The price and availability of housing is once again a top issue for voters as candidates campaign for votes in the Oct. 15 election.
Vancouver’s skyrocketing rents, low vacancy rate and stratospheric prices of homes has and continues to be a predictable and incessant topic among politicians, residents and media.
The conversation has been an understandable sore point for renters, with city staff telling council earlier this year that 75 per cent of newcomers to Vancouver are renters.
Many are paying a lot of money for what they can find.
Many can’t find a place.
Many others on good incomes can’t afford to buy a house.
This is Vancouver in 2022.
A Statistics Canada report released last month said British Columbia (25.5 per cent) and Ontario (24.2 per cent) had the highest rates of unaffordable housing nationally in 2021.
“This was largely because of the higher rates of unaffordable housing in the renter-heavy large urban centres of Toronto (30.5 per cent) and Vancouver (29.8 per cent),” the report said.
So which candidate is going to help renters?
Which one is going to help developers build more housing?
Readers might find answers in the housing platforms of the 11 parties represented on the ballot, which has more than 130 candidates listed for mayor, council, school board and park board.
Below is a summary of some of the highlights of the platforms, with the information derived from interviews, news conferences, news releases and party websites.
• Expand comprehensive rent control to all apartments in Vancouver.
• Enact legal powers and duties for tenant unions.
• Stop “demovictions” and give current tenants right of first refusal in new buildings, plus money to top up their rent in interim housing while waiting for the replacement apartment to be built.
• Establish an elected Vancouver “rent control board,” with tenant representation and independence from the real estate industry.
• Launch a public campaign to pressure the province to change the Residential Tenancy Act to meet the requests of Pets OK BC, while also addressing the needs of people with severe allergies to pets.
• Enforce the section of the city’s standards of maintenance bylaw that allows the city to do necessary work and bill the owner.
• Require as a condition of issuing building permits that landlords maintain rents for the building’s tenants at existing levels after work is completed.
• Co-locate affordable housing in new public buildings such as libraries, fire halls and community facilities, but exclude park lands.
• Tie affordability to renter income, not market rents.
• Protect tenants against renoviction, demoviction, displacement and guarantee right of return at affordable rents.
• Guarantee permit timelines to create certainty for builders, reduce costs and speed up delivery of housing.
• Implement a simple menu of repeatable building forms, from tiny homes to multi-family buildings, to fast-track permits and reduce costs and building times.
• Fast-track rapid shelter solutions such as tiny home communities on empty lots to provide transitional housing with health supports for people who are unhoused.
• Expand pre-zoning and use rental-only zoning powers to meet Vancouver residents’ needs, increase the supply of affordable and market rental housing, and dampen speculation.
• Allow new rental buildings of up to six storeys in formerly exclusive areas of the city.
• Allow grocery stores, cafes, restaurants and small-scale retail shops in all neighbourhoods.
• Allow condo developments up to four storeys across the city.
• Prioritize development applications that do not displace renters, ending all incentives to displace renters, and providing a rental top-up to ensure that tenants maintain a roof over their head.
• Give social housing projects an advantage over market developments to allow them to be built much higher and faster than their private, for-profit counterparts. Non-market developments that comply with guidelines will be approved by staff with no extra hearings.
• Transform the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency — which, at the moment, helps non-profits get permits — into a public developer, so that “we can build the homes we need ourselves.”
• Request the provincial government to allow a land value tax in Vancouver.
• Tie rent to the unit, not the tenant and legalize tenant unions.
TEAM for a Livable Vancouver
• Make a $500-million City of Vancouver investment in affordable co-operative housing to create homes for more than 4,000 people in up to 2,000 new units for all income levels, using city land. (Proposal would be put to Vancouver voters in a mail ballot referendum within 18 months of taking office.)
• Use neighbourhood planning and accurate population growth data to identify the existing and future housing types and tenures that are needed to affordably accommodate existing and future residents.
• Provide a mix of non-market and market housing, for rentals and ownership, including co-ops, co-housing, secondary suites, multiple conversion dwellings, infill, laneways, multiplexes, townhouses, and apartments, planned in partnership with local residents at the scale of each neighbourhood.
• Stabilize land values by ending inflationary and disruptive spot rezonings that ignore neighbourhood plans without contributing to community amenities.
• Use city-owned lands for more affordable housing.
• Adjust permit requirements and climate action regulations to retain and renovate existing homes for more affordable rental options such as secondary suites, laneway homes and infill housing.
• Endorse the “renters’ plan” for the Broadway corridor released by the Vancouver Tenants Union, including the right to return at the same or lower rent, the right of first refusal, vacancy control tied to units and the right for tenants to organize.
• Endorse the “rent strike bargain” campaign for tenants’ right to collectively bargain and to organize tenant unions in apartment buildings or corporate-owned properties without intimidation, harassment or retaliation.
• Establish a right of first refusal to allow the city to purchase residential buildings before corporations or private individuals, in order to convert these buildings into public housing.
• Protect affordable rental stock by ending evictions of any residents living in units that cost less than 80 per cent of market rates, unless immediately provided with housing of the same or better rental price, quality, and square footage.
• Permit tenant sublets to protect affordable housing stock.
• Demand landlords disclose a previous tenant's rental rate to new tenants, provide contact information and list any upgrades that would justify exceeding the rent increase limit for that year.
