Affordable rents: There’s a way, just no will

KEYSOver the last number of years, Vision Vancouver has been offering developers significant incentives in the form of waiving development cost levies or DCLs in return for a commitment from the developer to provide purpose-built rental housing. (See my June 29 blog on DCLs.)

Unfortunately, this has not helped at all in addressing Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis. The problem has been that the rental stock provided by these developers has been typically priced far above what the majority of us could afford.

A truly progressive city council would be requiring not only that the developer provide purpose-built rental housing, but would also stipulate the amount of rent that could be charged. This would ensure that the rental stock was affordable.

Nathalie Baker, an excellent municipal lawyer and daughter of former long-term Vancouver city councillor Jonathan Baker, was recently interviewed by Carlito Pablo of The Georgia Straight. She spoke in detail as to exactly what the city should be doing to control rent when it spirals out of control. You can read the entire article here.

The whole point is there’s a perfectly useful tool that already exists in the Vancouver Charter that could be put to good use — if there was the political will to do so.

Look it up for yourself. Under section 565.2 of the charter (Housing agreements for affordable and special needs housing), council can enter into housing agreements whose terms include “rents that may be charged and the rates at which rents may be increased over time.”

One wonders why the Vision-dominated council hasn’t made maximum use of this provision in the charter. This question is answered as soon as you look at who funds Vision Vancouver. In 2014 alone, Vancouver’s development community donated literally millions of dollars to the party’s election campaign.

Hopefully David Eby’s recent legislation barring campaign contributions from corporations and unions will make for a much better city council after this fall’s municipal election. Along these lines, I was pleased to see Green Party city councillor Adriane Carr recently move a motion asking city staff for an audit of the rental-incentives program for developers.

We need more of this kind of thinking on council.

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