Vancouver's Missing Middle Initiative Misses the Mark
Too Little Middle, Much Too Late
It was almost 5 years ago now that a then Vision-majority City Council, already frustrated at the lack of progress on "missing middle" housing policies, formally asked planners to bring forward proposals to allow more housing choices, from tri-plexes to small apartment buildings, in Vancouver's vast swathes of low-density RS (single-family detached house) zones. Planners have now finally presented a proposal for discussion, and, after such a long wait, it is an extraordinary disappointment.
The proposal is to allow up to four homes on a standard 33'-wide lot, and up to 6-plexes on 50'-wide or larger lots. Low-rise apartments and townhouses would still be banned outright on most of the city's residential land, as they are today. The homes would be sold off individually under strata title (i.e. like condos). This has the potential to be much more viable than purpose-built rental policies, as rental buildings have much lower value than condo buildings, and plexes generally lack the economies of scale of larger rental buildings.
The policy may allow a homeowner to pay a "density bonus" fee in lieu of providing a below-market home on-site. These fees can be used to build equivalent housing, better targeted to those in need of non-market housing. A requirement for an on-site below-market unit is appealing because it could help create mixed-income neighbourhoods, but it would be much less flexible as both the size of the unit and the subsidy would have to be targeted to what the buyers of the market-rate units are willing & able to subsidize. The greatest advantage of charging fees instead is that they can be adjusted annually to ensure the program stays viable, thus ensuring that both market and below-market homes are actually getting built.
The proposal would also make it optional to include more than one parking spot, basically letting the market decide, or may even set a maximum on parking spaces.
The BadRead more
Congratulations to Minister Kahlon
See our open letter to the newly-appointed Honourable Ravi Kahlon, MLA, Minister of Housing:
Support Social Housing: Skip Rezonings
There’s an exciting opportunity for you to support non-profit, social, and co-op housing in the City of Vancouver. Rezoning applications are extremely expensive for non-profit housing operators – about $500,000 to $1 million! That’s public money that would be better spent on housing!
On December 6, a motion is going to council that would reduce those costs by letting non-profit housing in some existing apartment areas go through a streamlined process. There would still be opportunities for community feedback and participation, but it would be a quicker and cheaper staff-led, as opposed to political, process.
During the recent election, Mayor Sim and his ABC party pledged to support removing rezonings for social housing up to 12 storeys in multi-family areas and 6 in other residential areas, when asked by Women Transforming Cities. This motion is a key part of fulfilling that promise, but your support is needed to make sure it passes!
The motion is called “B2. Reducing Barriers and Deepening Affordability for Non-Profit, Co-op and Social Housing in Every Neighbourhood”. We’ll provide a sample letter you can use at the end of this email, but personalized letters are more effective! You can use this link to email Mayor and Council, or use this feedback form. Better yet, you can register to speak in support! The motion goes to council this Tuesday, December 6, so please write in before then! Speakers will probably be heard on December 7.
This is your first big opportunity to let the new Mayor and Council know how important it is that they act on the housing crisis. Let’s speak up in support of more affordable housing!
Sample E-mail (customize it with your own stories / suggestions / etc., if desired)Read more
Open Letter to Premier Eby from Pro-Housing Orgs
This week, Abundant Housing Vancouver joined with other pro-housing organizations around the province to encourage Premier David Eby to take strong action on housing, especially regarding the points in his housing platform from the NDP leadership race.
You can find our open letter in PDF format here.
Alternatively, the full text is below.
Top ABC Platform Planks for Housing
This week, the new, ABC-majority City Council was officially sworn in. One of ABC’s stated priorities for this Council session is to address the housing crisis by streamlining permitting and tripling the number of housing starts. How might they go about meeting this ambitious target? Here are the most promising planks we pulled from ABC’s election platform.
- Review "Missing Middle" Programs
- “Finish a Vancouver Plan OCP (Official Community Plan) in 4 years. Design 15-minute neighbourhoods where services and amenities can be accessed by walking, reducing reliance on motorized vehicles and supporting aging in place.”
- “Support increased density along the Hastings Corridor to provide new housing options and economic opportunities.”
- Reconciliation: “a stronger and more meaningful partnership, sharing in the wealth of the land and sea, and acknowledges that both the history and future of Indigenous people needs to be self-determined.”
- Double Co-op Housing in 4 years
- Approve towers in 1 year, apartment buildings in 3 months and townhouses in 3 weeks. Make CAC charges predictable and “re-focus development fees to support the creation of a greater supply of affordable rental housing stock.”
1. Review “Missing Middle” Programs
“The missing middle” can generally include anything from duplexes to small apartment buildings. Over the last half decade, Vancouver’s missing middle programs have been revised often with very little actual implementation. Duplexes, with secondary or “lock-off” suites, are allowed city-wide but cannot be larger than a single-family house, making it difficult for two would-be duplex buyers to outbid a single, deep-pocketed single-family home buyer.
