Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s renewed campaign to get his “making home” housing initiative approved by council paid off Wednesday in getting enough councillors on board with his plan to allow up to six homes on a single-family lot.
Stewart announced the re-launch of his initiative in October, more than a year after he was unable to convince a majority of councillors in September 2020 to adopt all the points of his plan, including kickstarting a pilot project with 100 single-family homes.
The mayor, at the time, said he was “flabbergasted” by the decision.
On Wednesday, after hearing from nine citizens and participating in more than three hours of debate, Stewart thanked councillors for additions to his motion, which he described as “country-leading.”
"There's nothing like this in Canada at the moment — I know there's a lot of eyes on this," said a pleased Stewart, who suggested full uptake of the program could lead to the construction of 10,000 homes.
'Middle-class housing options'
The approval wasn’t one straight vote of council, with the motion severed into 18 parts and councillors Melissa De Genova and Colleen Hardwick voting against many of them. In the end, a majority of the 10 councillors, including Christine Boyle, supported Stewart’s motion.
“We know that it doesn’t solve the housing program for everyone across the spectrum, and we need a number of solutions, but this is a very important piece of creating middle-class housing options across all neighbourhoods in the city,” Boyle said.
The mayor’s plan calls for city staff to develop policies or guidelines that would allow up to 2,000 lots currently zoned for single-detached homes or duplexes to be developed for up to six homes, subject to appropriate rezonings.
Stewart wants the plan geared to households who earn $80,000 or less per year and want to buy a home.
The mayor’s initial proposal to council in September 2020 called for at least one or more of the homes on a single lot to be sold to a household earning $80,000 to $120,000. At the time, the mayor also suggested a covenant could be placed on a home to ensure its affordability in perpetuity.
Now he is advocating for a two-track program, where a builder could either pay a development fee based on square footage to the city instead of providing an affordable unit or units, or build one or more affordable homes for households in the $80,000 or less category and have fees waived.
'Hundreds of millions of dollars'
Any fees paid to the city would be redirected to help build permanent affordable units in other neighbourhoods, expand childcare and accelerate council’s climate change goals, according to a website devoted to the mayor’s proposal.
Information on the website suggests the approach would limit speculation while the “land lift” of the property value would go right back into building affordable homes or used to generate “hundreds of millions of dollars” for the city.
Hardwick was skeptical of the mayor’s plan and questioned him about what she described as an elaborate marketing campaign, including radio ads, to win a majority of council’s support.
“These are strata units [proposed in the plan] and they will inflate land prices by definition,” she said.
“When you rezone, you inflate land values to highest and best use…if we really want to make housing affordable, inflating land values has exactly the opposite effect. This stands to increase speculation and demolition of existing affordable housing.”
Staff’s analysis of the plan will include considering a series of amendments introduced by various councillors, including guidelines for family-sized units, creation of fully accessible ground-oriented units and whether a reduction in floor-space ratio for single-detached homes would constitute downzoning.
'I don't see a case against this'
Hours prior to the vote, the mayor’s office issued a news release featuring quotes from a wide range of supporters for Stewart’s plan “to bring homeownership back to the middle class.”
They included Bridgitte Anderson, the president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, Jill Atkey, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and Thom Armstrong, the CEO of the Co-op Housing Federation of BC.
Thomas Davidoff, the director of the UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, was also included in the release and spoke to council Wednesday, as he did at the mayor’s re-launch in October 2021.
“I just don’t see a case against this,” said Davidoff, who suggested the program would be most attractive to someone wanting to tear down an existing old house.
The lead-up to Wednesday’s vote was marked by months of political jousting, with some councillors calling out the mayor on a proposal they said had its roots in work they had already proposed.
As Coun. Lisa Dominato told Glacier Media last fall, several motions from councillors, including some from her and De Genova, have directed staff to consider various options to build more housing.
In fact, the mayor’s attempt in September 2020 to get his original proposal approved and studied by staff was an amendment to a motion that Dominato introduced previously in the summer.
At the time, Dominato called for “creative and experimental” ground-oriented housing in single-family housing zones that would be suitable and affordable for a wider spectrum of Vancouver families.
De Genova sent Glacier Media a list of motions she has introduced to council over the past two terms that directed staff to look at affordable home ownership and new housing options for families, including one that the Vision Vancouver-dominated council approved in 2015.
Staff did not provide a timeframe when their analysis work would be completed. Stewart and the 10 councillors all plan to seek re-election in the October municipal election.