Affordable rental project could turn housing into Vancouver’s ‘Hunger Games’: activist

Condos and apartment buildings are seen in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday February 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

It’s too little too late.

That’s what Vancouver housing activists call the city’s proposal for affordable rental units in the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre.

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Mayor Gregor Robertson announced a new proposed pilot program to tackle home affordability on Sunday: designate space in rental buildings as “long-term affordable” as part of its Cambie Corridor Planning Program.

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Under the new proposal, which the city wants to test in the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre, new rental buildings would be required to have 20 per cent of their units set aside as affordable homes, with rents “directly tied to tenants’ incomes.”

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The city, which is currently looking at the “feasibility” of this idea, would hope to yield studio units that would rent for $850 to $1,000, one-bedroom units that would rent for $1,250 to $1,500, and two-bedroom units that would rent for $1,700 to $2,100.

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As many as 1,000 new affordable homes could be generated in the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre, according to the city’s projections.

The city said that developers could receive extra density, parking relaxations or tax breaks known as development cost levy (DCL) waivers in exchange for setting aside affordable spaces.

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“Vancouver doesn’t just need supply, it needs the right kind of supply local people on local incomes can afford,” Robertson said in a news release.

But the drawback with that approach is that it turns housing into a lottery, said Adrian Crook of activist group Abundant Housing Vancouver.

That’s because the building would receive hundreds of applicants and only a few would be chosen for the limited number of units, he said.

“It will be income tested, meaning you’ll recieve a ton of applicants for that type of housing and only, you know, a few will be chosen,” Crook said.

“In a city like ours where you’ll get 300 applicants to a single co-op opening, you can expect it to be sort of like the ‘Hunger Games’ of housing.”

Crook says the answer is creating more supply; he said more four- to six-storey apartment buildings should be put up in those areas.

What does ‘affordable’ mean?

The city defines affordable housing as shelter that takes up no more than 30 per cent of household incomes; it’s the same benchmark set down by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

The CMHC’s most recent rental market report, which covered rents in October 2016, showed average rates for bachelor apartments hitting $1,015, $1,159 for one-bedroom units and $1,459 for two-bedroom units.

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It also showed zero per cent vacancy rates for bachelor and one-bedroom units, and 1.1 per cent for two-bedroom apartments.

A photo rendering of the Cambie Corridor Phase 3 Plan. City of Vancouver

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The pilot program comes as part of an update to the city’s housing strategy, which will be presented to council on Tuesday.

If it works, it’s expected that the program could be expanded “city-wide” and add “thousands more mandated affordable rental homes.”

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