Vancouver City Council approves policy for 6-storey rental housing on major streets

Dec 15 2021, 9:11 pm

The final Vancouver City Council meeting of 2021 saw the approval of the current city council’s most significant rental housing policy to date, allowing more multi-family rental housing to be built across the city.

The marathon public hearing for the Secured Rental Policy (SRP) first began in early November 2021, with city council hearing from public speakers over several days. City council deliberated and made their decision on the policy Tuesday night, approving the SRP in a 10-1 vote, with TEAM councillor Colleen Hardwick in opposition.

“Council, this is a watershed moment for us. This city is hurting. The number one issue in everyone’s minds, next to COVID, is housing and has been for years,” said mayor Kennedy Stewart.

“The public have been very well exposed to this… The overwhelming support is to get this done.”

The streamlined policy enables the municipal government’s use of rental housing zoning — previously granted by the provincial government — to allow low- and mid-rise rental housing buildings on C-2 commercial districts on arterial streets. Essentially, such projects would not need to go through the time-consuming rezoning process, and they can follow the same existing process to build a new four-storey condominium building.

These rental housing buildings fronting major roads can reach six storeys, as long as at least 20% of the residential floor area is dedicated for below-market rental housing or 100% social housing. As well, six-storey buildings on C-2 zoning must 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. For five-storey building forms on the same sites, 100% market rental housing is permitted.

In both the five- and six-storey building options on C-2 zoning, the ground level must be dedicated for retail and restaurant uses to enhance and provide continuity to the shopping districts, while also providing new residents with greater proximity to more businesses and services within walking distance.

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.

vancouver secure rental housing policy

Map of zoning districts along and near arterial routes under the Secure Rental Policy, outside of community plans. (City of Vancouver)

vancouver secure rental housing policy

Example commercial district rental building on a shopping street. (City of Vancouver)

vancouver secure rental housing policy

Example rental buildings on and near an arterial street. (City of Vancouver)

vancouver secure rental housing policy

Example rental buildings options on an arterial (top) and : example rental buildings options on a local street (bottom). (City of Vancouver)

While this is the 2018-2022 city council’s most significant rental housing policy to date, the new housing supply it could potentially generate is relatively modest. City staff forecast the SRP could help catalyze 4,700 secured purpose-built rental homes over 10 years — an average of 470 rental homes per year.

“I don’t think this policy is a silver bullet, I think it’s incremental. We have large-scale buildings that will several hundred apartments in one fell sloop on one site,” said independent councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung. “But incrementally is good because it all adds up and it’s another tool in the toolkit.”

Although the SRP spans across the city, it does not cover areas that have their own recent community plans, such as the Cambie Corridor Plan, Marpole Community Plan, Grandview-Woodland Plan, the downtown Vancouver peninsula, and the upcoming Broadway Plan.

The planning process for developing the SRP has been underway for more than two years.

“This is moving in the right direction to solve the housing crisis,” said Green Party councillor Adriane Carr.

Green Party councillor Pete Fry said: “I know there is a narrative out there that suggests this is too much, too soon. I don’t believe it is.”

“I don’t think six-storey apartments will destroy communities. In fact, I think it might be the key to revitalizing some of our retail sectors that could use more of an injunction of population and shoppers.”

Early on in the meeting, Hardwick attempted to put deliberations to a halt and send the SRP back to city staff, effectively shelving it, but it was sharply rebuked by the mayor and other councillors.

“Council should have the courage of their convictions, whatever they may be, with respect to this report, and vote accordingly as to whether or not they feel they want to support it, based on the perceived merits on the report and what they’ve heard from the public, and how they weigh that information,” said Kirby-Yung.

“Our council term is four years. This process has taken over half of that. The previous referral back to the plan was a year… and I actually think we’re fairly being criticized for not making movement on housing policy. Not everyone agrees on policy, but at some point, we have to make a decision, and stand for something.”

Several proposed amendments by councillors to the SRP were introduced, but were rejected by the majority of council.

Fry supported an amendment by Green Party councillor Wiebe to mandate a nominal fixed-rate community amenity contribution (CAC) of $3.01 per sq ft on the existing residential zoning districts under the SRP. He reasoned that CACs would help fund new public benefits and amenities in areas with a growing population, but these fees are normally only applied on strata housing, not on any rental housing.

NPA councillor Melissa De Genova challenged the rationale of mandating a CAC on rentals, asserting that it could have an impact on the already challenging pro forma of market rental housing projects, and that such added costs would be passed on to renters. It would also negate some of the catalyzing impact the SRP is intended to have: steering developers and property developers away from building condominiums and into rental housing.

Instead, city council approved an amendment directing city staff to explore feasible options to apply fixed-rate CACs to market rental projects.

City council also rejected COPE councillor Jean Swanson’s proposed an amendment to have the SRP not apply for the Knight Street corridor. Over her term, she has raised concerns on several occasions about high levels of air pollution on Knight Street due to freight truck volumes reaching the port, and the health impacts to residents living next to this corridor.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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