Vancouver Takes ‘Baby Steps’ To Address Social Housing Needs with Rezoning Measure


Vancouver’s City Council is considering a measure that will make it easier to build social housing developments.

The proposal would amend the city’s bylaws to allow nonprofits to build social housing developments up to six stories in height in certain mid-rise apartment zoning districts. It also requires new developments to provide a child daycare facility for residents.

Vancouver officials estimate it could cut almost two years off of the current process to build homes in the city. It would also help the city address homelessness as Vancouver’s efforts have plateaued in recent years.

At the same time, Vancouver is home to some of Canada’s highest home prices. The median home price in the Vancouver metro area is $1.7 million, and home sales in the city are up 126.1 percent year-over-year.

Meanwhile, 2,095 residents identified themselves as homeless in Vancouver’s homeless count from 2020. That total represents a five percent decrease from 2019. However, the city chalked that up to survey fatigue and people not consenting to the survey.

A majority of the people experiencing homelessness in the city are living in shelters, detox centers, safe houses, and hospitals, according to the report. One-quarter of respondents reported sleeping outside.

The song remains the same in the Vancouver metro area as well.

According to the Vancouver City Community Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts the city’s annual homeless count found an additional 3,000 homeless people in the metro area. Most of the people surveyed were elderly non-white and had been in the community for more than five years, the organization found.

Like William Azaroff, CEO of the Brightside Community Homes Foundation, housing advocates say the proposal to ease restrictions on social housing development is greatly needed but is just “baby steps.”

Azaroff told The Vancouver Sun that he wants to see the city expand its height limit even further. He said the measure should include plans to allow social housing buildings up to eight- or 10-stories in height.

Thom Armstrong, chief executive of Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., said the proposal seemed to be “the least” the city could do.

“Some people say, ‘This is the end of democracy as we know it,’ and others say, ‘It’s so timid it’s not going to be worth the trouble.’ But of course, it’s neither,” Armstrong said. “In practical terms, this is a great start in a direction we should have moved some time ago. Let’s be clear: this is a modest proposal.”

It takes between 10 and 16 months to build a new single-family home in Vancouver. Similarly, a report found the timeline to build affordable and social housing is almost twice as long because of the city’s rezoning process.

All rezoning applications are given a public hearing before City Council.

According to Abundant Housing Vancouver (AHV), the result is that the city’s rezoning approvals are spotty. The organization said “it’s quite common for rezonings to be tailored to a single development proposal, while adjacent lots are left with very different rules.”

Vancouver’s proposed rezoning measure would only require social housing developments to go through a development application, a process that can take weeks or months to complete rather than years.

Despite the benefits that the measure presents, it seems Vancouver’s politics aren’t ready to adopt the policy just yet.

Bill Tieleman, a columnist and strategist for Canada’s New Democrat Party (NDP), called the proposal “undemocratic.”

“I don’t care whether it is rental housing, social housing, condos, whatever,” Tieleman told The Vancouver Sun. “I think people have the right to say: I don’t think this fits in our neighborhood.”

An analysis of the measure found it would only impact seven Vancouver neighborhoods: Fairview, Grandview-Woodland, Hastings-Sunrise, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Kitsilano, Marpole, and Mount Pleasant. In all, these neighborhoods make up less than two percent of the city’s total landmass.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are injecting the providence’s 2021 budget with additional funds to support affordable housing and rental assistance programs across British Columbia. However, absent any measures to cool the scorching housing market, some worry the money won’t make a cent of difference.

Over the next three years, the providence plans to spend $1.1 billion to address affordable housing.

Others have proposed implementing a foreign buyer’s tax to stem the flow of foreign dollars into the real estate market. In 2020, over 60 percent of home purchases in Vancouver were by foreign buyers.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh unveiled a plan on May 6 that would flood the housing market with over 500,000 new homes and implement a 20 percent tax on purchases by non-residents. In all, the plan calls for a $14 billion investment in housing.

Singh called on local providence leaders to start “thinking bigger.”

“Let’s massively invest in housing as a way to create jobs locally in communities and as a way to ensure people have a place to call home,” Singh said.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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