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Dramatic revisions to city’s housing plan sparks controversy in Vancouver

Vancouver is set to adopt a dramatically revised housing plan that will change the make-up of single-family neighbourhoods, promote dense new clusters of residences in designated areas and create a $2-billion affordable-housing fund.

The new initiative will allow duplexes automatically as a choice in most of the city’s single-family neighbourhoods, as well as aiming to ensure that two-thirds of a hoped-for 72,000 homes built in the next 10 years are rentals.

All of that will require dedicating about $2.5-billion of city land to housing and grappling with residents unhappy about such significant change, city housing officials admit.

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“Change is always hard and we anticipate we’ll have a significant program of engagement,” said Dan Garrison, the city’s assistant director of housing policy. “We have to acknowledge concerns. But one of our messages has to be about our ability to sustain the city.”

The goal of the new housing plan, which will be voted on by Vancouver city council next week, is ultimately to see half of the 72,000 homes built in the next decade be affordable to households with incomes of $80,000 or below.

Some of that can be done just through incentives for private developers.

But it will take about $5-billion in land and cash to create 12,000 social and supportive housing units as part of the 10-year program.

The plan will require city council to approve changes to zoning as well as creating a new “affordable housing endowment fund” that will consolidate $2-billion worth of current city assets into one place.

That fund, which will bring together the 200 properties already in the city’s hands, would become the home for the millions generated through the special community-amenity contributions that the city extracts from developers, and the empty-homes tax that it has started collecting this year from people who own property here as investments or second homes.

Of the $5-billion estimated as the cost to construct 12,000 social housing units, Vancouver would provide $2.45-billion, mostly through land, while it would count on other governments for $1.58-billion and on organizations such as non-profits and churches to provide land worth $570-million.

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The prices of both owned and rental housing in Vancouver, which have been labelled unaffordable and in short supply for a couple of decades, have skyrocketed in recent years.

The cheapest condo currently listed in Vancouver is priced at $299,000, while the cheapest available house is listed at just less than $1-million. New non-luxury one-bedroom condos are renting for as much as $2,000 a month.

The city and province have been scrambling to come up with new measures to limit demand and provide more supply.

The province introduced a foreign-buyers tax two years ago under the Liberal government.

The NDP government recently added to that with a speculation tax for the Lower Mainland, part of Vancouver Island, and part of the Okanagan for vacation homes, as well as an extra “school tax” for all homes assessed at more than $3-million.

It has also promised to provide the money or incentives to get 114,000 housing units built in the next 10 years.

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The city has introduced both an empty-homes tax and regulations on short-term vacation rentals, both of which are seen as taking away needed housing from locals.

The city’s general manager of planning, Gil Kelley, said the current housing plan is just a start. “This housing dilemma is not going away any time soon here.”

Last year, the city approved proposals for 7,131 new homes, more than half of them condos. However, in spite of many incentives for purpose-built rentals the city provides, only about 800 of the units approved were designated as rental apartments.

Under the new plan, there would be more requirements or incentives for developers to create rentals.

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