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Feds, city fund $47.6 million rental housing project in southeast Vancouver

Project features 119 rental homes located in Vancouver’s river district
An artist’s rendering of a 119-unit rental housing project in Vancouver’s river district. Tenants are expected to move in later this summer, or early fall. Image courtesy Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
A new five-storey rental housing project being built in southeast Vancouver would not have been possible without a low-cost $39.8 million loan from the federal government and $7.8 million in land donated by the City of Vancouver.

That was the conclusion of Luke Harrison, president of the non-profit Catalyst Community Developments Society, whose company is behind the 119-unit building at 3625 Sawmill Cres. in Vancouver’s river district.

“I would actually go farther to say it’s probably not even possible to do a market rental project without the contribution of both of those two investments into the project,” Harrison said at a news conference Monday.

Harrison joined Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister responsible for housing, and Mayor Kennedy Stewart to announce the partnership and project, which is called “Alder.” Harjit Sajjan, the Liberal MP for the area’s riding and defence minister, served as master of ceremonies.

The $39.8 loan comes via the federal government’s rental construction financing initiative, which is a component of the government’s national housing strategy. The $7.8 million in land comes via the city’s Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency.

What each of the 119 units will rent for wasn’t disclosed Monday. But a news release from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said 36 of the homes will rent to tenants who meet minimum annual household income thresholds set under BC Housing’s “housing income limits” scale.

In Vancouver, a one-bedroom or studio would require a household income of $55,500 per year. For a two-bedroom, it would be $67,500. For a three-bedroom, $78,000. And for a four-bedroom, $83,500.

More than 80 of the homes will be two and three bedrooms.

Another 23 homes will rent to tenants at or below 24 per cent of Vancouver’s median household income, which was $65,000 per year in 2016, according to a “social indicators profile” report released by city staff last fall.

The vacancy rate in Vancouver, as of October 2020, was 2.6 per cent.

Hussen and the mayor talked about how the pandemic has worsened the affordable housing problem in Vancouver and across the country, with homelessness on the rise. More people are also seeking help with rent, as Glacier Media reported in March.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only shown but exacerbated existing housing challenges, and we have seen how some of those challenges are related to housing,” said Hussen, noting the importance of providing affordable rental housing for some of the city’s essential workers, including shopkeepers, construction workers, paramedics, firefighters and teachers.

“They are slowly being priced out of the rental market, and they’re moving further and further away so they can afford and have access to affordable rental units.”

The mayor said it wasn’t a surprise to many that Vancouver has an affordable housing problem. He echoed Hussen’s point about Vancouver losing its “working people” to the suburbs because of the cost of housing in the city.

“In a city as expensive as ours, losing one’s job or getting ill or injured at work can mean losing your home and getting pushed out into the streets,” said Stewart, who praised the federal government’s loan program.

“As we work to build back from the pandemic, and build a stronger, more resilient future, we need to make sure affordable housing is at the centre of how we think about health and wellbeing.”

The project is close to completion and tenants are expected to move in later this summer or early in the fall.