Broadway Plan's allowable new density not financially feasible for rental housing in some areas: experts

May 20 2022, 3:12 am

Over the next 30 years, City of Vancouver staff are aiming to catalyze up to 30,000 additional homes for as many as 50,000 more residents within the Broadway Plan area.

Unlike the Cambie Corridor Plan, which has to date primarily generated condominiums, the Broadway Plan’s future added housing supply is intended to be primarily market rental housing, below-market rental housing, and social housing.

But are the allowable building heights and forms financially feasible for achieving this new affordable housing supply in all areas of the area plan?

Both non-profit organizations and for-profit private developers that build rental housing have made it very clear over the years that added density is generally needed to support the lower rate of return of this tenure of housing, compared to the more lucrative 100% condominium tenure opportunities. As well, more density is needed to help offset escalating property acquisition costs for development, and fulfill the requirements of construction financing from investors and banks.

According to a new analysis by real estate firm Goodman Commercial, which is particularly known for its experience in apartment properties, the limitations in city staff’s final version of the Broadway Plan could result in a loss of 34,000 future rental homes within the area plan’s Residential Apartment Areas alone, including 6,800 future below-market rental homes.

Another 7,200 potential future rental homes, including 1,440 below-market rental homes, are also lost along Broadway itself, within its shoulder areas, and next to the new SkyTrain stations.

But Goodman Commercial also acknowledged high-rise and Broadway shoulder and station areas of the plan are areas where rental housing construction is generally most feasible.

broadway plan draft uses heights

Draft land uses and heights of the Broadway Plan, March 2022. Click on the image for a larger version. (City of Vancouver)

They assert the scaled back allowable heights compared to the previous draft version of the Broadway Plan could present major obstacles to fulfilling the area plan’s stated housing goals, and effectively the billions of dollars that need to be raised from these developments to fund the cost of building new utilities and infrastructure, active transportation, public spaces, community amenities and facilities, and other public benefits.

When it comes to allowable taller building heights, between drafts one and two, the height ranges were dropped from between 15 and 25 storeys to 15 and 20 storeys. The loss of five storeys across the mid- to high-rise and high-rise residential apartment areas has major financial implications on covering development costs, and it alone represents a further 10,000 rental homes lost.

For minimum street frontage requirements for new buildings, this has been changed from the range of 100 to 150 ft to a minimum of 150 ft. Goodman Commercial asserts this eliminates a significant number of potential sites or triggers a challenging and expensive land assembly process. This street frontage policy is further complicated by the limitation of only allowing two towers on each city block, placed on top of multi-storey podiums. In order to be conservative, they have estimated this could lead to over 20,000 future homes lost (50% of the 34,000 + 7,200 units noted above), just based on the frontage restrictions.

“Even if we’re close, these few amendments to the original draft mean that 30,000 future households will be forced to find housing elsewhere, commuting in for jobs, education and amenities along the corridor rather than living there themselves,” states the analysis.

“Every additional layer of uncertainty, financial burden and tapering of the Broadway Plan will further affect the corridor’s future for decades, especially with regard to affordable housing. Further prohibitive amendments would set the city and region back years in rental development and economic potential.”

vancouver broadway plan november 2021

Broadway Plan, November 2021. (City of Vancouver)

vancouver broadway plan november 2021

Broadway Plan, November 2021. (City of Vancouver)

Goodman Commercial supports the approval of the Broadway Plan, but to address the concern that a significant supply of affordable housing may not be realized, they are urging city council to restore the five storeys of additional height, restore the 100-ft street frontage minimum, increase the maximum size of each floor plate, and remove community amenity contributions (CACs) that include below-market rental homes.

Otherwise, the Broadway Plan’s stipulations will amount to a “death by a thousand cuts.”

This would also counter the provincial government and TransLink’s Supportive Policies Agreement with the City of Vancouver in exchange for their $2.8 billion investment on SkyTrain’s Millennium Line Broadway Extension reaching Arbutus. The Broadway Plan area planning process was triggered by this agreement, as the City of Vancouver is required to catalyze new housing and employment spaces near the stations to meet regional and provincial objectives relating to housing affordability, economic growth, climate, and public transit ridership.

The changes between the versions of the draft area plan appear to reflect a greater weight on urban design considerations — especially with highly vocal neighbourhood opposition during the public consultation process, necessitating a compromise — as opposed to the economic viability of development.

Yesterday, city council began its deliberations on whether or not the Broadway Plan should be approved. The meeting date ended with city council going through the first 66 public speakers in the list of more than 200 public speakers. It will likely take several meeting dates to go through the entire public speakers list, which could still grow, before city council reaches the debate and voting stages for any potential amendments and a final decision on the area plan.

The next city council meeting date on the Broadway Plan is scheduled for Wednesday, May 25, 2022, starting at 3 pm.

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