhoods could have had towers of up to 12 storeys without a rezoning requirement

Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle's motion to have social housing redevelopments of up to 12 storeys not require rezoning approvals in certain neighbourhoods failed on a 7-3 vote. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Another multi-day council debate over a Vancouver housing proposal ended with the status quo prevailing. 

On a 7-3 vote, council rejected a motion by Christine Boyle that would have asked staff to come forward with a future motion that could allow social housing buildings of up to 12 storeys to be built in certain neighbourhoods without a rezoning application. 

Councillors Boyle, Jean Swanson and Mayor Kennedy Stewart voted in favour, with the rest voting against except for Michael Wiebe, who declared a conflict of interest.

"I'm disappointed that [rezoning], one of the strongest tools we have in our toolbox, the majority of council chose not to use last night," said Boyle on The Early Edition the next day. 

"People can't live in imaginary housing, people need real housing, and it's our job to do everything in our power."

But Coun. Pete Fry, who voted against the motion, believed Boyle's motion wouldn't actually achieve those goals.

"I certainly acknowledge that there's a problematic history to how a lot of zoning is created, and the public hearing process is broken, and if we can expedite rezoning processes … then we should find ways to do it," he said. 

"I don't think this, per se, was a tool to do it."

The areas that could have been affected by the change — if a future motion brought forward by staff survived a future public hearing process and vote — would have been primarily in Kitsilano, Mt. Pleasant, Grandview-Woodland and Marpole.

Social housing = 30% affordable?

The motion, like many that involve housing or social policy under this council, brought out over 100 members of the public and took two days to complete. 

The zoning areas of Vancouver that would have been affected under Boyle's proposal. (City of Vancouver)

Those in favour of Boyle's motion included many leaders in the non-profit housing sector, who said eliminating the need for rezoning applications on taller buildings would save money that could further reduce rents, and speed up what is traditionally an onerous pace of approving buildings in the City of Vancouver compared to the rest of the region.

However, a majority of councillors cited comments from those speaking against the motion, many of whom argued the proposed change was too wide reaching and would remove the ability for consultation in the future, since all rezonings require public hearings and council votes. 

Others argued it wouldn't produce enough units of housing that would actually be affordable, given the city's official definition of "social" housing is any development owned by a non-profit where up to 70 per cent of units can go toward renters making up to the low six figures. 

"If we're targeting these areas [with] these older walkup apartments … we don't have the mechanisms in place to protect those renters," argued Fry. 

"These are some of the most affordable housing stocks in Vancouver."

Boyle argued that those more expensive rental units helped subsidize the lower cost of non-profit units absent further government subsidies, and that her motion would primarily benefit non-profits with aging buildings in those neighbourhoods that would like to provide more social housing units when they rebuild. 

"I look forward to hearing tangible solutions from my colleagues, I haven't been hearing that yet," she said.

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