Rental advocate targets 500-unit plan

City identifi es six sites in Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Killarney

An organizer for the Vancouver Renters' Union calls the city's goal to see 500 new units of affordable rental housing built on six city-owned sites within the next three years exciting.

But Nathan Crompton wants the city to specify maximum rents for those applying to design, build and operate affordable rental housing through a new city program announced Aug. 9.

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"It's not that they don't see the need," he said. "They're just not willing to go the next step."

The city has identified six sites in Kensington-Cedar Cottage and Killarney to be made available to nonprofit and private sector applicants in exchange for nominal, long-term leases. The new "More Homes, More Affordability" program is meant to help the city meet the targets of its 10-year housing and homelessness strategy and to further recommendations from the mayor's task force on housing affordability.

"What we're trying to do is see how close we can get to what the classic definition of social housing is, and that is where rents can be geared to the income of the residents, and assistance would be 30 per cent of the renter's income, and a mixed-income model which could be self-sustaining over the longer term," said deputy city manager David McLellan in a voice mail to the Courier. "We expect our proposal call will get as deep an affordability as they can. That's the yardstick we would ultimately like to achieve, but we'll see how far they get towards that goal."

In addition to nominal lease rates, the city may waive or reduce development cost levies, reduce parking requirements and fast-track approvals to help developers build more affordable housing.

Crompton said the rental housing the city has helped establish hasn't been affordable. He added units defined as social housing by the city for a mixed housing development on the East Hastings Pantages site will cost renters nearly $900 a month for a one-bedroom suite.

Crompton recognized middle-income earners need affordable rentals too, but "there are so few units everyone is pitted against each other."

The city states in its call for proposals that it wants applicants to create "housing projects with a deep and protected level of affordability, without the need for operating subsidies from the city."

The city may consider proposals that include condos if their inclusion means lower rents for more units.

Five of the designated sites are off Southeast Marine Drive and one is on Kingsway near Welwyn Street.

Applicants must submit their proposals by Sept. 18. The city will announce short-listed candidates in October, and then release a more detailed request for proposals. Projects are to be awarded in early 2013. The city hopes to see 500 new units available to renters by the end of 2015.

"The big problem is that they won't be built until after the next election cycle," Crompton said.

He expects the dominant Vision Vancouver party to campaign on creating more rental housing but worries promises of affordability could falter after the election.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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