The province is leaning on the City of Vancouver to speed up housing projects, ahead of a key council decision on how fast to allow redevelopment along the Broadway corridor.
The City of Vancouver approved its Broadway Plan last year, a sweeping document aimed at guiding development around the new Broadway subway line. Next week, council will consider a “pace of change” policy governing how fast developers will be able to tear down and redevelop existing rental stock.
“The biggest concern that I’ve been hearing is the notion we should slow down the pace of development that’s going to be happening there,” Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon told Global News on Wednesday.
“We are in a housing crisis and we are at the state now where we need to get on with it — so the discussion they’re having around the pace, I think the pace needs to be at the pace of the challenge we have, which is fast, and if there is a developer or a not-for-profit that is ready to go, they should be able to start work.”
The report to council next week proposes four options regarding the pace of change in the Broadway corridor over a three-year period.
City staff have recommended the least disruptive option, which would allow five redevelopments and displace an estimated 180 renter households per year.
Option two would allow 15 redevelopments, displacing an estimated 550 households, while option three would allow 30 redevelopments, displacing an estimated 910 households.
A fourth option would set no limit on redevelopments, displacing a potential 2,000 households per year.
Rebbecca Bligh, a city councillor with ABC Vancouver which holds a majority on council, said the challenge will be to strike a balance between protecting existing affordable rental in the area while seizing the generational opportunity to massively increase Vancouver’s rental stock.
“We know we are in a housing crisis with a deficit around rental units. This plan is set to build two-thirds rental and below market rental, which is a very important number for us to aspire to fulfilling across 500 city blocks,” she said.
“We’ve got a rapid transit line that is slated to open in three years that will further put pressure on our existing rental, we need to show we’re able to create new units that was essentially our end of the bargain when the province said they will build this subway line in.”
Vancouver’s Broadway Plan includes what Kahlon described as some of the strongest renter protections in North America, which govern what would happen to displaced renters.
Under those protections, displaced renters have the right of first refusal for replacement units at their current rent or a 20 per cent discount on citywide average market rents and are eligible for a temporary rent top-up to cover the difference between their old rent and new rent while displace.
But with vacancy rates currently below one per cent in the city, there are still concerns about how displacement will affect renters.
“We need to have some kind of mechanism to make sure we’re getting the tenant protections right and in place, and we’re not seeing a rush on purpose-built apartment buildings in the Broadway corridor … we haven’t really tested them out yet, and we don’t know how they’re going to work,” Green Coun. Pete Fry said.
“This is a complicated undertaking and these are some of the most affordable housing units existing in the City of Vancouver right now, so if we’re going to replace them with more expensive units, then we really need to have a plan for where people should go.”
And the City of Vancouver likely won’t be the last to feel the pressure to build.
The province is slated to unveil its new housing plan this spring, which will include selecting eight to 10 communities to prioritize new construction.
Meanwhile, federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has promised that if he becomes prime minister he’ll withhold housing money from cities that don’t build enough new units.
Council is slated to receive the pace of change report at its Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities next Wednesday.