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Homes for Whom? Not for Renters!
City Conversation #107: Another data dive suggests rental housing supply issues come from City Hall
A rental housing snapshot from my Homes for Whom database
Sometimes when I read misinformation about Vancouver’s housing issues, I get steamed. Today’s missive: city staff are getting ready to advise City Council about what an appropriate pace of change is in the 500 blocks of the Broadway Plan area, home to much of the city’s remaining affordable rental stock.
I have no idea what staff will recommend or Council will land on. But, cutting to the chase, many articles argue that pace of change (a.k.a., how many older rental buildings in your block should be demolished in any given year?) should be determined entirely by the marketplace, which has apparently been restrained for several years by staff waiting on the Broadway Plan. Pardon me if I didn’t notice, what with the record number and scale of spot rezonings in the past several years.
Data I Trust Because I Found it
Whenever I get steamed, I turn to my Homes for Whom (HfW) database for answers. For those who’ve missed my HfW writings, a couple years ago I grew tired of staff hiding useful, time-based housing data, especially around spot rezonings—that’s where they demo the old three-storey walkup across the street and replace it with a high-rise that completely ignores existing zoning. Randal Helten at CityHallWatch showed me how and where to drill down to get real data about housing happenings in the city—it’s actually gotten more difficult to find since the last city election. I gradually worked backwards to when the last Council started in 2018, now have 4-1/2 years of planning and building activity imperfectly captured.
I say “imperfectly” because for each and every one of the 450+ spot rezonings I’ve identified, I’ve had to drill down to a unique city web page to find any data—and city staff never tell citizens when a development proposal is amended. If I want to find out about building activity—you know, that’s what the spot rezonings are supposed to lead to—well, I have to drill into a completely different city database for that information.
The city’s new, separate building permits database
The Skinny on Rental
HfW requires me to ignore the rhetoric and focus on the numbers. About city of Vancouver rental rezoning and construction, here’s what I’ve found for the period from 2018 to the present:
About half of the 450+ spot rezonings completed or in process have rental homes—216 separate projects, to be exact. So far, so good.
Of this 216 projects with rental, 138 or more than 60% have already been rezoned—getting better, apparently, with lots more to come.
BUT only 34 of those 138 projects with rentals, less than one quarter, have obtained building permits. I used to be able to identify which projects were actually complete, but in the past few months the city’s database has been “updated” so that information is no longer available.
The 34 projects include 4,461 rental homes, which sounds pretty good until you discover that almost 40% of those rentals are in three large, multiphase projects—Oakridge; 5055 Joyce Street; and 8420 Ash Street—those rentals will be a long time coming!
Whose Pace of Change needs a Boost?
All of which would lead the “Let’s nix the pace of change” folks to suggest we need to spot rezone much more.
I see things a bit differently, noticing from HfW:
When we take out the more than 35,000 rental homes promised but not yet started in projects like Skeena Terrace, Senakw’, the residue of Little Mountain, not to forget gentle density such as laneways and secondary suites, we still have more than 27,000 rental homes “in the pipeline” or already approved, of which we only have building permits for 4,461, or 1/6th.
So as I see it, we don’t have a pace of change problem as suggested. Rather, we have a logjam at city hall, getting projects approved after the so-called onerous public hearing process that city staff and the provincial government would like to do away with. Yes, I have those logjam numbers as well.
For those projects where I was able to find out how long between a rezoning was approved and a building permit was issued, the average was 32 weeks, with more than 40% requiring more than a year to get a first building permit.
So where am I going with this?
Pace of change limits may very well benefit existing renters more than developers by reducing the number of affordable rentals lost to redevelopment.
City hall is not doing nearly enough to expedite building permits for rental housing. Until construction finishes and folks move in, none of the numbers are real.
And that’s my HfW explanation for the hundreds of places in our fair city where tenants are gone, fences are up, property is deteriorating and nothing else is happening! Methinks we need to speed up the pace of change at City Hall.
Because City Hall is stingier than ever about housing data, please email me a photo of any rezoning or development permit sign in your neighbourhood. I will add it to the HfW database if it’s not already there, and keep you informed on what’s new or amended in your neighbourhood.
I read and respond to all comments, also capturing them to relevant neighbourhood files for more detailed future conversations.
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Brian Palmquist is a Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired for the moment, still teaching, writing and consulting a bit, but not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on a 45+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. He is the author of the Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” and working on a book about how we can accommodate a growing population in the Vancouver we love.