Vancouver council has passed the Broadway Plan, a major change that will lead to denser development in a 500-block stretch of the city where a new subway line is already under construction.
After decades of high-rise construction concentrated in Vancouver’s downtown core, the Broadway corridor — about seven kilometres stretching from Clark Drive in East Vancouver to Vine Street in Kitsilano — has long been pegged for more housing, jobs and commercial space, as well as rapid transit. The planning area also extends to 16 blocks to the north and south of Broadway.
But while it might have seemed like a no-brainer to plan for higher density along this busy urban thoroughfare, passing the plan was not easy. The city has gone through two enormous real estate price hikes in the past six years, one starting in 2015 and the other in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both have caused rising rents and pressures on tenants, with residents of older, more affordable apartment buildings bearing the brunt of eviction attempts.
At a marathon public hearing, residents also expressed concerns including building heights, lack of parks and changes to existing neighbourhoods. Many others called on council to pass the plan, saying it would provide desperately-needed housing options.
With 30,000 renters living in the Broadway Plan area and the plan projecting another 50,000 residents, protecting existing tenants was top of mind for many city councillors. Councillors introduced 27 amendments to the plan, which took days to sort through, including new protections for renters that Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has called the toughest in Canada.
While several councillors said they were still uneasy about the potential for property speculation and land price increases, others said the plan is badly needed to provide housing for future residents and to guide development along a subway line that is already in progress. It passed Wednesday in a seven-to-four vote.
Here’s why Vancouver’s mayor and councillors voted yes or no, in their own words.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart (Independent)
I do think I'm acutely aware of senior levels of government looking over our shoulders, and I think this is really something that will show them that our council has it together and that we recognize the needs that they're also seeing as something has to be met from the public. I think a lot of what's going on here is innovative. I think the moves we made on rental protections are fantastic.
For folks living along the line that have been renters there for a long time, I hope this really goes a long way to show that we have their backs, but also for folks that want to come and live in the city or are moving out or living with their families in the city, it will give lots of room for people to enjoy what I think is going to be one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in the country.
If you think about the businesses that are going to grow along here, and with any luck later this month, we'll have the final approval from the [TransLink] mayors’ council for the UBC extension. You can see what a marvellous corridor this is already starting to become.
Coun. Pete Fry (Green)
Public opinion on this has been politicized and polarized and even weaponized, and we had to bear a whole lot of angst that came with this plan.
But… not having a plan is not an option. We have the subway. It's a done deal, it’s going to Arbutus already. So we need to anticipate what kind of impacts it’s going to have on the existing community, and what kind of impacts it’s going to have on the existing renters in the corridor. So I think what we've landed with all the amendments is pretty strong regulation to protect renters, introducing a whole new level of rent stabilization, opportunities for tenant relocation, stuff that hasn't been seen before.
And we saw how the Cambie Corridor with the Canada Line hasn't achieved a lot of the goals that I think we might have aspired to. It’s a different context then but we've learned from that… with all the opportunity and the need for this new housing, I think we really landed on a good [plan].
Coun. Rebecca Bligh (A Better City)
It is our job to listen to feedback from the public and I believe that we've actually done that in a very thoughtful way.... It was about, ‘How do we shape this plan based on that feedback? Can you strike that balance?’ So in many ways, it's been fine-tuned, whether it's solar access, tenant protections, refining the frontages so that we have more livable built form, partnership with the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, incorporating history and art into the public realm, we’ve got co-ops and not-for-profits named in terms of prioritizing housing. We're talking about fixed [community amenity negotiations]… climate-friendly wood construction.
We’re prioritizing schools in this plan, we’re prioritizing education outreach to tenants so that they know how they can engage and be protected in the event that there might be changes to their current residence. In addition to this, we have reports back to council on so many of the aspects that have been amended into this plan.
I make a point to read all these out because people have to really realize that this is not going to be what council… forced through despite public opinion. We heard public opinion and we made changes and we amended. Of course, there's going to be folks that do not want change, and I appreciate that additional test to sort of step in and say we are responsible.
Coun. Lisa Dominato, A Better City
This plan delivers a range of housing: rental, strata, non-market, social housing, so it does address that diversity of tenure. It also supports employment and job space and local jobs and small business, which I think is critically important.
We can't be simply a city of housing, we need to be a city that has jobs for people… the reality is, many people come to Vancouver because of the job opportunities the city presents and they want to live close to where they work. They do not want to do what my mother did, which was commute an hour and a half each way from a suburb of Vancouver, and they are willing to sacrifice certain things in order to enjoy that.
Coun. Colleen Hardwick, TEAM
When it comes to the Broadway Plan, the amazing author Jane Jacobs actually predicted these problems back in 1961. In her epic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacob said, and I quote, ‘Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when they are created by everybody.’
