Vancouver’s city council has approved a new rental housing policy that will allow apartments on side streets, permit the creation of rental-only zoning for some commercial areas, and speed up the process for approving projects on main streets.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart and some housing advocates said the approval was a sign that the city council and many residents – even those in areas that have traditionally been dubious about anything but single detached houses – are accepting that Vancouver needs to take a different approach to solving the city’s housing crisis.
“What struck me was how homeowners from the west side were saying, ‘Uncle, we’ve had enough. We need densification,’” Mr. Stewart said.
The rental-housing policy was passed in a vote Tuesday night after 12 hours of debate.
The city’s main developer association said one major flaw with the new policy was that it was changed in a late amendment Tuesday to impose new restrictions on developing rentals along main streets, even while now allowing them to go up to six stories, instead of four, without having to go through a lengthy public-hearing process.
“Very concerned they made the change, against the recommendations of staff,” said Anne McMullin, chief executive officer of the Urban Development Institute.
The change means that developers will now have to offer the same kind of significant compensation to renters being displaced from apartments above stores on main streets, similar to the kind of compensation now required for those in stand-alone apartment buildings that are being redeveloped.
In a letter sent to council in May, Ms. McMullin said the move, being considered (and eventually rejected) during early consultation, would be unprecedented in its impact.
She said it would change the rules midstream on several projects, essentially changing the zoning in a way that reduces the overall value of the land, and create significant new financial barriers to developing rentals on those kinds of sites.
But the mayor emphasized that the city’s proposed new policy, which still needs to get approval after a public-hearing process for some parts, will eliminate up to two years of wait time for development applications. That should help encourage such applications, he said.
The spokesman for LandlordBC said he hoped that would be the impact.
The move to allow rental apartments to be built in a 50-metre “transition zone” next to main streets was a good step, CEO David Hutniak said.
“I do feel like we’re making some progress.”
But, he said, it is a sign of a continuing problem in the city that the initiative wasn’t bolder.
“It should not have been just one street over, it should have been deeper in,” Mr. Hutniak said.
He did think allowing six-storey rental buildings on main streets without a rezoning or public hearing was probably the biggest win for housing in the city.
“If you can get nice six-storey stuff up there, that has the most immediate potential. I’m walking away optimistic.”
The long debate and public input Tuesday, however, was a sign of a changing mood in the city, said many.
About three dozen speakers came to city hall to voice their opinions on the plan, and many more wrote to council.
While some were traditional opponents, concerned about too-dramatic changes to neighbourhoods or policies not focused enough on producing the lowest-cost-possible housing, many came out in support, including renters, developers and non-profit groups.
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