Vancouver City Council rejects policy of slowing the pace of new housing in the Broadway Plan

Mar 30 2023, 2:28 am

There will not be a “pace of change” policy within the Broadway Plan area after all, following Vancouver City Council’s decision on Wednesday afternoon to reject it.

City staff presented City Council with several policy measures on how the area densification strategy of the Broadway Plan, approved last year, would be implemented, including a “pace of change” policy of putting a cap on the number of proposals that would be considered on an annual basis.

This “change of pace” policy was rejected in a 7-2 vote, with ABC councillors Peter Meiszner, Sarah Kirby-Yung, Lisa Dominato, Brian Montague, Mike Klassen, and Lenny Zhou and OneCity councillor Christine Boyle opposed, while Green councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry voted in favour. Mayor Ken Sim did not vote after declaring a conflict of interest, and ABC councillor Rebecca Bligh was absent.

Such a policy would apply to the existing apartment rental areas of the Broadway Plan area — about 300 of the 500 city blocks within the entire area plan, with the future SkyTrain Millennium Line Broadway Extension acting as the arterial for supporting this growth.

Three options for the “pace of change” policy were presented by City staff for consideration, including the first option of allowing up to five proposals to proceed into the rezoning application process annually, the second option of considering up to 10 proposals annually, and the third option of considering up to 15 proposals annually.

broadway plan character areas 1

The sub-areas of the Broadway Plan, and the locations of the future subway stations of SkyTrain’s Millennium Line Broadway Extension. Existing apartment areas highlighted in a dark purple colour would be impacted by the proposed “pace of change” policy. (City of Vancouver)

vancouver broadway plan november 2021

Proposed skyline within the Broadway Plan. Existing apartment areas highlighted in a dark purple colour would be impacted by the proposed “pace of change” policy. (City of Vancouver)

The selection of proposals allowed to enter the formal application submission process would occur each September, and the remaining unselected projects would be waitlisted for the following year’s review. This selection process would also prioritize below-market rental housing over market rental housing.

The driving rationale for building in filters and speed bumps into the process is the concern that rampant redevelopment occurring at the same time would displace many existing renters.

Prior to the vote, City staff said without a “pace of change” policy, as many as 2,000 existing renter households could be displaced per year. The Broadway Plan’s area is home to 25% of Vancouver’s secured rental housing stock, with much of this supply in the area deemed to be within the affordable range due to the older age of the buildings.

City staff assert existing renters have nowhere else to go due to extremely low vacancies across the region, and new development projects could be tied up by the Broadway Plan’s Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy (TRPP) of requiring developers to find temporary replacement housing for impacted tenants before they can get shovels into the ground — something developers may not be able to do with ease given the existing rental housing shortages.

In addition to paid relocation to a temporary rental unit with a top-up keeping interim rents the same, the TRPP provides the right of first refusal to return to the new development, and rent at 20% below Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation’s city-wide average rents or existing rent — whichever is lower.

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

With a worsening housing affordability crisis driven by dwindling available supply, City Council essentially found themselves in a “the chicken or the egg?” housing debate.

“I understand the reason behind the ‘pace of change’ policy. I think the reason here is the concern happening in other municipalities where there were a lot of redevelopments on older low-rise rental buildings replaced by high-rise and high-end apartments,” said ABC councillor Lenny Zhou, referring to the previous controversy of rampant new market housing redevelopments replacing older affordable apartments near SkyTrain Metrotown Station in Burnaby.

But then Zhou said such a policy of slowing down the intake of proposals “does not solve the fundamental root cause of this housing crisis, which is supply. This policy controls the supply, which is really moving us backward and creates so many unnecessary limitations for new development. As a City Council, we can’t add more restrictions to a process that is already complicated and restrictive.”

Zhou added that the municipal government should instead focus on removing red tape barriers and speed up processes to build more housing, and warned developers will look at building outside of Vancouver if it is not economically viable to build within the city.

ABC councillor Peter Meiszner said he is confident with the “very strong” tenant protection and relocation programs in place, which are “the strongest in North America.” He says “bold action” is needed to deliver more housing, with incoming record levels of immigration and dwindling rental vacancies.

