The potential effects of COVID-19 have prompted one Vancouver city councillor to suggest the municipal government should catalyze far less housing than what was originally outlined for its 10-year goal.
Councillor Colleen Hardwick’s motion to be deliberated by city council next week asserts the Housing Vancouver Strategy (HVS) of creating 72,000 new homes within Vancouver between 2018 and 2027 is no longer necessary.
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She cites Statistics Canada data that shows population growth in the city is at about 1% annually over the past two decades. Based on her calculations, using this growth figure and the average household size of 2.2 persons per home, the growth rate for this decade would total a population increase of about 66,000 people.
For these reasons, Hardwick argues Vancouver should instead encourage 30,000 new homes — a cut of 60% of the Housing Vancouver goal. If Vancouver were to carry on with its original target of 72,000 new homes, she calculates it would result in a population increase of 158,400 people.
The councillor also suggests that the unknown effects of the coronavirus on migration patterns should give reason to the city to revise its goals.
“Population growth has generally come through immigration as opposed to domestic migration. While the federal government has increased immigration targets by around 20% since 2017, there is evidence that immigration will slow in upcoming years due to the pandemic. Even the increased rate of immigration, though, could not justify the large disparity between historical rates of population growth and the HVS targets,” wrote Hardwick.
“Demand for different housing types may shift as a result of the post-pandemic realities. In order to plan effectively, it will be necessary to obtain more detailed data regarding the pipeline of development that has been underway since the approval of the Housing Vancouver Strategy.”
The proposal to revise the strategy includes performing an analysis of demographic needs and demand for the “post-COVID-19 reality.”
She believes the resulting new housing supply with the current plan will cause the municipal government to approve significant density at “a low price,” which could reduce the city’s potential revenue.
However, based on city staff’s account, two years into the HVS, Vancouver is falling behind its goals for social housing, rental homes, and condominiums.
A city staff update in November 2019 on HVS progress shows the city has approved 18,383 units of its 72,000-unit goal. This includes approving 35% of the 12,000 social housing units, 13% of the 20,000 purpose-built rental homes, 31% of the 30,000 condominium units, 42% of the laneway houses, and 18% of the 5,000 townhouse units.
If the motion is approved, city staff will be instructed to revisit the strategy’s targets, as well as provide more information on annual historical data on the number of units approved through rezoning, and a breakdown of approved housing types, housing starts, net housing completions, other inventory data and clarifications, and the “estimated zoned capacity” of the city.
At the same time, separately, city staff are looking to city council to approve a process to fast track select affordable and rental housing projects, especially those that are shovel-ready. This is intended to provide additional affordable housing for both low-income and middle-income households and to help stimulate the economy, given that city staff believe there are serious cracks and vulnerabilities in the housing system that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Currently, there are about 15,000 proposed housing units either in the pre-application inquiry process or the formal application process.