Vancouver mayor wants powers to label some city land 'rental only'
Published Wednesday, November 22, 2017 12:52PM PST
Last Updated Thursday, November 23, 2017 9:10AM PST
Vancouver’s mayor is asking the province to grant him the power to designate certain areas of the city rental-only zones.
It’s part of a 10-year housing strategy that the city unveiled Tuesday that also calls for the construction of some 72,000 new units of housing, two-thirds of them rental.
“We are looking at changes to our zoning and housing policy to get more rental housing in particular to the city,” Mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters. “We have taken action with allowing rental in laneway housing and secondary suites. We need to go beyond that.”
“We’d love to see changes in Victoria that enable us to do rental only zones in the city,” he said.
The hope is by reserving lots near transit hubs for rental housing, rental buildings won’t be crowded out by condominiums, which are more profitable for developers.
Renters are struggling to find space in Vancouver, with average rents of a one-bedroom shooting up to around $2,000 a month, according to the most recent figured from Padmapper, which collects rental housing data from cities across the country.
That means finding a new apartment can become stressful and pricey, said Barbara Warner, who found herself looking for a new two-bedroom apartment last year after her landlord wanted the space.
“It was a nightmare. I’m paying $300 more than I was then for the same apartment,” said Warner, who lives in the River District in Vancouver.
One factor behind the pricey pads is decades of too little rental housing being built in the city, observers say.
“The reality is we have a supply shortage. The more supply we have, the more downward pressure it will put on rents. It’s a matter of supply and demand,” said David Hutniak of Landlord BC.
Under current regulations, the city believes it can only allow residential zones and can’t distinguish between rental and ownership housing, said former Vancouver chief planner Brent Toderian.
As a result, condos have edged out rental construction for years, because developers are attracted to the quicker payday.
“If you want them to do rental housing, they’re leaving a lot of money on the table. There’s a huge gap in profit and value between ownership and rental housing,” Toderian said.
The city has made some progress by encouraging the construction of rental housing through incentive programs that make that gap smaller, he said.
“If you could zone for rental you wouldn’t have that problem. Land would price itself. It would be a very powerful policy tool,” he said.
Developers are supportive, said Anne McMullin of the Urban Development Institute, as long as it doesn’t take away from existing approvals.
“If the developer has already purchased the land, and it’s downzoned to rental, it won’t get built because the developer has already paid condo market price for the land,” she said. “If you’re doing it on land that hasn’t yet been upzoned for density, that makes sense.”
Housing Minister Selina Robinson told reporters last week that rental-only zones were one solution being discussed.
“It’s a comprehensive housing strategy with many moving parts and we want to address it holistically,” she said.
The city will also provide a dedicated “Renters Protection Manager,” who can help renters understand their rights; allow six or more unrelated roommates to live together; demand replacement of any rental unit demolished; and continue to give extra height to rental-only buildings.