In the middle of the missing middle, the outgoing Council passed two motions to look into allowing multiplexes, but specific policies are yet to come back from city planners. That hasn’t stopped some local small builders from dreaming though.
Next in our infinite series of infill housing explorations...— Bryn Davidson @Lanefab (@Lanefab) October 5, 2022
A 7 plex on a 33' lot (1.4 FSR) with only 48% site coverage (i.e. similar to a house plus garage).
Height and width tapered where adjacent to neighbouring rear yards. pic.twitter.com/jEeNGjihFZ
At the upper end of “the middle”, developers & homeowners can technically apply for a rezoning to build 4-storey rental apartment buildings, but only up to 1 block from certain arterial streets. The terms of the City’s Secured Rental Policy are generally not economically viable, to the point that, up to now, only one application in the entire city is public for off-arterial apartments under RR-2A zoning (there is another application for mixed commercial space & apartments under RR-3A zoning, but RR-3A rezonings are only allowed on the few lots with pre-existing commercial uses).
To make the “missing middle” a big piece of tripling housing starts, Council needs to focus on getting the most homes per redeveloped lot:Read more
Broadway Plan FAQ for Tenants
MAJOR UPDATE: The City has released a memo that includes an explanation of the proposed tenant protections. See pages 3 to 8 here. Notably, they say that returning tenants will be able to lock in their rent at 20% below the citywide average years before moving in, and it will only increase by the same amount allowed by the Province for occupied apartments (currently restricted to the inflation rate). This is the example they describe for a 1 bedroom in Appendix A (page 8):
If a 2% rent increase per year is assumed and it takes 4 years for the new building to be constructed then the below-
market rent in the new unit would be $1,290/month and the tenant’s original rent would have been $1,695/month if no
redevelopment had occurred
Disclaimer: The following is intended to clarify, in the most abbreviated form practical, the tenant protection policies proposed in the Broadway Plan and potential amendments. The answers are taken from the publicly available sources referenced. We have reached out to planning staff for verification of the answers here (and more) but have not yet received confirmation of accuracy from the City.
What protections for tenants currently exist in the City of Vancouver?
In addition to the Residential Tenancy Act, tenants in Vancouver are protected by the Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy (TRPP). The TRPP includes measures such as right of first refusal, communication requirements, moving allowance, and assistance finding new accommodation. See the following questions for more details.
What additional measures does the draft Broadway Plan propose to protect renters?
In addition to the measures in the TRPP, tenants in rental buildings within the Broadway Plan area will have a few options if their building is redeveloped. These options include:
- The right to return to the new building with rent at a 20% discount to CMHC city-wide average rents.
One of either:
- Compensation equal to between 4 months of rent (1-5 year tenancies) and 24 months of rent (>40 year tenancies), OR
- A top-up subsidy to keep their existing rent at a new apartment while they are waiting to move into the new building.
The major improvement in the Broadway Plan is that tenants will be able to move back into a new building at a 20% discount to average rents for market rental buildings city-wide (per CMHC), whereas the TRPP only offers a 20% discount to starting rents in the new building. So, for example, if market rent in a 1 bedroom apartment today were $2200, the discounted rent for returning tenants would be $1760 under the TRPP, but would be only about $1216 under the Broadway Plan policy.
The proposed protections are described in more detail on page 7 of the Draft Housing Policies.
Press Read More for the rest of the FAQ.Read more
The Broadway Plan Goes to City Council
Should people be able to live near clean, rapid transit?
That is the question at stake when the future of the Broadway Corridor will be decided this Wednesday, May 18th.
The Plan calls for up to 30,000 additional homes over the next 30 years. It is a small but key step towards building the estimated 136,000 more homes needed by 2032. And being beside the coming Broadway Skytrain will allow tens of thousands of Vancouverites to live a sustainable, low carbon lifestyle. The plan also enacts some of the strongest renter protections anywhere in Canada.
Draft Vancouver Plan Survey Walkthrough
The draft Vancouver Plan is out! It seeks to be a guiding vision for creating a greener and more affordable, vibrant and equitable city. It is just a rough sketch, not a detailed plan for specific streets and neighbourhoods. To become useful, it has to get through multiple stages of approvals and detailed planning and policy development. Right now, your support will help the best parts of the vision get approved by Council, and maybe even win some improvements! But hurry, the survey closes April 24th!
