City of Vancouver eyeing extra social housing density in the Downtown Eastside

Apr 9 2022, 3:30 am

Policies that allow more social housing density for two locations in and around the Downtown Eastside are being proposed by City of Vancouver staff.

Added density would only be permitted if the residential uses in the building are 100% social housing — for proposed buildings on the city blocks that surround Oppenheimer Park, and on the existing SRO city blocks along Main Street south of Prior Street and Chinatown. Altogether at both locations, the policy would cover some or all of the lots on 18 city blocks.

Floor area ratio (FAR) would be permitted to increase to a floor area of 5.5 times larger than the size of the lot for the first location, but with a height of no more than 100 ft, and 6.0 FAR for the second location.

Additionally, under the changes, the FAR density within both locations would also be permitted to increase by up to 10% to cover the higher cost of retaining and restoring heritage structures as part of the redevelopment.

But staff with both the city and the Vancouver Park Board have emphasized the need to limit building shadowing on Oppenheimer Park. As a result, height restrictions on some lots around the park are likely.

downtown eastside plan vancouver

Two locations in and near the Downtown Eastside where extra social housing density are being considered for projects with 100% social housing in their residential uses. (City of Vancouver)

City staff state the rationale is to reduce application times for not-for-profit organizations, and provide them with greater leverage to tap into provincial and federal funding programs for affordable housing. Some funding grants offered by senior governments require approved zoning for eligibility, but a rezoning requirement can lead to delays and the inability to seek funding in time.

As well, extra density improves the financial feasibility of building social housing by incorporating mixed-income housing models with a mix of affordability levels, including shelter rates, rent-geared-to-income, and a portion of low-end of market rate units, which open more revenue opportunities to help fund the high cost of construction and land acquisition.

It is anticipated the extra density allowances through zoning could lead to 20% to 25% more social housing units in new buildings where residential units are entirely social housing.

“While the rate of development in this neighbourhood is not anticipated to change significantly, the proposed changes would make securing senior government funding more likely and could therefore allow a non-profit organization to proceed with a development that would have otherwise not been viable,” state city staff.

“It would also help to support a more streamlined and shorter application process through the development permit stream, as opposed to the rezoning process, which is often cited by non-profits as being too long, costly and uncertain.”

downtown eastside plan vancouver

Downtown Eastside Plan (City of Vancouver)

Vancouver City Council is expected to deliberate and decide on the proposed zoning changes in a public hearing later this spring.

According to city staff, ever since Vancouver City Council approved the Downtown Eastside Plan in 2014, there have been six approved development permit or rezoning applications within the two locations for a total of 361 social housing units, including 39 temporary modular housing units. Most of these units are located around the Oppenheimer Park area.

For example, last year, the development permit application by Lookout Housing and Health Society for 524-528 Powell Street, just east of Oppenheimer Park, was approved. A seven-storey building will contain 114 social housing units and a community amenity hub.

Another significant project is to the north of the park at 450 Alexander Street, where there is a rezoning application by Atira Women’s Resource Society to build a 16-storey tower with 181 social housing units, a childcare facility, and a “social enterprise” space.

524-528 Powell Street Vancouver

Artistic rendering of 524-528 Powell Street, Vancouver. (NSDA Architects / Lookout Housing and Health Society)

450 Alexander Street Vancouver

Artistic rendering of the social housing tower at 450 Alexander Street, Vancouver. (IBI Group/Atira Women’s Resource Society)

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