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Fast-tracking social housing projects up to 12-storeys up for reconsideration in Vancouver

Vancouver Sun logo Vancouver Sun 2022-12-05 Joanne Lee-Young
OneCity Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle is bringing back her motion that proposes allowing non-market housing projects that are up to 12 storeys to go ahead without the need for rezoning. © Provided by Vancouver Sun OneCity Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle is bringing back her motion that proposes allowing non-market housing projects that are up to 12 storeys to go ahead without the need for rezoning.
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Vancouver city council will be considering a motion this week that proposes allowing non-market housing projects that are up to 12 storeys to go ahead without the need for rezoning.

It is being put forth by OneCity Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle, who first submitted a similar motion in May 2021 that was notable for drawing over 100 speakers before it was defeated.

The proposal was debated for hours over several sessions, but was voted down 7-3 by the previous council.

Boyle is now bringing back her motion as a chance for Ken Sim and his ABC party-led council to make good on a campaign promise that she said was to delegate approval of non-market housing to staff so that buildings up to 12 storeys in certain multi-family areas and up to six storeys in single-family ones can be built without a lengthy approval process.

Her motion explains that a majority of new, incoming council members answered yes to a question asking for a commitment to such a proposal in a 2022 municipal election survey conducted by a grassroots-group named Women Transforming Cities .

Organizations that build and run non-profit and co-op housing that support the motion hope that if larger projects can be constructed more quickly and with less risk, they might more easily attract funding from senior levels of government and the money from this can go to keeping rents lower for tenants.

 Mayor Ken Sim iat his first council meeting since he was elected Mayor, at Vancouver City Hall on Nov. 15, 2022. © Provided by Vancouver Sun Mayor Ken Sim iat his first council meeting since he was elected Mayor, at Vancouver City Hall on Nov. 15, 2022.

“Mayor Ken Sim committed to non-partisanship, co-operation and comity in his inaugural address. I would like to take him at his word. Here is an opportunity for him to live up to his commitments,” said Boyle.

Boyle’s motion in 2021 was only supported by then-mayor Kennedy Stewart and then-COPE Coun. Jean Swanson, who both lost their seats in 2022.

Incumbent Green councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry voted against the motion last time as did Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung, who were re-elected to council under the ABC party.

Sim’s chief of staff, Kareem Allam, did not reply to a query from Postmedia, but recently wrote on Twitter that: “We never committed to up zoning every neighbourhood to six or 12 stories, but we did support the Vancouver Plan.”

Boyle’s original proposal was for the fast tracking of 12-storey buildings in most neighbourhoods across the city on the basis they met the city’s criteria for social housing, which designates that 70 per cent of units are for market-priced housing and 30 per cent are below-market rental.

At the time, council discussion focused on amendments to look into having more units of housing in these buildings be for tenants with median incomes rather than using the city’s current definition of social housing. It also sought to add options for robust consultation with the public and neighbourhood groups.

The motion this time proposes that council “direct staff to work with the community housing sector on clarifications or changes related to the city’s definition of social housing in order to strengthen public understanding and trust, without creating barriers to developing community housing at break-even rents with no funding from senior levels of government.”

Boyle’s motion in 2021 said that rezoning a property can add $400,000 to $800,000 to the cost of a housing projects for a non-profit organization. Her new motion increased this estimate to between $500,000 to $1 million and said rezoning can take a year or longer.

However, it is also the case that even co-op housing projects that have been underway for more than several years are “stuck” even when the land comes in the form of “free” sites that are contributed by the city without the rezoning factor.

The Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. recently told Postmedia that a 2018 plan for 1,000 units of co-op housing with cheaper rents at seven sites on city-owned land is stalled. About five years later, only units on two sites are completed; one is under construction; another is to begin and three are sitting empty.

With construction and design costs, plus interest rates rising, significantly more funding from the provincial or federal governments needs to increase in order to keep rents in more units closer to targets for being affordable for low and median-income earners.

jlee-young@postmedia.com

With a file from Susan Lazaruk and Dan Fumano

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