Building new rental in Vancouver: can Canada’s “rental boom” help Metro?

Just 60 days after a hard-fought civic election in which the NPA vowed to kill Vision Vancouver’s Rental 100 program, Vancouver Sun reporter Barbara Yaffe is fuming that “Vancouver lags behind nation’s rental property boom.”

It’s good news that reporters like Yaffe acknowledge the crisis in rental housing construction and the role rental can play in housing affordability.

Missing, of course, is a reminder that an NPA victory on Nov. 15  would have eliminated a program that has increased annual rental construction from a few hundred units to more than 1,000, a pace Mayor Gregor Robertson wants to maintain for the next four years.

Given Vancouver’s rental program — and a similar effort in New Westminster — it would be interesting to know how much rental is being built in other municipalities like Burnaby and Port Coquitlam, where land costs are lower and new Evergreen Line stations offer fabulous opportunities. My guess is that the number is very low.

Will the national boom help other Metro municipalities? Expansion of the rental stock in Surrey, Burnaby, North Vancouver, Coquitlam and all the rest would be welcome news.

But Yaffe still believes the blame for the .5 percent vacancy rate probably lies at Vancouver City Hall, notwithstanding the high cost of land, the lack of new sites in this city and the existence of Rental 100.

Yaffe’s source, oddly enough, is Vancouver realtor David Goodman, who pointed to the emerging rental boom, and the positive role of programs like Rental 100, in a comprehensive report last fall.

Odder still is Goodman’s claim, reported in Yaffe’s column today, that the city prohibits the demolition of “deteriorating” older rental buildings. He’s calling for action to allow redevelopment of “1,500 inefficient older rental buildings” on 750 acres of land.

City bylaws do require a one-for-one replacement rule so that no rental capacity is lost. Even this protection is inadequate for many renters, who cherish their lower-cost units in older buildings. Some replacement is inevitable and necessary, but it is never easy, particularly for the tenants affected.

A wave of demolitions that displaces current residents to build new units at out-of-reach rents, as Goodman seems to propose, might make some developers happy, but overlooks the reality that much of the city’s older rental stock can provide good, affordable housing for generations to come.

That’s why the city insists on holding rents as low as possible in new buildings constructed under Rental 100.

Expanding Vancouver’s rental housing stock is a key objective of council’s housing policies for all the reasons Yaffe sets out. If there are suggestions for more actions that increase rental stock without sacrificing community plans, quality, liveability and affordability, let’s hear them.