Ten years isn’t long enough.
That was the verdict July 23 as City of North Vancouver council amended a policy aimed to help lower-income renters get a foothold in the city’s housing market – although not everyone agreed on the timing of the amendment’s implementation.
Currently, if developers want to build a midrise or highrise that’s bigger or denser than envisioned by city guidelines, city council only approves the project on the condition the developer rents 10 per cent of the building’s new units at 10 per cent below market rates for at least 10 years.
But as of Jan. 1, 2019, that policy will be changed to maintain that 10 per cent discount in perpetuity.
While council concurred on the merits of the amendment, they disagreed on its execution, with Coun. Don Bell pushing to implement the revised policy on Sept. 1.
“I would hate to see a flood of applications come in expecting to have the lower amount,” he said.
Bell emphasized that currently, if renters move out of their discounted apartments within a decade, “the rents will jump up and we’ll lose those (units) as homes.”
Coun. Craig Keating disagreed, suggesting that while city staff process applications swiftly, “I don’t think they’re superheroes.” It would be improbable that a developer could conduct a land survey, finalize architectural drawings, submit their project to advisory bodies, deal with drainage and sewage issues and somehow get their project in front of council prior to Jan. 1, according to Keating.
Bell’s motion also failed to curry favour with Coun. Pam Bookham, who noted that the new policy represented a significant change for developers.
“In the spirit of co-operation and respect for those are putting their money into rental housing in this community . . . perhaps the date suggested by staff might be best,” she said.
The sooner the new policy can be implemented, the better, responded Coun.
“If it’s impossible to get through the process by Jan. 1, then what’s the big deal about making it Sept. 1?” he asked.
Bell’s motion to push the start date to Sept. 1 was defeated 5-2.
Coun. Holly Back welcomed the change, suggesting the in-perpetuity policy was needed to keep low-cost housing.
“I definitely had some concerns on what’s going to happen 10 years from now,” she said.
In 2017, Clark advocated for council to revise the policy so that 20 per cent of new units would be rented at 10 per cent below market rents. However, the change would not be financially feasible in most developments, according to a city-commissioned analysis from Coriolis Consulting Corp.
As of June 2018, average rents in the city ranged from $1,500 for a studio to $3,825 for a three-bedroom. Given that approximately half of city households are renters, Clark said he hadn’t given up on doubling the amount of discounted units on certain new builds and strata developments.
“This whole conversation is to be continued.”
While the policy should help, Mayor Darrell Mussatto emphasized that municipalities need a boost from the senior levels of government that “basically abdicated” the responsibility to build affordable housing.
While there were 7,138 rental units built in the City of North Vancouver over the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Coun. Linda Buchanan noted there were zero rentals built in the 1980s and ‘90s and 146 built between 2000 and 2010.
The reason rental construction flatlined was because: “there was no absolutely incentive for them to be built,” she said.
A city staff report attributed the stark decline to the elimination of federal funding and tax incentives as well as the introduction of strata ownership in 1966.
The discounted rentals aren’t just for workers in menial jobs, they’re for entry level nurses and teachers, Buchanan emphasized.
“These are the people in the community that also can’t afford to live here,” she said.
While the policy is designed to encourage affordable and alternative housing forms, Keating reminded his colleagues the policy is essentially a tool to assist construction.
“There’s certain limits here,” he said. “The City of North Vancouver is not itself going to build any housing.”
However, Clark pointed to a plot of city-owned land on East First Street that he called a: “perfect location for affordable housing.”
In the last eight years, 1,030 rental units have been built or approved in the City of North Vancouver including 41 mid-market rentals.
The July 23 motion also charges city staff with investigating how zoning might be used to require below-market rental units or cash contributions from new strata developments.