City of Vancouver to encourage more new rental housing for the West End

Mar 23 2023, 11:03 pm

A temporary policy intended to revive stalled housing development proposals on the eastern side of the West End neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver is such a success it will now be made permanent.

City of Vancouver staff have recommended a move to change the interim policy — in effect from late 2020 to December 2022 — into a permanent policy. It provides developers with the alternative framework option of building rental housing over several blocks along the east side of Thurlow Street between Haro and Comox streets and between Burnaby and Pacific streets. These are referred to as “Area D” and “Area E” of the Burrard Corridor of the West End Plan.

Over the years leading up to the previous Vancouver City Council’s 2020 decision, a growing number of condominium-primary rezoning applications under the City’s West End Plan policies stalled due to poor financial viability from the market downturn that began before the pandemic.

These condominium-primary projects entailed an inclusionary social housing requirement, along with significant community amenity contributions (CACs), which typically reach tens of millions of dollars in value for a sizeable market residential strata project.

The previous alternative interim policy that has since expired provided developers with a path forward by enabling rezoning applications for 100% secured rental housing, with a minimum of 20% of the residential floor dedicated to below-market rental housing.

vancouver west end interm policy rental housing sites

“Area D” and “Area E” in the West End Plan for the rental housing policy. (City of Vancouver)

Over the past two years, previously stalled condominium-primary proposals were redesigned as rental housing proposals. No CACs are required for rental housing proposals.

“The pilot has successfully secured a large number of rental and below-market rental units. Therefore, staff propose making this option permanently available in this area of the West End,” reads a City staff report.

Next week in a public meeting, City Council is expected to follow the recommendations of City staff to make the rental-primary policy permanent.

The permanent policy will also make clarifications and simplifications, noting that such proposals with 100% secured rental housing must have at least 20% as below-market rental housing or a one-for-one replacement of existing rental units with below-market rental units, whichever is greater.

As well, average starting rents for below-market rental units will be at least a 20% reduction of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) average market rents by unit type for the local area and will target 30% of the below-market rental units at a 50% reduction to CMHC. But this will also be subject to financial viability determined through a pro forma review, which must be submitted by the developer as part of their application.

After initial occupancy, rent increases for below-market units cannot exceed the current-year CMHC average market rent by unit type.

City staff suggest these formal stipulations have proven to be feasible, as all of the applications to date have proposed the same housing affordability rent mix for the below-market rental units, with 30% of the below-market rental units having starting rents at a 50% reduction to CMHC average rents for the local area and the other 70% of below-market rental units have rents at a 20% reduction.

So far, just one proposal under the previous interim policy has been approved, while the remainder are being reviewed by City staff ahead of a future public hearing with City Council.

In June 2022, the previous makeup of City Council approved Bosa Properties’ Bosa4Rent Homes’ rezoning application of building twin towers with 557 rental homes at 1065 Harwood Street and 1332 Thurlow Street (north site) and 1078 Harwood Street. Before the end of last year, this project proceeded into the development permit application stage.

In total, there are currently seven known future towers across five separate projects with a combined total of about 2,300 secured rental homes, including Bosa’s approved Harwood/Thurlow project.

These are the projects under the previous interim policy:

1065-1066 harwood street vancouver rental housing towers november 2022

2022 artistic rendering of the rental housing project at 1065-1066 Harwood Street, Vancouver. (Henriquez Partners Architects/Bosa4Rent/Bosa Properties)

1055 Harwood Street Vancouver rental housing

2023 artistic rendering of the rental housing project at 1055 Harwood Street, Vancouver. (GBL Architects/GWL Realty Advisors)

1040-1080 Barclay Street Vancouver rental towers

2022 artistic rendering of a rental housing project at 1040-1080 Barclay Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bosa Properties/Kingswood Properties)

1065 Pacific Street Vancouver rental housing tower

2023 artistic rendering of the rental housing project at 1065 Pacific Street, Vancouver. (Wall Financial Corporation)

1045 Burnaby Street Vancouver rental tower

2022 artistic rendering of the rental housing project at 1045 Burnaby Street, Vancouver. (GBL Architects/Gracorp Properties)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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