When answering the survey (scroll down on the linked page to choose your survey language), we recommend choosing either "Strongly Agree" or "Somewhat Agree" for basically everything. Disagreement will most likely be interpreted as wanting to do less rather than wanting to do more. The text boxes at the bottom of every page let you say exactly what improvements you would like to see. Read on for more detailed suggestions of how to answer each question!Read more
Broadway Plan Survey Walk-Through
The Broadway Plan will shape Vancouver's "second Downtown" for the next 30 years and beyond. Thousands or tens of thousands of homes, including below-market homes, are at stake. You can add your voice to those calling for more homes by filling out this short survey from the City. But hurry, it closes Tuesday, March 22nd.
Not sure what to say? Read our walk-through below. We recommend choosing "I really like it..." or "I like most aspects..." for every question, as mixed/dislike will most likely be interpreted as wanting a less ambitious plan rather than more.
SRP Public Hearing - Secured Rental Needs Your Support!
UPDATE: The long-delayed Secured Rental Policy for near local shopping areas is continuing at public hearing this Tuesday, November 9th, at 6:00 p.m. It will enable rezonings within 1 block of an arterial street, as long as the location is close enough to shopping, parks and schools. The same proposal will also change C-2 zoning, commercial zones that currently allow 4-storey condos, to allow 6-storey mixed-use rental buildings without a hearing (mixed-use means that the buildings also have commercial space on the first floor). Council notionally gave the thumbs up to these same proposals back in 2019, but in 2020, NIMBYs complained at the first public hearing and Council sent it back for moar consultation. Now, finally, at the end of 2021, we may be nearing the real implementation of these policies that have been called for since at least 2017! Your support is needed to ensure these policies make it all the way past the finish line this time.
Click here to send comments to Council, and use subject "1. Streamlining Rental Around Local Shopping Areas" and choose Position: "Support". Better yet, click here to register to speak to Council. A few hundred NIMBYs are fighting this hard, your voice can make a difference!
Here are some points you might want to mention:
- "I support this policy proposal"/"Please approve this item"
- The C-2 rental option is long overdue. Rental rezonings in C-2 areas are never rejected in practice, this is a practical step that will save everyone time and make rental more competitive with condo development, which does not require a rezoning.
- The streamlined rezoning policy for transition areas is also long overdue. Renters deserve to be able to live off of busy, polluted arterial streets. This was approved by Council in 2019 and Staff have been working on it since then, consulting widely with a range of Vancouverites of different backgrounds. It would not be fair to taxpayers, nor to the people who participated in shaping this policy, to reject it now.
- This will help prevent urban sprawl. Other cities in Metro Vancouver are still cutting down forests to build housing on the outskirts of the metro, usually close to highways and far from public transit. Housing policy is climate policy.
- The policy has additional incentives to help build social housing. Social housing providers support this policy.
- The simplified rezoning process is important and will help get more rental built. Not requiring a public hearing or a rezoning at all would be much better.
- Some of the proposed changes are an improvement on the former Affordable Housing Choices policy. This is not a radically new policy and rental rezonings are regularly covered in the media, as was consultation for this policy. Polling by Research Co shows that Vancouverites support these missing middle housing options: "fewer than one-in-five [oppose] 6-storey rental buildings (19%), ...[and] 4-storey rental buildings (14%)..."
- Recent academic research matches housing economists' intuition: Building new apartments helps lower rents nearby, and at the metro level. The large majority of people that move into new apartments in Vancouver already live in the metro area; freeing up cheaper apartments for new tenants.
- That being said, the transition areas policy does not go nearly far enough:
- Renters should be allowed to live more than one block off of arterial streets. It is not fair, not equitable, and not reasonable to reserve quiet streets only for multi-million dollar houses. Council has already passed a motion stating that rental does not belong only on busy arterial streets, but that is not reflected in this policy.
- Some of Vancouver's best-loved neighbourhoods, like the West End, Mt. Pleasant, and Kerrisdale, integrate lots of apartment buildings on side streets.
- According to the City's own analysis, off-arterial apartments will not be viable in many locations. Expanding the eligible area to two (or more) blocks from the arterials would help get more apartments actually built. Council can do this at the hearing, or approve the proposal as-is and direct staff to come back with a proposal to expand the eligibility map.
- This new map excludes many areas that were included under the previous rental policy. Places like Shaughnessy need apartments, and local-serving retail too, and should not be excluded.
- Some of the below-market rental options are especially uneconomical and unlikely to see much uptake. Council should look at improving these in the future. All of the below-market rental options are on arterials, as only 4-storey buildings are allowed off-arterial and they do not offer enough density to make a below-market component economical.
- The majority of new development in Vancouver is still detached houses and duplexes. Every torn down house is an opportunity for better land use, every new detached house is a missed opportunity.
Note on the map: "Community Plan Areas" in hatched lines are excluded from the policy. (Should they be though?)
A blog post explaining the policy and why it is needed
City of Vancouver's page for the Streamling Rental
Why Secure Rental is Important (PDF, City of Vancouver)
Proposed Changes for Low-Density "Transition" Areas (PDF, City of Vancouver)