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Vancouver's rental housing plan not affordable: Renters' Union

*Updated August 13, 10:23 a.m. Given Vision Vancouver's "affordable" housing track record, the Vancouver Renters' Union says any rental units on the six city-owned sites opened for development will be too expensive for low-income people.

Yesterday The Tyee reported on the city's plan to lease out six pieces of land for affordable rental housing as part of their Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2012-2021. They've issued a Request For Expressions Of Interest (REFOI) in hopes developers will partner with non-profits to create affordable housing for the city's low-to-moderate income residents.

But Nathan Crompton, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Renters' Union, representing the city's majority renting population, is afraid this solution gives developers the chance to redefine "social housing" to mean housing for the middle-class.

"It is worrying for the future of social housing in the city that the City of Vancouver's Housing and Homelessness strategy defines this new rental housing as part of the social housing section of the housing continuum," Crompton told The Tyee via email.

"This definition was proven by the recent Pantages development in which the city approved 'social housing' units with rents of $900 for a one-bedroom per month."

Crompton says developers will receive two kinds of fee exemptions from the city for the six new sites: Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) for two of the areas that have been rezoned, and Development Cost Levies (DCLs) automatically for all six sites. This could reduce building costs for developers by millions of dollars.

The city's website on CACs, however, shows the two rezoned sites in the Fraser Lands are one of the few areas in the city where CACs don't apply.* Crompton assumes, however, given an average 83 units per site the other four sites will need to be rezoned, making CACs applicable for those sites.The city's website shows the Fraser Lands, where two of the sites are located, is one of the few areas in the city where Crompton assumes, however, given an average 83 units per site the other four sites will need to be rezoned, making CACs applicable for those sites.

Regardless, Crompton says the city's RFEOI allows developers to define what affordability means, and that doesn't work. He cites the proposed Heather Place social housing redevelopment that could see rental rates go as high as $1,700 for a two-bedroom apartment. That's much higher than the current tenants, who currently pay no more than $1,085 per month for a three-bedroom apartment, can afford.

"The people displaced in the redevelopment obviously can’t afford (it) despite being given a token right of first return," says Crompton.

"For the past four years Vision Vancouver has worked on the assumption that all rental is affordable, including the recent Aquilini high rise at $2,000 per month for a two-bedroom. The project was also part of the city’s Homelessness Strategy. The current RFEOI continues that policy by allowing the developer to define affordability."

Crompton says he appreciates the city's desire for developers to partner with non-profits to keep rents lower. But he says that without a cap on rents in the lease agreement, it won't work, citing previous private-non-profit partnerships like the Woodwards building or 60 W Cordova as experiments where the "private wins out."

"(Vision Vancouver's mandate) has always been find a way to help the market find its own way to affordability," says Crompton. "And it's been a failure."

Katie Hyslop reports on youth and education issues for The Tyee.

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