A Proposal For Affordable Housing in Vancouver

January 9, 2014

One of the interesting parts of the discussion at the SRA last night was the mention of the “inclusionary zoning” used in the DTES.  Inclusionary zoning requires that 20% of all new development be set aside for “affordable” housing.  I will propose an extension of this policy across the City.

There is, of course, the controversial question of what “affordable” housing means in this case:  should it be welfare shelter rate, or Housing Income Limit (HIL) rate, or market rate.  Vision has quite deliberately been tried to blur these distinctions, but skewing toward “market” rate (which, in the West End at least, they have determined to be $1,450 a month for a tiny studio apartment!)

There has also been much talk among the chattering classes about whether low income housing should be concentrated in certain areas (definitely the policy for the last few decades) or whether it is better to spread these units around the entire City.  Part of what was clear from the discussion last night was the strength of the love for community in DTES, and I certainly am no proponent of moving people around against their will.  However, I suspect that past policies have obliged people (perhaps against their will) to move there and I would like to give some the chance of moving elsewhere.

In addition, I am a strong believer that the entire City needs to take responsibility for solving the low income housing crisis. This is not a problem that only certain neighbourhoods need to solve, but one for Vancouver as a whole.  Therefore, I would suggest:

  • that all new rental developments for 20 units and more anywhere in the City be required to include a minimum of 20% genuinely affordable housing. For this purpose, I would propose that at least 5% be for shelter rate rentals, and the balance for HIL rate rentals.
  • that all new non-rental condo developments be charged an additional non-negotiable CAC equivalent to the cost of building low-income rental housing equal to 20% of the number of units being built in the development; and that these funds be used exclusively for the building of low-income housing. Perhaps such developers could be offered the opportunity to designate 20% of their units for shelter rate and/or HIL rentals.

This idea needs more work, of course, but I put this out for debate.  It would, I believe, swiftly add to the genuinely affordable housing stock throughout the City and thus alleviate both housing and neighbourhood crises.

Building Form and Height in the DTES

January 9, 2014

Swam through the rain last night to a meeting of the Strathcona Residents Association where Patrick Conden and Ray Spaxman presented about, and answered questions on, the nature of building forms that might emerge as a result of the current Community Plan process for the Downtown Eastside. It was a packed hall with perhaps 100 people in attendance.

Professor Conden’s talk was wide-ranging about the use of space throughout the city, and he discussed the work his students have been doing to figure out what forms are necessary to meet the density requirements proposed for the future.  In an echo of the work that Lewis Villegas has been promoting, Conden’s students managed to fit — with some ease — a doubling of Vancouver’s population without use of highrises outside the downtown core.  Conden himself is a champion of lowrise (say, six storey) wooden structures (rather than concrete).

Former City Planner Ray Spaxman, currently co-chair of the DTES Local Area Planning, dealt more with the process of completing the Community Plan.  City Council is to vote on the Plan on March 12th.  Spaxman says that, in reality, it won’t be ready at that time.  However, he is extremely concerned with the housing crisis in DTES and, as I understand him, he advocates for Council to accept some parts of the Plan in March, with the rest being worked on more and coming in later.  In particular, he wants to see immediate approval of the 60% social housing/40% market housing plan for a particular part of the core of DTES.

There was a great deal of discussion about displacement through gentrification (the modern version of “urban renewal”), the genuine sense of community in the area, and the effect of parking rules on the height and cost of buildings. These are clearly very challenging times for the Downtown Eastside, and there is no obvious consensus as to whether the proposed Community Plan will improve matters or make it worse.

It was a very worthwhile evening.

Yellow Bird

January 9, 2014

yellow bird

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