“If we don’t make some of these bold moves while taking care of people, we’re going to be an even worse situation than we already are. I want us to get out of the way, and I want us to make significant progress towards addressing our housing crisis,” said Meiszner.

ABC councillor Lisa Dominato highlighted that when tenant relocation and protection regulations were being considered last year during the Broadway Plan debate, City staff at the time did not recommend the added measure of a “pace of change” policy.

It should be noted that a similar “pace of change” policy is already in place for the 2016-enacted Grandview-Woodland Plan, with the policy restricting new developments to 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.

“I think what we’ve heard since the release of this public report is a consistent message that pace of change will potentially do more harm than good in terms of delivering new housing,” said Dominato.

“From my perspective, we don’t need this right now, but we always have the opportunity to course correct,” continued Dominato, suggesting City Council will be provided with regular updates and monitoring on Broadway Plan development trends.

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The existing Broadway Plan area looking west from Vancouver City Hall and Cambie Street towards City Centre Mall and Vancouver General Hospital. (Shutterstock)

In Green councillor Adriane Carr’s rationale in support of the “pace of change” policy, she reiterated City staff’s tally to date of 30 pre-application inquiries from developers that could generate 6,300 new homes on sites that will not lead to displacement of existing tenants.

“There are lots [of homes] coming to stream. There are areas where renters are most vulnerable — in the older most affordable areas — and that is what the TRPP is aimed to protect tenants,” said Carr.

“Our staff is saying it will not work if you don’t have swing housing where people can move into. That is what the ‘pace of change’ policy addresses. That disconnect between applications coming in to an area and no housing for people to move into, which means you cannot implement the TRPP effectively, or if you do it’ll lead to a lot of unhappy developers who are trying to find housing to meet the obligations of the TRPP.”

Green councillor Pete Fry suggested the “pace of change” policy does not limit housing starts, but rather it is about “prioritizing how housing starts to do less harm.”

“If we think we’re in a housing crisis now, what’s it going to look like if we have 2,000 of our Vancouver neighbours displaced from the Broadway corridor?” said Fry.

“There’s nowhere to relocate those tenants. There’s nowhere for those people to go, and I’m talking about the students, seniors on fixed incomes, and regular working people in the city. Redevelopment permits would be held up by our TRPP policies, and it creates a very disastrous scenario for developers.”

However, developers and real estate industry representatives who addressed City Council on the policy appeared undaunted by the high degree of protections in place for relocating renters. They appeared to be more concerned by the uncertainty of the resulting process, and construction cost inflation and growing holding costs of the land awaiting redevelopment with each passing year.

It was suggested that a significant proportion of the 100 pre-application inquiries received by City staff to date are “not real” proposals, but merely developers and property owners “holding their place in line.” Prospective redevelopments are facing major economic headwinds and construction financing issues. There are already other “natural barriers” — such as City staff’s long timeline for reviewing applications and market forces — in place that will regulate the pace of new developments moving forward, without the need of an “arbitrary” policy.

BC minister of housing Ravi Kahlon made comments to media last week suggesting he is opposed to the “pace of change” policy for the Broadway Plan.

“The biggest concern that I’ve been hearing is the notion we should slow down the pace of development that’s going to be happening there,” Kahlon told Global BC.

“We are in a housing crisis and we are at the state now where we need to get on with it — so the discussion they’re having around the pace, I think the pace needs to be at the pace of the challenge we have, which is fast, and if there is a developer or a not-for-profit that is ready to go, they should be able to start work.”

During the discussions, both Dominato and Meiszner also put a spotlight on the municipal government’s previous agreement with the provincial government and TransLink to significantly densify the catchment area around the future subway stations of the Millennium Line Broadway Extension in exchange for the province’s $2.8-billion investment in the SkyTrain extension. This agreement triggered the four-year-long area planning process that culminated in the Broadway Plan.

The underground SkyTrain extension reaching Arbutus will open in early 2026.

broadway plan area aerial vancouver

Aerial of the existing condition of the central planning area of the Broadway Plan south of the downtown Vancouver peninsula. (Google Earth)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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