The City of Vancouver approved almost 2,000 units of social housing for the city’s poorest residents in the past two years, but failed to get any developers to start building the low-cost rentals that minimum-wage-level workers could afford, data released by the city Tuesday show.
Both the mayor and city housing planners said they are now trying to figure out how to serve that particularly hard-hit group in a city that has been wracked by some of the most severe housing-affordability problems on the continent.
“If you make minimum wage, it’s almost impossible for you to enter the rental market,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “Almost all the new housing stock for minimum-wage earners is coming from subsidies.”
He praised city staff for working hard to create the right kind of housing for city residents, but conceded that “I’m just kind of sobered by the whole report.”
The numbers were released as part of the city’s efforts to grapple with housing problems that have affected almost every demographic group in Vancouver.
The massive report showed that, in the second year of a new Vancouver housing strategy that focused on supply geared to different income levels, a total of 15,400 units of housing were approved in 2017 and 2018. Two-thirds of them were only affordable to households with more than $80,000 a year.
Almost 1,000 were social-housing units rented at the lowest possible rates, the $375 a month allowed for people on welfare. Only 85 were built for households making between $15,000 and $30,000 a year, and 776 for those making $30,000 to $50,000.
City staff had set a target of 320 units a year for renters in the $15,000 to $30,000 range when the housing strategy was developed.
But no private-sector rentals were built for any of the groups in the lowest income ranges, even those making in $2,500 to $4,000 a month.
The city’s program to encourage developers to create purpose-built rentals did result in almost 2,000 apartments, but all of those were only affordable to people making more than $50,000.
Developers also built almost 8,000 condos in that two-year period, more than 3,000 of them only affordable to households with more than $150,000 in income. About 30 per cent of Vancouver’s condo housing is typically rented out by investor-owners. About 1,300 laneway houses were built in the same period.
The report did not provide much information on the effects of various efforts to limit speculation or encourage people to rent out their vacation homes.
Many staff acknowledged that one of the biggest problems in trying to create affordable housing is the cost of land in Vancouver, which was driven to astronomical levels in recent years.
In spite of that, Mr. Stewart said he didn’t want the city to rush in to create rental-only zoning, a mechanism that could reduce the price of land, since it would limit buyers to only those willing to build rental.
“I’m worried about panic-using a new power,” said the mayor. “I don’t think just dropping it in a haphazard way is useful.”
New Westminster created a new rental-only bylaw recently and was promptly sued by a group of six apartment owners.
Mr. Stewart did blame the Trudeau federal government, which has pledged billions toward housing initiatives to be spent in future years, for not providing more immediate money.
The city is expecting to see about 630 units of shelter-rate housing built in 2019, as well as 1,200 purpose-built rental apartments, which is slightly less than the previous year.
The housing report also noted that the city missed its target for townhouses, seeing only 86 units approved in 2018, more than 400 short of its annual target.