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City’s affordable housing plan a positive move, but ‘action’ needed

Posted by rezalutions on September 17, 2014
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Brian Morton, Vancouver Sun
September 27, 2012

It’s a lofty plan to promote affordable housing, but only time will tell if it works.

That’s how Cameron Muir, chief economist at the B.C. Real Estate Association, responded to Wednesday’s city staff report on affordable options for Vancouver housing that’s too expensive for low and middle-income families.

“Increasing densities should have an effect,” said Muir. “And it will have some impact on the neighbourhoods in question. But overall, it’s yet to be seen if these measures should have an impact on overall affordability in Vancouver.”

Among the priority recommendations of city staff are “thin streets” pilot projects and zoning changes to boost density along main streets and close to major bus and SkyTrain routes.

Muir, noting that 80 per cent of all housing starts are now townhouses and condos, added that Vancouver’s limited land supply puts upward pres-sure on costs and that the thin streets project will increase densities and promote afford-able housing.

Peter Simpson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, said the staff recommendations make sense, but that “we need to see it put into action.”

Simpson, whose organization represents Metro Vancouver’s residential construction industry, applauded the “outside of the box” thinking that resulted from the task force process.

He predicted there would be neighbourhood resistance to parts of the city plan, but said the “shrill minority who don’t want any change” should be ignored.

“You have to engage existing residences (who) don’t like encroachment. But if it’s sensitive to the needs of reasonable residents, it’s a positive thing. You need high densities along arterials and secondary roads. It allows young people to live where they grew up.”

Apartment broker David Goodman, co-owner of HQ Real Estate Services and author of the Goodman Report, a Metro Vancouver apartment building market review, feels that the task force report doesn’t adequately address the issue and is more of a “piecemeal solution to a very big problem.”

He said the city has a “crying need” for more rental buildings and there are plenty of developers who’d love to build them as the condo market softens. That said, Goodman added, the return on investment for constructing rental buildings is small.

“It’s difficult to make the numbers work,” added Good-man, who suggested the elimination of development cost charges for constructing purpose-built rental buildings would help.

“It’s extraordinarily difficult to line up the stars and make a rental building work.”

However, three new highrise rental towers with 614 rental units will be built beside Rogers Arena by Aquilini Developments and Construction, with the last of the towers in the $300-million project completed in the spring of 2016.

Robyn Adamache, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s senior market analyst for Metro Vancouver, said recently that there were 1,755 rental units built in Metro Vancouver in 2011, up significantly from the 447 built in 2009. The average number of rental units built per year from 2002 to 2011 was 871 in Metro Vancouver.

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