Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson answers your housing questions

May 15 2017, 7:18 pm

Back in March, we asked for your questions about housing for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, after he issued a rallying cry to young renters.

We received a huge number of questions and suggestions, on all aspects of the housing crisis, from homelessness to home buying.

It was impossible to put them all forward, but we compiled a list that represented most people’s concerns, and duly sent it off to the Mayor’s office.

Well, now it’s May, and we’ve finally got those answers for you. So here goes:

From Meghan Nagpal‏ @mugzzzified on Twitter:

I’ve worked in the public sector for the people of Vancouver, yet my wage is only sufficient for the suburbs. If Vancouver’s public workers can’t afford to live in Vancouver, is this a problem?

Vancouver’s economy is booming, attracting tens of thousands of people to the region, but we aim to lead by example at the City by becoming a living wage employer – ensuring all our employees and contractors will earn enough to cover basic expenses like food, rent, transportation and child care (in Vancouver, living wage for the two earners in a family of four is $20.68/hour).

From Narti Romansini Marshy on Facebook:

How much revenue does the City make from property tax, property transfer tax, and GST and what does it spend it on?

The City does not make any revenue from the property transfer tax or the GST (that revenue goes to the provincial and federal governments, respectively). Vancouver’s only ability to raise revenue is through property taxes, utility fees and user fees like business licenses and permits.

The City’s 2017 budget focuses on housing needs, building new affordable housing (including the largest one-time investment ever, at $80M), improving City services like reducing wait times for permits and licensing, investing in child care and City services like libraries and fire response, and making Vancouver a greener, more resilient city. Council also approved an extra 0.5% property tax increase to provide funds to support front-line services that are dealing with the fentanyl overdose crisis, which has claimed over 100 lives this year already.

From Elizabeth‏ @Elizmaria91 on Twitter: 

What is being done to assist (low) middle-class individuals with housing problems, like high rental prices?

It’s frustrating to see so many people–especially millennials, seniors and families– struggling to find affordable rental housing. Vancouver’s vacancy rate has been near-zero for years. The provincial government manages the Residential Tenancy Act which has many loopholes landlords have been taking advantage of to sharply raise rents through renovations, and that’s unfair and wrong. We’ve asked the BC government to close these loop holes but that hasn’t yet been done.

The City is using every tool we can to build more affordable housing (in the last year alone we’ve delivered more housing supply than Surrey and Burnaby combined) but despite everything we’ve done, far too many people still can’t find an affordable place to live in Vancouver. Three things jump out that we’re hoping will have a big impact on renters in 2017:

  1. Our Empty Homes Tax, in effect this year, aims to bring the 25,000+ empty and under-occupied homes back into the rental market for locals.
  2. In the coming months we’ll have a plan for licensing short-term rentals like Airbnb, to ensure the best use of all our housing. We’re looking to strike the balance between allowing short-term rentals in principal residences (owned or rented) to allow people to supplement income, while ensuring long-term rentals are back in the market.
  3. We’ve put 20 sites of city-owned land on the table for affordable housing, challenging the BC and Federal governments to step up and partner with us on getting new housing built. To their credit, BC Housing has agreed to invest in two of those 20 sites so far, deepening affordability while we will deliver hundreds of new affordable rental homes.

From Jean-Philippe Matte on Facebook:

Density and supply are needed, but what is the city doing for citizens/ renters living in affordable housing, being pushed out by new developments? We are living in a West End two-storey walk up building three metres away from a 22-storey high rise being built and most of us feel let down by the city on many levels, especially on the environmental and health aspects.

It’s frustrating and discouraging to see Vancouver’s rental housing crisis impacting people of all incomes and neighbourhoods. It’s even more frustrating that the City has no authority to make changes to the Residential Tenancy Act that would significantly strengthen protections for renters.

The City has stepped up to protect our renters with some of the most comprehensive tenant protections in BC:

  • We have the strongest municipal rental protection policy in the province, requiring developers to pay everything from moving costs to up to six months’ rent to displaced tenants from building redevelopment.
  • Our searchable, public Rental Standards Database has been instrumental to helping renters find quality homes while holding landlords to account in maintaining compliance with health and safety by-laws. In just three years, violations have dropped 80%.
  • Vancouver Rent Bank provides interest-free loans to renters in temporary financial crisis at risk of eviction. In just three years, we’ve helped 687 people – including 130 children – avoid homelessness and feel more secure in their homes.

From Steve Van J on Facebook:

What changes will you enact that might allow families making the average household income of $80K (or even 120K) to purchase a home in the city where current average prices are way beyond $1M. Realistically, how can anyone afford to live in Vancouver anymore when they’d be lucky to afford a mortgage for $750K?

Last April, Council approved an Affordable Home Ownership pilot program. We’ve been waiting ever since for the provincial government to make a change to our legislation so we can move forward with this program.

However, half our city – that’s over 300,000 people – rent. What we need is more support from provincial and federal governments to build more rental housing to lift the vacancy rate so people can find more affordable, secure places to live.

From Kyle Bags on Facebook:

Do you expect your grandchildren to be able to afford a place to live in Vancouver?

Homeownership has already been pushed out of reach for the majority of people who live in Vancouver. My own kids are having a tough time staying in the City because local incomes have become so disconnected from housing costs. We need other levels of government, developers and non-profit partners to work collaboratively with us to intervene now to turn the affordability crisis around so people who live and work in Vancouver can stay here.

From Ron Harris on Facebook:

I work in social housing. What is being done to add affordable housing for DTES residents? Because as I type this there are people trying to sleep on our stairwells and kitchen areas.

Three years ago, the City partnered with the DTES community for a new community plan that focuses specifically on improving the lives of low-income residents – the first community plan in our history to have an economic development strategy within it.

In the last three years we’ve invested $16 million in the DTES, which includes 789 new social homes, 535 rental homes and upgrades to 1,028 SROs.

Despite all the measures we’ve taken, all of Metro Vancouver is experiencing a horrific homelessness crisis – up 30% across the region since 2014. There are 70 homeless camps across Metro Vancouver. Mayors across the region are calling for more urgent action from the provincial government to get people off the street and into secure housing, including opening of 1,000 additional units of transitional housing throughout the region by the end of 2017, and for both 2018 and 2019.

Editor’s Note:

We also put your ideas for renter assistance, such as ending fixed term leases, capping rent, giving financial help upon rent hikes, allowing roommates to move out without ending the lease, and forcing strata to allow more apartments for rental, to the Mayor.

However, a spokesperson for the Mayor said he declined to comment on these ideas, because “they are very outside our jurisdiction and it’s not prudent for the Mayor to be speculating on.”

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Jenni SheppardJenni Sheppard

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