Developers, their fair share — and real low-cost housing

house arrowsHousing was all over the news this week, but three examples really speak to the usefulness of development cost levies in this regard — when they’re used for real affordable housing.

I’ve long been critical of the City of Vancouver for its policy of waiving development cost levies or DCLs when a developer agrees to build market rental housing.

DCLs are paid by developers on a square footage basis and then used by the city to help pay for things like affordable housing, childcare facilities or parks. But the root of the problem is that in an Orwellian approach, the mayor and his Vision Vancouver henchmen redefined affordable housing — that is, housing geared to income — to include market rental housing. This allows the city to waive DCLs when the developer agrees to build market rentals! (See my October 2016 blog on this.)

Case in point: The Georgia Straight reported this week that a developer in Kerrisdale will be building a project that includes one-bedroom units that will rent for $1,900/month. Is the city really better off waiving DCLs in return for this type of expensive housing?

Another item that caught my attention, also in the Straight, was the massive rezoning in Grandview-Woodlands allowing for 3,000 new housing units. The question that must be asked here is how affordable these units will be, given the example above. Will the Grandview-Woodlands rezoning simply result in another Vision Vancouver gift to developers?

Many of you may have heard about the withdrawal of Boffo Developments from The Kettle Society’s project at Commercial and Venables. This development would have provided much needed low-cost housing. For once, the city would have extracted real social housing from a developer. But the city also wanted a certain amount of development cost levies. The developer said no, and pulled the plug.

In this case, I believe the city was doing a good job in trying to make the developer pay its fair share. My only criticism of the project would have been its height. At 12 storeys, it definitely would not have fit in to the neighbourhood.

So where do these examples take us at the end of the day?

Development cost levies can be a useful tool the city should be using to make developers pay their fair share. But in the housing department, the wheels have come off ever since the Vision-dominated council dealt everyone in our city who can’t afford $1,900 rent a nasty blow by turning affordable housing into market rental housing.

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