Vancouver City Council is on the verge of deciding one of its most consequential housing policies yet, potentially catalyzing up to about 4,700 new purpose-built secured rental homes in low- and mid-rise buildings across the city over the coming decade.
In a public meeting next week, after conducting public consultation earlier in their term, city council will consider changes to commercial zoning along major streets to allow new six-storey rental buildings, without the arduous rezoning process. Such projects would follow the same process as a new four-storey condominium building on these sites.
The intent is to improve the economics of building market rental housing, so that more property owners and developers will consider this comparatively more affordable housing tenure instead of condominiums.
As these buildings are within commercial districts, they would need to be mixed-use developments with residential uses within the upper levels and the ground level dedicated for retail and restaurant uses to enhance and ensure the continuity of retail strips. Furthermore, six-storey buildings on commercial districts would need to have at least 35% of the units sized for families (two or more bedrooms), and the structures must be designed to a Passive House green building standard or comply with other green building policies.
Under this policy, rental buildings up to six storeys would also be allowed on low-density residential zoning along arterial streets, with the stipulation that at least 20% of the residential floor area be dedicated to below-market rental housing. Alternatively, the policy provides the option of 100% social housing.
Furthermore, added 100% rental density of up to four storeys would be permitted to face local streets immediately off either side of arterial streets.
Sites near SkyTrain stations and frequent transit bus stops such as RapidBus/B-Line would be considered for reduced vehicle parking supply allowances.
“At the building scales proposed, secured market rental apartments are financially marginal to build. To minimize construction costs, increase building efficiency and limit future maintenance and operating costs, the new rental zones anticipate simple, efficient building designs, with limited articulation and little or no stepping back of upper storeys,” reads a city staff report.
“Simple building types also enhance energy performance and provide highly livable units, including larger family-sized units. They would have a compact footprint to limit impact on adjacent sites and allow for children’s play space and shared outdoor amenity space on site. Architectural elements such as balconies, ground level entries, façade composition and exterior finishes would generate visual interest when viewed from the street.”
These secure rental housing policies along and near arterial roads will not be enacted in areas under their own community plans, including the Cambie Corridor Plan, Marpole Community Plan, Grandview-Woodland Plan, the downtown Vancouver peninsula, and the upcoming Broadway Plan.
The establishment of a new rental zoning district classification would also streamline such proposals in these areas, which would be the first time the City of Vancouver used the new rental zoning tool that was approved in 2018 by the provincial government for municipal governments to use.
It would also help ensure new buildings under these changes would be permanently used as rental housing, in addition to the housing agreement for each project that secures it as rental.
“As a Vancouver Plan quick start action, these changes would help create more complete neighbourhoods that include a range of ‘missing middle’ secure market and below-market rental housing, strengthen and grow local shopping streets, and reduce carbon pollution by allowing more people to live close to shopping, transit and daily needs,” reads a city staff report.