Vancouver city council considers scrapping rental housing incentive program over high rents

Vancouver city council will vote next month on a motion that seeks to send the city’s key rental housing incentive program back to the drawing board.

The target of the motion is the Rental 100 program, which was implemented in 2012 and gives developers a break on city development fees if their projects include 100 per cent “affordable” rental units.

Developers only receive those breaks if the units are set aside as rentals for 60 years and if the rents for those units don’t exceed rates deemed affordable by the city’s rental incentive guidelines. That’s where the trouble starts.

“The success of the Rental 100 program has been in building an extraordinary amount of rental housing in the city of Vancouver,” Green Party Coun. Pete Fry, who is supporting Coun. Adriane Carr’s motion, told Global News Friday.

“But we also see that we still have the lowest vacancy rate in the region and we have the most unaffordable rents in the region. So it’s building new housing, but is it building the right kind of housing? And is it really doing the best for the people who work and live in this city?”

According to the city, 2,161 rental units have been built over the past decade under the Rental 100 program and an earlier program known as Short-Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR).

But the rents for those units leave something to be desired, with some going for as much as $3,700 a month, while even studio suites are topping $1,600 a month.

Fry pointed out that those prices exceed the cost of some rental housing projects that didn’t qualify for the program, which is why he wants to put Rental 100 on ice while staff come up with a solution.

“We really want to make sure this is an effective tool,” Fry said. “And I’m not sure that it is.”

Rental 100 has seen plenty of controversy already. In 2016, Global News uncovered two city reports that found the developer Onni had received a break in fees under the program despite its project, the Charleson, not meeting the necessary requirements by including condos along with rental housing.

Onni later repaid the money to the city, which admitted it had made a mistake.

The program has become a sticking point ever since the latest city council was sworn in back in November, with previous motions calling on a review of the program without necessarily freezing it.

Fry’s critics on council said Friday that the idea of stopping the program without a replacement will hurt renters more than help them.

“It seems a little bit difficult to understand why someone would freeze a program that subsidizes rentals when they don’t have a solution they’re putting forward themselves,” NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova said.

Other supporters of the program said that while it may not be perfect, Rental 100 has still been the best tool yet to boost the city’s rental stock after years of stagnation.

“We need incentive programs such as Rental 100,” Karen Sawatzky, former chair of the Renters Advisory Committee, said. “If anything, they need to be made more appealing and attractive because we need a lot more housing.”

Sawatzky echoed De Genova by saying solutions need to be brought to the table before killing a program that’s already in place and has proven to be at least somewhat effective.

“If they don’t like the program, they’ll have to come up with something better,” she said.

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