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Hundreds of people gather for an affordable housing rally in Vancouver organized by the #DontHave1Million Twitter campaign on May 24, 2015. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)
Hundreds of people gather for an affordable housing rally in Vancouver organized by the #DontHave1Million Twitter campaign on May 24, 2015. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver releases plan to boost availability of family housing Add to ...

Under pressure to address housing prices and supply, the City of Vancouver has unveiled plans to encourage more family housing near schools, parks and community centres and to boost the numbers of family-oriented units in new developments, including social housing.

The proposals come amid a roiling public debate over housing in Vancouver, where the average price of a detached home soared to a record $2.23-million in May, up 19.2 per cent from $1.87-million in the same month last year, according to statistics from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

Under proposals outlined in a staff report released on Tuesday, Vancouver would develop a city-wide rezoning policy to promote construction of more high-density multi-family units in single-family neighbourhoods that have facilities such as schools and parks, boost the requirements for family-oriented units in new residential projects from 25 to 35 per cent, and require 50 per cent of units in new social housing to be suitable for families.

“We’re going to keep looking at new ideas to meet our affordable housing challenges head-on, and make sure we’re providing opportunities for young people to put down roots in Vancouver,” Mr. Robertson said in a statement.

Details of how the policies would work are expected to come in a staff report later this year.

“It is definitely a great step in the right direction,” Eveline Xia, who launched the #donthave1million Twitter hashtag to highlight Vancouver’s unaffordable housing prices and helped organize a recent public rally on housing issues. Ms. Xia, 29, a renter in Mount Pleasant, was most pleased by the the city’s recognition that three-bedroom rental accommodation is in short supply, saying more of that type of housing would help her and other young people stay in the city once they start families.

Less than 1 per cent of Vancouver’s rental units have three bedrooms.

About 8,000 families live in one-bedroom or studio accommodation, and 621 households with three or more people are on B.C. Housing’s waiting list for subsidized homes, the staff report said.

The housing issue has landed in the political arena, with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson recently calling for a speculation tax on house flippers, a concept that B.C. Premier Christy Clark dismissed.

Ms. Clark also rejected the idea of clamping down on foreign investors, who some maintain are fuelling the demand, particularly at the high end of the market.

As the city tries to ensure more new family housing is built, an existing pool of such housing stock is at risk.

Over the next few years, federal government subsidies for co-op housing are scheduled to end, meaning rents could go up and low-income tenants could be squeezed out.

Nearly 21,000 low-income households, including nearly 4,000 in B.C., will be affected.

Most of those units – including three-bedroom apartments – are in the Lower Mainland, said Darren Kitchen, government relations director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of British Columbia.

“If the province doesn’t step up with a replacement program to help those people stay in their units, we’ll have the city unrolling the carpet to incentivize three-bedroom units going into the future while the carpet is sort of rolling up behind them on the existing affordable stock,” Mr. Kitchen said.

The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada and CHF BC, supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, has launched a campaign to ask provincial governments to step in with a rent assistance program for co-ops for which federal operating agreements are ending.

CHF B.C. estimates such a program would cost about $3-million beginning next year and rise to about $13-million a year by the early 2020s, Mr. Kitchen said.

A group spearheaded by Ms. Xia, Vancouverites for Affordable Housing, is planning another rally on June 24 and calling for more data on foreign ownership and capital.

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