Vancouver is hitting record numbers of approvals and completions of purpose-built rental apartments, social housing and supportive housing built, all at levels beyond what is being constructed in the rest of the region.
But the city, which accounts for 25 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s population, is far from meeting the 10-year target it set in 2017 for 72,000 more homes, say city staff in the latest annual report on housing.
Some rental projects, already approved, have stalled in the past couple of years because of the rising costs of construction.
“Vancouver is a leader in the region in total construction and especially in rental,” said Edna Cho, a housing policy planner who presented the report to council members Wednesday. “Although we’ve enabled significant supply, we’re seeing lots of challenges.”
But staff say they now need to make some changes to ensure that homes that are getting city approvals, a process that takes a lot of time and money, actually get built.
“It hasn’t been this way in the past but, looking at this data, moving from approval to completion will be a focus,” said the city’s director of planning, Theresa O’Donnell.
That means allocating staff time for applications to projects that are the most likely to get started early, lobbying to get extra financing for social-housing buildings that have stalled because of financial problems, and making some adjustments to the city’s requirements from developers who have below-market units in their rental buildings.
The city approved 11,000 units of housing last year, its highest level historically – about 3,000 more units than the yearly average of the past decade.
That included 1,330 social- and supportive-housing apartments, 4,260 private-market rentals, 4,400 condos, and 435 laneway houses.
But a third of all housing approved since 2017 hasn’t been constructed. Around 43,000 homes have been approved; only 28,000 have been built. Although Vancouver has approved thousands of rentals in the past several years, only 1,359 were built last year: private ones and 383 in social- or supportive-housing projects.
Among the approved but unbuilt homes are 2,500 to 3,000 social-housing apartments.
At least 1,100 of those are being held up because they don’t have enough money to cover the rising cost of construction, said Dan Garrison, the city’s director of housing policy.
At the same time that housing staff are trying to get more social- and supportive-housing built, they’re also saying that Vancouver is carrying a wildly disproportionate share of the load in the region.
That’s something several city councillors were also concerned about as they looked at the numbers.
According to Metro Vancouver data, Vancouver now has 7,191 supportive-housing apartments – much more than the rest of the region combined. Surrey has the next highest amount, with 790 units. Maple Ridge has 192; New Westminster, 189; Langley, 164; and Burnaby, 123. The rest of the 22 municipalities in the region have numbers in only the double digits, except for a few that have nothing, including Delta, West Vancouver, White Rock, and Pitt Meadows.
Councillor Rebecca Bligh wanted to know what B.C. government is doing, as part of its provincewide housing plan, to make sure that other communities are doing their part.
While staff said there are continuous discussions with the province about that, city manager Paul Mochrie sounded a strong warning note.
“The province has recognized this, but we have not seen significant change,” he said. “I do think there is a lack of a regional approach and this continues to be a challenge for Vancouver. We can’t meet the demand.”