Vancouver city council approves new zoning policies allowing up to 6-storey rentals

Nov 27 2019, 4:17 pm

In a bid to address the rental housing shortage, Vancouver city council has taken its most drastic measures to date in approving new policies that allow rental housing to be developed quicker and in more areas of the city.

This includes the rental-only zoning policy of allowing up to six-storey rental apartments in commercial zones, as well as the new family-friendly housing pilot program for buildings between four and six storeys near schools, parks, and shops.

Depending on location, market rental projects of up to four or five storeys will be considered, but projects up to six storeys must dedicate at least 20% of the floor area for below-market rents. Additionally, community amenity contributions apply for these six-storey options with a below-market component.

These are the City of Vancouver’s first rental-only zoning policies, which cover commercial districts not already covered by community plans.

As well, effectively expediting the application process, these rental projects will not need to go through the initial step of a rezoning process, which can sometimes take as long as years to complete before a development application can be pursued. Without rezoning, the city’s review process is reduced by about a year.

It is estimated these policies will help build up to 8,000 new rental homes over the next seven years, including about 5,000 rental homes for middle-income households.

“These changes could help us narrow the gap as we fight to meet our housing targets. But more importantly, they give hope to everyone in our city that is struggling with making rent or finding a place to live,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart in a statement.

“Like I said before, these new policies alone won’t solve the housing crisis, but they will build thousands of new rental homes and help make Vancouver a city that works for everyone.”

Additionally, as a pilot project, rental-only zoning will be implemented within 150 metres from arterial roads close to schools, shops, and parks. Although these projects still require a rezoning, they will use a standardized building template, which should cut down the rezoning application timeline by about six months.

The existing Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program (MIRHPP) stream for applications will be extended through January 1, 2021 to better enable developers to reach the city’s 20-project limit. To date, the municipal government has received 10 rezoning applications falling under MIRHPP.

MIRHPP, which is attached to incentives, requires 100% of the residential floor area of a building to be secured purpose-build rental housing, with at least 20% of the residential floor area dedicated to moderate income households earning between $30,000 and $80,000 annually.

Overall, existing incentives, such as citywide development cost levy waivers, will be maintained as a key incentive to catalyze new rental housing.

The approved policies also encourage rental developments as 12-storey mass timber buildings.

“These policies are designed to generate more rental homes in neighbourhoods across the city and make the process to develop new buildings faster and more predictable,” said Gil Kelley, general manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability for the City of Vancouver, in a statement.

“City staff will work collaboratively to ensure that policy updates and community feedback on our housing policy informs the long-term Vancouver Plan – and vice versa.”

During the first half of 2020, city staff will engage in public consultation on the amendments to the zoning and development bylaw and report back to city council.