Vancouver City Council to vote on 6-story rental buildings along the city’s key thoroughfares

The Vancouver City Council is poised to make one of its most significant housing decisions ever, with the potential to catalyse the construction of up to 4,700 new purpose-built secured rental homes in low- and mid-rise buildings around the city over the next decade.

After conducting public engagement earlier in their term, city council will explore changing commercial zoning along major streets to allow new six-story rental buildings without going through the onerous rezoning process during a public meeting next week. On these sites, such projects would go through the same approval process as a new four-story condominium structure.

The goal is to enhance the economics of building market rental housing so that more property owners and developers consider it instead of condominiums as a more affordable housing option.

Because these structures are located in commercial areas, they would need to be mixed-use complexes with residential uses on the higher floors and retail and restaurant uses on the ground level to enhance and maintain retail strip continuity.

The six-story buildings in commercial districts must contain at least 35 percent of units sized for families (two or more bedrooms) and be designed to a Passive House green building standard or comply with other green construction policies.

Rental buildings up to six stories would be allowed on low-density residential zoning along arterial roadways under this proposal, with a requirement that at least 20% of the residential floor area be committed to below-market rental accommodation. Alternatively, 100 percent social housing is an option under the policy.

In addition, 100 percent rental density of up to four stories would be allowed to face local streets directly off either side of arterial arteries.

Reduced car parking supply allowances would be considered for sites near SkyTrain stations and frequent transit bus stops such as RapidBus/B-Line.

“At the building scales proposed, secured market rental apartments are financially marginal to build. To minimize construction costs, increase building efficiency and limit future maintenance and operating costs, the new rental zones anticipate simple, efficient building designs, with limited articulation and little or no stepping back of upper storeys,” reads a city staff report.

“Simple building types also enhance energy performance and provide highly livable units, including larger family-sized units. They would have a compact footprint to limit impact on adjacent sites and allow for children’s play space and shared outdoor amenity space on site. Architectural elements such as balconies, ground level entries, façade composition and exterior finishes would generate visual interest when viewed from the street.”

The Cambie Corridor Plan, Marpole Community Plan, Grandview-Woodland Plan, the downtown Vancouver peninsula, and the future Broadway Plan are among the locations where these secure rental housing laws will not be implemented.

The creation of a new rental zoning district classification will also streamline such applications in these regions, marking the first time the City of Vancouver has used the new rental zoning mechanism approved by the provincial government in 2018.

In addition to the housing agreement for each project that secures it as rental, it would also help ensure that new buildings under these amendments are permanently used as rental housing.

“As a Vancouver Plan quick start action, these changes would help create more complete neighbourhoods that include a range of ‘missing middle’ secure market and below-market rental housing, strengthen and grow local shopping streets, and reduce carbon pollution by allowing more people to live close to shopping, transit and daily needs,” states the city staff report.

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