As few as five rental housing redevelopments could be considered in some Broadway Plan areas each year

Mar 15 2023, 12:18 am

When the previous Vancouver City Council approved the Broadway Plan in June 2022, it was stated the area plan for densifying around the future subway stations of SkyTrain’s Millennium Line Broadway Extension would catalyze homes for 50,000 additional residents and employment space for 40,000 more jobs over three decades.

At the time, given that the area of the Broadway Plan accounts for about 25% of Vancouver’s existing secured purpose-built rental housing supply, strict protections were put in place for any renters who would be displaced by future redevelopments.

During the decision-making debate in City Council, an amendment to consider a phased approach of allowing redevelopments — starting with the areas closest to the future subway stations — turned into directing City staff to come back with a “pace of change” policy of regulating how many rental housing redevelopment proposals will be considered per year in the Broadway Plan. This is intended to prevent mass displacement of existing renters — a potential result when numerous redevelopments happen simultaneously.

Earlier this month, City staff showed stakeholders their pace of change proposal for the existing residential apartment areas of the Broadway Plan. City Council is expected to review City staff’s proposed pace of change policy in a public meeting on March 29.

City staff are proposing three options, with the least ambitious option allowing up to just five proposals for consideration each year, which is expected to impact an estimated total of about 180 existing renter households.

A second option would consider up to 10 proposals, with the estimated disruption impacting a total of about 360 existing renter households.

The third option would enable up to 15 proposals for consideration, with an estimated 550 existing renter households impacted.

Such quotas limiting the Broadway Plan’s pace of change would apply to the existing residential apartment areas in parts of Kitsilano (the area west of Burrard Street and north of Broadway), Fairview (south of Broadway between Burrard and Cambie streets), and Mount Pleasant (south of Broadway between Yukon Street and Kingsway, and along and north of Broadway between Main Street and Clark Drive).

broadway plan rental apartments pace of change policy map

The purple-coloured areas within the Broadway Plan area show the existing residential apartment areas where the “pace of change” policy would apply. (City of Vancouver)

There would be considerably more steps, thresholds, and delays to pass through in order for the proposal to be selected for City staff for consideration under the annual project limit. If this pace of change policy is approved, City staff recommend reviewing the policy every three years to evaluate the impacts.

The projects that would be prioritized by City staff would be those with the highest ratios of proposed new below-market rental housing units compared to existing rental units. There would be some exemptions for proposals offering social, supportive, and/or cooperative housing uses as well as proposals that propose doubling existing rental housing with below-market rentals, and proposals that propose strata residential on infill sites.

City staff would review and select the proposals for each annual quota just once per year on September 1, and the remaining unselected projects would be waitlisted for the following year’s review.

The proposals selected would also flow through the City’s regular rezoning application process, seemingly without accounting for the potential previous delays for being waitlisted or having to wait until after September 1 for the decision results.

Furthermore, the selected proposals for consideration should comply with all other policies and regulations of the Broadway Plan, with no deviations to better achieve the project’s financial and economic viability and potential further public benefits.

vancouver broadway plan november 2021

Example of the form of new redevelopment in the Broadway Plan area’s existing residential apartment neighbourhoods. (City of Vancouver)

But such regulations to artificially slow down the pace of development appear to fly in the face of the current supply-demand imbalance in rental housing, with the lack of supply and sheer demand limiting housing options, and pushing up rents into a deeper range of unaffordability.

The pace of new rental housing could already be slowed down by the current economic challenges and high inflation on construction costs for equipment, materials, and labour.

Added delays before construction can start also increase construction costs from inflation, and opportunity costs for the use of the properties.

The emphasis on prioritizing projects with below-market rental housing units, instead of all rental supply, also goes against the immense demand for housing supply suitable for working middle-class households who can afford market rents but cannot afford home ownership.

There have also been general calls from all sides for the municipal government to improve and expedite its rezoning and permitting processes for new housing. Currently, it can take builders years to receive all of the various necessary City approvals, nevermind a project reaching completion and serving its intended purpose of generating new supply.

As well, the City is obligated to densify the Broadway Plan area under its agreement with the provincial government and TransLink in exchange for the multi-billion dollar subway investment, and most recently the provincial government approved its Housing Supply Act requiring municipal governments to meet annual quotas for new housing supply generation.

west 11th avenue birch street vancouver

Example of old low-storey buildings within the Broadway Plan’s existing residential apartment area. (Google Maps)

According to City staff, as of early 2023, they have received about 100 pre-application inquiries or rezoning applications for the Broadway Plan area, including about 50 projects in the residential apartment areas where the pace of change policy would apply — where an estimated approximately 2,000 existing rental homes would be impacted.

Much of the existing secured purpose-built rental housing supply within the Broadway Plan area is more affordable due to their older age and condition. Generally, new market rental housing supply built today eventually becomes more affordable as they age, and from competition with both newer and older supply.

The vacancy rate for secured purpose-built rental housing in Broadway neighbourhoods is currently hovering at only about 0.6% or roughly 100 units.

The proposed pace of change policy for the Broadway Plan would be similar to the same type of policy that falls under the Grandview-Woodland Plan, which was enacted in 2016. The pace of change policy for the Grandview-Woodland Plan has artificially restricted new developments to a great degree of just up to five projects at a time within the first three-year period.

Even though it has been seven years since the Grandview-Woodland Plan was first enacted, the City has yet to relax the pace of change policy for that area to allow the next five applications for consideration.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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