DAVID HUTCHINSON 778-839-5442 DAVID.HUTCHINSON@CENTURY21.CA
Green councillor wants to know exactly how many new rental units approved under STIR program meet ‘affordability’ test.
VANCOUVER -- More than three years after Vancouver launched an ambitious program to boost the supply and affordability of rental units, a city councillor says it is time to see how it worked out.
Coun. Adriane Carr said she will submit a motion Feb. 26 calling on city staff to calculate just how much of the rental housing stock approved and developed under the city’s Short-Term Incentives for Rental program, or STIR, meets the affordability test for the average single-person household in Vancouver.
She also wants to know the percentage of new units that are renting at or below $975 a month, the figure cited in a recent report to council on housing and homelessness as the average affordable rental rate for a single person of average income in Vancouver.
“I really want to get some clear, solid facts on the table. My worry is that I keep hearing from Vision (Vancouver) that they are making progress on getting more affordable housing, but I think that they are really covering up what is, underlying, not affordable housing, while making it sound like it is affordable,” said Carr, who represents the Green party.
The STIR program began in July 2009 as a means to encourage the construction of new rental housing in the city.
At the time, demand for rental stock was high, with renters making up for more than half of Vancouver households (52 per cent), according to city statistics. Yet rental housing made up only a fraction of any new development.
Under STIR, incentives — such as increased density, expedited permit handling, waivers of development levies and cuts to parking requirements — were given to developers who agreed to make units in a housing project available as rentals long-term.
When the program ended in 2011, the city reported it had approved nine projects totalling 609 units, with another 17 projects (1,041 units) under application.
The vast majority of the new units, about 88 per cent, are either studio or one-bedroom. Just 12 per cent are two-bedroom, with three-bedroom units making up less than one per cent.
STIR projects include 1215 Bidwell St. and 1401 Comox St. in the West End, 1240 Howe St. and 1142 Granville St. downtown, and 1418 E41st Ave. and 3068 Kingsway.
Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs said the program was never intended to provide subsidized housing, but rather market-rent units for individuals and families looking for a more affordable option than buying.
A 2012 staff report estimated buying a two-bedroom condominium in East Vancouver would cost a homeowner about $2,780 a month compared to about $1,575 a month in rent for a similar unit in a STIR project in the same neighbourhood. The ownership total is based on an MLS average, 10 per cent down payment, five-per-cent interest rate and 25-year amortization and includes taxes and strata fees. A second example in Marpole put owning a two-bedroom at $2,430/month compared to $1,500/month at a STIR rental on Granville.
The report contained no monthly rental averages for one-bedroom or studio apartments.
However, that information is available in individual rezoning reports in support of various STIR projects. A project in East Vancouver, for example, projected rents for a studio unit at $770/month and a one-bedroom unit at $1,020/month. The same report shows the average market rent for the neighbourhood at $766/month and $915/month, respectively.
Another project in the West End is projected to rent at $1,040/month for a studio and $1,340/month for a one-bedroom. The average rent for the area is $964/month and $1,151/month.
Meggs said there has been concern that when the developments open, they may be at a different rent than predicted in the report.
“A lot can happen between rezoning and the actual construction of the project,” he said.
But Meggs 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.
Carr’s motion is scheduled to go before council for a vote Tuesday.