West End residents take on Vancouver city council over rental rules
A group of West End residents is taking the city to provincial Supreme Court over an affordable housing strategy it says has failed to bring about cheaper rentals and needs to be more transparent.
West End Neighbours (WEN), a non-profit society made up of about 50 dedicated members, served the city Thursday with a petition contending that Vancouver Charter doesn’t authorize city council to let the city manager determine what is “affordable rental housing” or to waive Development Cost Levies for developments that create for-profit market rental housing.
WEN spokeswoman Virginia Richards said the city’s STIR (Short Term Rental Incentives) and Rental 100 programs were launched with good intentions, but have not created affordable housing.
“We hope that the city will rethink the bylaws that they have introduced STIR and Rental 100 under,” Richards said.
WEN also wants the city to explain when it decides to waive the DCLs — which generated $78.8 million from new developments for the city last year.
“There’s been no public process,” Richards said.
No one from the city was available for comment late Friday afternoon, but Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs has said the affordable housing programs were never intended to provide subsidized housing, but rather market-rent units for individuals and families looking for a more affordable option than buying.
Meggs has said higher-than-average rental rates won’t mean STIR was a failure. “We consider it a win because we are generating much more rental housing on an annual basis than we did before,” he said.
The city’s 2012 Annual Report on DCLs shows that $78.8 million was generated in DCL revenue for 9.8 million square feet of new construction. Density rezonings brought in an additional $68 million in public benefits, plus 1,011 secured market rental units, paid for through community amenity contributions, the city’s 2012 Annual Report on Public Benefits from Approvals of Additional Density shows.
Community amenity contributions are paid by developers in return for higher density; the city uses these funds to pay for things such as affordable housing or daycare centres. Forty-four developments adding 2.4 million square feet in additional density in Vancouver were approved in 2012, the report shows.
DCLs are similar to CACs in that they also pay for public benefits such as parks, child care facilities or social housing, but they apply to all developments. DCLs also pay for engineering infrastructure, such as replacing water, sewer, drainage and sidewalks. A development that requires a rezoning is charged both fees.
In 2012, DCL funds spent include $11.4 million for parks and $1.9 million for engineering infrastructure, the report states. Three child care projects were approved but DCL funding will not be required until 2013 or 2014.
In 2012, CACs paid $23 million for heritage preservation, $17 million for affordable housing, $13 million for community facilities and $7 million for parks and public art. In addition, the city approved six projects in 2012 that will lead to the construction of 1,011 units of secured market rental housing in lieu of paying CACs, the report states.
At the end of 2012, there was $8 million in unallocated CAC funds and $139.1 million in DCL funds. The reason some funds remain unallocated is that it takes the city a while to spend the money that’s coming in, said Brian Jackson, the City of Vancouver’s general manager of planning.
“The large infrastructure upgrades that we do take many years to spend the money. Sometimes it takes two to three years for a project to be completed,” Jackson said.
The development industry would like to see the funds spent in a timely manner, said Anne McMullin, president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute.
The city report states that the elevated DCL balance is unlikely to continue into the future because 2012 was the first year of the city’s three-year capital plan, so planned projects will begin the acquisition and construction phase, which will require more funds. Also, the city has a new financial planning framework, which will mean unused funding from prior years will be depleted and a higher portion of current DCL funds will be used during the current year
In addition, $22 million in DCLs have been allocated in the 2013 budget.
Jackson also noted that in the future, public benefit strategies will be developed as part of community planning, so the same time lag shouldn’t exist.
Approximately $5 million of the unallocated CAC funds will go toward the Cambie Corridor and $3 million will go toward Southeast False Creek. The report states that all unallocated funds are set aside and can only be spent on public benefits that council approves. Of the CACs, McMullin said UDI would like to see a fixed process to determine the amounts, with a detailed plan to support the process.