Next Tuesday afternoon, Vancouver Council will consider approving a report on a Secured Market Rental Housing Policy. There has been no public consultation on this policy, which has huge implications for land use city-wide including changes to many Zoning and Development Bylaws.
The proposed market rental policy is to replace the failed Short Term Incentives for Rentals (STIR) program, which was approved without public consultation in 2009 and recently cancelled after massive opposition. There were many problems with STIR, most of which will not be addressed by the new policy, Son of STIR, proposed to replace it. Son of STIR will be worse than its predecessor, and should be referred back to staff for further public consultation.
Problems with STIR:
When Brent Toderian, former Director of Planning, explained in January 2012 why the STIR rental units were being removed from the Rize proposal in Mount Pleasant, he outlined three problems with the STIR program.
1. STIR did not create much rental.
2. Huge height and density increases were necessary to secure very few rental units or amenity contributions.
3. STIR unit rents were high.
In contrast, the City report declares STIR "results to be in-line with the objectives". That is not in fact the case.
Problems with STIR not addressed by Son of STIR:
The report recommends developments of 100% rental, rather than mixed with strata. But this does not address the STIR issues about lack of affordability, loss of amenity contributions, or the scale of rental developments.
1. New rentals will still be more expensive than existing older rentals, but existing more affordable rentals will not be protected. Proposed policy and guidelines will not restrict redevelopment where existing rentals already exist. (Current Rate of Change policy applies only to multifamily zones but not to properties with under 6 rental units, or to properties in commercial, industrial or RT zones.)
2. Son of STIR will not provide for community amenities.
3. Density and height will continue to be out of scale with the surrounding neighbourhood.
New problems introduced by Son of STIR:
STIR was a temporary program whereas Son of STIR is proposed to be permanent, written right into the City's Zoning and Development Bylaws.
1. Zoning Bylaws would be changed. - The report gives City staff direction to change the existing Zoning and Development Bylaws.
2. Guidelines amendable without Council approval. - The Rental Incentive Guidelines (Appendix B of the report) could be amended in the future by City staff without requiring Council approval.
3. Director of Planning given broad discretionary powers. - Increases to height and density could be approved without rezoning. This discretion would be based on the guidelines for consideration of additional density and height in Appendix B of the report.
The zoning changes are broad in scope and do not avoid existing rental buildings other than some limitations in RM apartment zones. All existing rentals in RT heritage zones, commercial areas, CD-1 zones, industrial areas and Official Development Plan areas are not protected. The increased density and height for rentals would put more development pressure on heritage and character buildings, which already have some of the most affordable rental and ownership options in the city.
If not demolished for redevelopment, existing rental buildings could be cut up into units as small as 320 sq. ft. which would displace existing tenants. The proposed policy encourages small suites for affordability while at the same time encouraging larger family units of 2 bedrooms or more. But if existing larger affordable units are cut up into smaller units while displacing tenants, then the policy is working at cross purposes.
Height and density increases are not significantly restricted or defined. Unfortunately, this means the Director of Planning is given broad discretionary powers without any checks and balances. There are no appeals process for affected third parties.
Commercial C2 zones could go up to 6 storeys but there is no specification of actual height. Developers can greatly increase the height of individual storeys, so a 6 storey building could be 65 or even 80 feet, in contrast to existing height limits of 45 feet. What about C3A which has no clear height restrictions in the zoning other than guidelines that can be misinterpreted where convenient? Allowing residential development in industrial areas will increase land values, even where it is rental, and will destabilize industrial uses contrary to the Regional Growth Strategy.
Son of STIR should be referred back to City staff:
The proposed Secured Market Rental Housing Policy, Son of STIR, works against protection of existing rentals, affordability, heritage, liveability, and the City's environmental objectives. There are so many issues that have not been thought through with this proposed policy. The policy report should be referred back to City staff for further consultation with the public and other stakeholders.
Elizabeth Murphy is a former Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver's Housing & Properties Department; Senior Development officer for BC Housing; and private sector project manager. She ran for councillor with Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver in the 2011 Vancouver civic election.
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