The City has proposed changes to the definition of “social housing” that will enable developers to build rental housing projects that qualify for a bonus in allowable density if 30% of the units are available for low income residents. Unfortunately ‘low income’ doesn’t mean minimum wage earners or welfare recipients. They couldn’t afford the $912 for a bachelor apartment. That is the rent level that qualifies developers for the bonus in density. The new definition means that the entire 100% of units will be called ‘social housing’ even if only 30% are available to lower income residents.
Further, the proposed changes give staff the authority to approve the density bonus without public hearing or any scrutiny by elected officials.
On March 24, 2015 Council held a public hearing on this proposed changes. The FCRA spoke against the amendments. Following is the presentation we made to council. The Public Hearing has been extended to Thursday, March 26, 2015. If you agree, you have an opportunity to be heard, either by speaking to Council on the 26th, or by writing to: Mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca, or by signing the petition launched by our neighbours at the Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY): https://www.change.org/p/vancouver-mayor-and-city-council-vote-no-to-the-proposed-amendments-to-the-downtown-official-development-plan-on-march-24-2015
Remarks to City Council, March 24, 2015
I am here speaking on behalf of the FCRA because we believe that the proposed amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP) before Council today impact all neighbourhoods in Vancouver.
I want to raise 2 issues:
The need for democratic accountability in decision-making; and
The importance of accommodating deep core need residents in social housing across the city
First, the issue of democratic accountability:
I find it impossible to understand from the city’s material whether the decisions on density bonuses are made by elected officials or by public servants. If by both, in what order are these decisions made. Is it proposed that Council look at decisions made by public servants only after significant time, money and energy has been spent planning for the increased density? Or before? Will there be a public hearing? Will the community have a meaningful opportunity for input into decisions before additional density is granted?
I urge you not to compromise the importance of elected officials making decisions about whether or not to grant a density bonus. I have spoken in the past of the appearance of conflict of interest when developers donate huge sums of money to candidates. Having the public service make decisions around lucrative density bonuses raises the same level of suspicion or appearance of conflict of interest. We know that many city staff members later turn up as highly paid consultants for, or employees of, developers. Have their previous favourable decisions put them in line for such lucrative contracts? We wonder.
In my view, the city must ensure its policies and practices protect its staff from suspicions of abuse or corruption and even the appearance of conflict.
Density bonuses are serious business. Density bonuses exempt developers from zoning – zoning that was approved after public hearings; approved by elected officials according to the provisions of the Vancouver Charter. That whole scheme of accountability will be undermined if you allow density bonuses to be granted in private by anonymous bureaucrats, rather than up front, as part of a public and accountable democratic process.
Second, I want to say a few words about the definition of “social housing”:
This revamped definition forever takes developers off the hook for building housing for income assistance recipients. This revamped definition ensures that the DTES will continue to be the only place in the city for people on welfare to live. The city-wide definition excludes the most vulnerable who require housing at the welfare shelter rate. This is bad social policy.
The FCRA believes that there is significant evidence showing that strategies such as Scattered Site Housing, and Inclusive and Mixed Income developments have better results than high density enclaves of high need, high risk, high impact individuals.
The FCRA wants to see social housing across the city – social housing defined in the traditional way, for example, as the term was used when the Harcourt Government launched HOMES BC: housing for people at the shelter allowance rate, housing with rents geared to 30% of income (RGI); and housing for people who can pay rents at low end of market (LEM). With the developers delivering ‘turnkey’ buildings for social housing, the combination of these 3 groups should ensure viable projects.
If Market Rental Housing is required to ensure the viability of social housing projects, those units cannot be considered ‘social housing’. Market rental housing is not social housing.
There is no evidence to support the notion that increasing the supply of market rentals decreases the number of residents requiring assistance with affordability.
In summary, changing the definition of ‘social housing’ that will apply city-wide calls for a city-wide debate as it is the entire city that is impacted. To do otherwise, in my view, shows serious contempt for the recent Supreme Court of BC decision.