Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver here.
Housing development in any city is always a process: neighbours need to be consulted; rules need to be followed. But for some of Vancouver’s affordable-housing projects, balcony rails need to be just so, the recreation space needs to be deemed appropriate. The project can’t cast too much shade. Trees need to be considered. And depending on the city staff person vetting an application, the building must conform to a place that the staffer themselves might want to live in.
Those are some of the considerations developers told Frances Bula they have faced when trying to get a project through the approvals process to actual ground breaking. Frances’s story on Saturday meticulously compiled a list of the affordable-housing projects the City of Vancouver has touted as being under way since 2016. She found that 3,000 out of almost 5,000 social-housing apartments officially approved from 2016 to 2019 hadn’t been built by the end of 2020.
Frances found another 1,000 units were held up in the approval pipeline, including hundreds that had been promised to be built by this year under the direction of the city’s recently created Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency. Of the homes that had been built, 660 were temporary modular housing.
This slow grind has taken place in years where Vancouver politicians and senior bureaucrats have publicly proclaimed that creating lower-cost housing is a priority, but non-profit developers have been left frustrated as they slog through the rezoning and permitting processes.
Even after projects have council approval, there can still be a year before permits are issued. And even when all that is settled, sometimes housing projects get held up or miss deadlines with other agencies because of delays with final legal agreements.
All of that is having a direct impact on homelessness and housing shortages in the city.
“[The city says] they have a housing crisis. [These units] should have been built by now,” said Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society, which is involved in three projects under development.
The city’s official response, relayed by e-mail through the communications department, is that delays have been unavoidable.
“The combination of rapid construction-cost escalation and disproportionally lower increases in Vancouver incomes in recent years has made it challenging to deliver the right supply of social housing that is affordable to residents in Vancouver,” it said.
But in a follow-up story today, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said if social housing is to get built faster, city council is going to have to make some tough decisions about priorities.
“There are going to be longstanding practices, seen as untouchable, that are going to have to change,” said Mr. Stewart in an interview.
“I think there will be a discussion at council that we haven’t had in 50 years about ‘Are our priorities the same as what they were before.’ We’ll be bringing this to a head.”
The mayor also said that will mean dealing with dozens of overlapping policies, some of them decades old, many of them, he said, “piled on” in the last decade, including increasingly stringent ones related to shadows and trees.
“I think there are going to be some tough choices. This council is going to have to decide what to do about all of those.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.