Real affordable housing

One-third of Vancouver households and one-half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing — more than what government deems to be affordable. In September 2014, single-family homes hit record high prices. Many families have no choice but to buy in the suburbs,including more than three-quarters of our police officers and firefighters. Many businesses are losing talented young employees who leave because of housing prices. Vancouver has a housing crisis and it affects us all.

Vancouver is predominantly a city of renters: 55 percent of households city-wide are renters. But not all rental housing is affordable. Our city ignored the real need for affordability when, in December of 2013, a definition of affordable rental rates was pushed through including $1,443 a month for a studio apartment — an amount higher than the average market rate, and well beyond the means of most Vancouver renters whose average annual income of $35,000 means they should pay no more than $875 a month for a studio suite (BC Housing 2014). 

There were more housing starts in Vancouver in 2013 than in any of the last 40 years. But replacing older affordable apartments with expensive new apartments, building high-end luxury condos for investors, and tearing down sound older homes to make way for seasonally-occupied “monster” houses doesn’t solve the affordability problem. A study by Andy Yan of Bing Thom architects revealed that 23 percent of condos in Coal Harbour are vacant much of the year.

Our priority is on policies that deliver and protect affordable homes for the people who live and work in Vancouver rather than policies that deliver commodity products for investors or part-time residents.

Your Vancouver Council Green Team will work to:

Protect renters and re-define “affordable” to reflect real financial conditions

Adopt the standard definition of affordability used by our provincial and federal governments: a household spending no more that 30 percent of gross income on housing.

Base affordable rental rates on median renters incomes for city-subsidized projects. Impose penalties if actual rents of Rental 100 and other city-subsidized rental housing projects exceed proposed rents.

Protect apartment renters from “reno-victions”. Strengthen the “Rate of Change Bylaw” and require that all residents in buildings being renovated or demolished have housing relocation plans for comparable or better accommodation at a comparable or lower rent before the building or demolition permit is issued.

Expand the Rate of Change bylaws to include all rental housing buildings in all zones.^TOP

Protect existing affordable housing

Develop a specific plan to protect existing affordable housing. Base it on an annually updated inventory of rental housing stock. Put an annual limit on apartment building demolitions, as suggested in the 2009 Coriolis report on risks to Vancouver’s rental housing.

Use zoning to protect older affordable housing. Exempt purpose-built apartment buildings from area-wide upzoning and interim upzoning; allow increased redevelopment density only if there is building retention and, as was done in Kitsilano, reduce outright density allowed for developments in single-family home districts and tie increased density to retention of older character homes. 

Offer property tax rebate for an older rental building equivalent to the owner’s investment in energy retrofits and upgrades.

Support housing co-ops by quickly resolving land lease extensions for False Creek co-ops and facilitating loans for renovations of housing co-ops, through the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency or a new community-based financing agency as called for by the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability.^TOP 

Pursue new strategies

 • Empower the new Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) to:

- Build, own, manage, rent and sell housing, on its own or through the Property Endowment Fund, and in partnership with non-profit agencies like the Vancouver Community Housing Land Trust. Ensure city assets are transparently managed with public and council oversight.

- Require developers of housing projects to supply at cost a fair proportion (about 10 percent) of the housing they build or provide cash in lieu to VAHA. Apply this to projects of 10 units or more.

- Offer VAHA housing for sale or rent to people who work in the city, especially workers of moderate to lower income who currently commute, and prioritizing those in emergency-related services (e.g. fire and police services; engineering and water works; and health care). 

Exact an employee housing levy on large new commercial developments, as is done in Whistler and as enabled by the provincial government, and use these funds to build or buy affordable housing. 

 • Establish a community-based financing agency, as called for by the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability, funded by unions, pension funds, foundations, religious organizations and others to offer low-interest loans for affordable housing construction and to renovate and upgrade older affordable housing.

Work with neighbourhoods to allow renovation of single-family homes to add an additional non-strata rental suite to the three units currently allowed on a single-family residential property (main home, basement suite, laneway home) for up to a total of four non-strata rental suites. This could help retain character homes and increase seniors and family housing in residential neighbourhoods. Lobby senior governments to give capital gains tax exemptions for these units as long as the owner occupies one of the non-strata units as their principle residence. 

Examine the emerging "tiny house" movement and how other North American cities are developing solutions to housing affordability through small footprint housing and micro-communities, particularly for single- or two-person households.

• Encourage other affordability measures such as wood-frame multi-unit housing construction (typically 25% lower cost than concrete construction), no minimum parking requirements (typically saving $30,000 to $40,000 per parking stall) and more modest inside finishing, as long as the reduced building costs result in equivalent reductions in housing prices. 

 • Work with experts and the Province to develop a reliable method to identify seasonally occupied or vacant housing and assess what policies could be established to encourage full occupancy, including establishing a “vacant” housing levy, with revenues going into Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund.

 • Investigate the effects of global capital on our local housing market. With the growth of luxury home sales fuelled largely by the perception that Vancouver is a “safe” place to invest, consider an incremental tax on luxury housing, to be applied towards the creation of new affordable housing and thereby maintain the social order and livability that make Vancouver a “safe” investment.

 • Extract commitments from senior governments in advance of the 2015 federal election to develop and fund a National Housing Strategy to meet Canadians’ affordable housing needs, including funds to build, renovate and maintain affordable housing such as co-ops, and reinstatement of the RRAP (Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program) with its original mandate to provide grants to individual homeowners for energy and other essential housing upgrades.^TOP