The Broadway Plan was decidedly not created by everybody.
The Broadway Plan, where hundreds of public speakers raised their concerns night after night, was clearly not created by everybody. A Broadway Plan where thousands of renters fear losing their affordable, rent-controlled homes throughout the Broadway corridor to dumb evictions is not providing for everybody. A Broadway Plan where real estate companies are already buying up low rise housing buildings and replacing them with giant 20 to 40 storeys is definitely not created by everybody, nor will it benefit everybody — certainly not displaced renters.
In short, the Broadway Plan is not ready for approval because it was not created by everybody. The Broadway Plan is already escalating property prices on apartments listed for sale, and there are already advertisements from commercial agents who specialize in monetizing the Broadway Plan for property owners. Land inflation will be the inevitable outcome with higher rents and higher home prices.
Coun. Melissa De Genova, Non-Partisan Association
I have different reasons for voting no to these plans. They don't match up necessarily with Coun. Hardwick but I support more housing and more density in this plan. And although my vote may be the same as Coun. Hardwick's, it's for different reasons. I don't see enough here for families and I committed to building a family-friendly Vancouver.
Coun. Jean Swanson, Coalition of Progressive Electors
I think the amendments have improved the plan but I'm still really worried about it. I'm worried because small businesses will be gentrified. I know our staff knows this and are talking about it. We have to have measures to protect them before we implement the plan, not way down the line.
And I worry because there's nothing in here for the poorest third of renters. They won't be able to afford the 20 per cent below market units.
I worry because there's a theory that if we require affordability and it reduces land prices, affordability can actually be possible. I think we need to explore this theory more as opposed to the theory that building more and more expensive supply will bring down housing prices when landlords can raise rents as much as they like when tenants leave.
Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung, A Better City
I know that construction costs are escalating. I know that if we delay it will be more difficult, not easier, to build housing, especially the housing that we need: the rental, the below market, the social and the non-profit.
This plan significantly puts the biggest [emphasis] on rental and social housing with only one third being strata. Two-thirds of this plan is secured rental, including social and supportive housing and co-op housing. This is something we have not seen to date. It's important, it's a really significant shift, and it's what we need.
The status quo is not an option for me. We need to move forward thoughtfully and strategically. We need to support current residents. We also literally need to help others find their place in our city.
Coun. Christine Boyle, OneCity
I think as others have noted, it's really important to recognize that this plan strengthens protections for tenants. If this plan gets rejected or had been sent back, existing tenants wouldn't see those increased protections and it adds important housing that we know we need.
We know we need it based on the stories we hear from renters, we know we need it based on the vacancy rate. Adding that housing in this neighbourhood close to jobs, close to transit, close to amenities is important. And I believe that we're doing it responsibly alongside proper tenant protections.
I'm very happy and appreciative that this council supported, by amendment, to increase space for people along Broadway including safe transportation lanes. We know we are going to see heavy use of those from day one, both bicycle and micro-mobility, and that will make the sidewalk safer for pedestrians too.
Coun. Adriane Carr, Green
We have a subway being built. We need a plan. We need the details to that plan to make it work for the city.
I had wanted [the plan to be developed over phased periods], I thought that phasing made a lot of sense. But that didn't happen. But I have some comfort in the fact that staff when I questioned earlier made it clear that they expect over the next five years that the… subway station area plans are going to be the big focus, and I take some comfort in that.
Many of the amendments [speak to] the need for truly affordable housing. That is a crisis in our city. It has gotten worse and worse, despite best efforts. This plan I hope has some ability [to help].
Coun. Mike Wiebe, Green
Editor’s note: Wiebe did not speak before the final vote, but he made these comments in response to a proposed amendment from Hardwick to refer the plan back to staff and for it not to come back to council until after the civic election on Oct. 15.
I struggled with this plan. It's been one of the hardest plans I've ever looked at because I don't believe it's connected to community. It's not about consultation, it's about looking at what we've done and where we're going.
I do want to refer because we've seen before when we put a diversity of voices into our plans we've seen complete communities built from what we love. That's what the Vancouver Plan’s talking about. I don't see that here. What we love is in some of the documents, I have tons in front of me from all the different communities. and they're not old.
The South Granville Plan from 2020 — it talks about creating a sculpture area and talks about what their public realm will look like. The Mount Pleasant plan is from 2013 and 2018. The first building we built in Mount Pleasant, we made sure that the art spaces, grunt gallery and Western Front were protected because we knew that was needed. This plan doesn't protect arts and culture spaces, doesn't have a baseline data for it.
It's not just about housing, it’s actually about adequate housing and livability. I was surprised that the basic park levels weren't included. I was surprised community centres weren’t included. I'm surprised we’re not listening to the voices of these communities.
There's a lot of amazing work that went in here. I think that there's a lot of stuff we need to deal with.