• Implement a four-year rent freeze on city-owned rental properties, all rental units where prices have been increased by more than 10 per cent over 2019 rates without upgrades, and on landlords where maintenance issues are outstanding, with rents to be gradually reduced after the freeze.
• Eliminate the housing construction backlog to help increase the supply of market, non-market and supportive housing by approving home renovations in three days, single-family homes and townhouses in three weeks and three months for “professionally designed multi-family and mid-rise projects where existing zoning is already in place.”
• Double the number of co-op housing units within the next four years.
• Pre-approve five standard laneway home designs to speed up laneway home construction.
• Initiate a review of the city’s “missing middle” housing strategy to better address the shortage of missing middle housing supply.
• Increase the City of Vancouver’s social and supportive housing investments in line with the consumer price index every year.
• Pilot a housing project for youth and youth aging out of care in partnership with BC Housing. Also pilot a culturally appropriate, Indigenous-led supportive housing and wellness centre project in partnership with Indigenous peoples.
• Pre-identify locations in the city where density bonuses can be given to developers to accommodate the construction of additional non-market housing.
• Immediately allow family-oriented multi-unit housing around schools, playgrounds and transit.
• End the ban on affordable multi-family rental units in 75 per cent of the city’s residential land; allow six-storey rental buildings and four-storey strata buildings throughout the city.
• Enact a progressive luxury homes surtax on the top one per cent of properties.
• Create a city-owned agency to build and manage mixed-income housing: the Vancouver Civic Housing Corporation.
• Allow seniors housing to be built in all neighbourhoods, enabling seniors to remain near their children and grandchildren.
• Increase housing targets to 15,000 per year with 50 per cent being rentals and support co-ops, collectives and multigenerational homes as alternatives to market housing; prioritize developments which avoid renter displacement.
• End the “secretive practice” of one-off, closed-door negotiations and set a transparent public schedule of community amenity contribution fees for developers.
• Approve and enable 220,000 new homes over the next 10 years, including 140,000 market rental, below-market rental, social housing and co-ops, 40,000 new ground-oriented homes for purchase by “the middle class” and 40,000 full market condos or townhomes for purchase.
• Extend “the toughest renter protections in Canada” across the whole city and add permanent vacancy control to many new rental units.
• Modernize public hearings and permitting to be more efficient, including reducing permitting times for “low-complexity renovations” to as little as two weeks.
• Create specialized project approval teams for all major projects to speed up decisions and cut red tape.
• Keep the empty homes tax to at least five per cent in an effort to continue to push empty homes back onto the housing market.
• Focus on providing homes for women and children, including those fleeing violence.
• Implement mandated maximum permit wait times for home construction and building construction.
• Set supply targets for housing based on immigration numbers — “not ideas or ideologies.” This will include supply targets for rental, workforce housing for middle-class Vancouverites and affordable homeownership.
• Work with financial providers to set targets for a first-time homebuyers’ program, including a rent-to-own initiative.
• Pre-zone supply targets “where possible to end the building-by-building battles at city hall currently draining resources from both the city council and home builders.”
• Implement a flat rate for community amenity contributions so home builders have certainty, with a lower rate for rental buildings.
• Create vibrant communities around transit hubs. Include 24-hour child-care centres in rental buildings and ensure amenities such as pools, parks and child care are invested in new development.
• Introduce a motion directing staff to bring forward city-wide zoning reform policy that will open up neighbourhoods to low and mid-rise housing options, for a vote within 90 days of taking office.
• Support removal of public hearing requirements for all below-market housing, including non-profit, public co-op housing.
• Revitalize the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency “to give it the mandate and resources to build more affordable housing on city-owned land.”
• Expand protection and advocacy for renters.
• Address permitting delays by directing staff to guarantee a permit under three months for any single-family homeowner densifying their lot with a secondary suite, duplex, triplex or laneway home.
• Address Vancouverites' frustration with getting permits for small home renovations by guaranteeing a 30-day decision — a yes or a no — on projects under $50,000. To do so, Vision would increase staffing resources for the building permit department.
Affordable Housing Coalition
• Stabilize rent by implementing vacancy control.
• Control land prices by implementing “an appreciation tax” on the sale of land to encourage investors to place their capital in job-producing industries, instead of pushing up the prices of parcels. (The tax would apply only to the value above the 2022 land assessment, and would only apply when a lot is sold.)
• Implement a progressive property tax, which would mean owners of the most expensive single-family lots in the city — the most valuable 20 per cent — would pay additional property tax. Those owners 55 and older could defer the amount due until the property is sold.
• Upzone areas such as Dunbar and Oakridge for townhouses and low-rises to create affordable housing options for local wage earners and their families. “Densifying the city will allow us to create walkable communities, where people can live, work and play near their homes. This creates a livable city, and reduces the need for car ownership, encouraging public transit, bicycling and car-sharing options.”
• Encourage (and even require) the creation of housing that has three bedrooms or more. This can be done by allowing land to be upzoned for the creation of lowrise buildings such as townhouses, walk-ups and row houses.
• Go back to the “Vancouver special” concept and create a template of pre-approved building designs that include townhouses, row houses, and even lowrise walk-ups. “This helps us to get back to the days when permits were approved in days, not months.”