Rental home shortage acute, coalition warns

Tax reforms urged to encourage new apartment construction

Metro Vancouver leaders are adding their voices to a new coalition calling for reforms to increase the supply of rental housing in the region.

Groups representing tenants, landlords, home builders, realtors, developers and non-profits have formed the Rental Housing Supply Coalition to push for changes.

Co-chair Wayne Wright, the mayor of New Westminster, said the rental shortage in the Metro region is reaching a crisis point.

“We just won’t have workers,” he predicted at an April 29 Metro board meeting. “We have 40,000 people a year coming in and there’s no housing for them. That’s the kind of thing that breeds anarchism.”

More than 80,000 residents in the region spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent and another 30,000 spend over half.

Rental demand will only continue to go up in Metro Vancouver because of high real estate costs, Wright said, yet only about 600 purpose-built rental units are being added each year – far short of an estimated 6,500 new units needed annually.

The region’s oldest buildings in areas like New Westminster and Vancouver are nearing the end of their lives, Wright said, adding a new housing policy is needed before many of them start to come down.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the province should allow local cities to create rental housing zones where existing apartment buildings can’t later be converted to  condos.

Victoria has so far resisted that idea, he said, apparently because it deprives land owners of profit.

He said local cities have tried all sorts of concessions to encourage more rental construction.

“We keep looking for ways to stimulate rental development,” Corrigan said. “But no matter how hard we work, the numbers don’t.”

Marg Gordon, CEO of the B.C. Apartment Owners and Managers Association, told Metro directors the elimination of federal tax concessions for rental construction in the 1980s has resulted in land owners developing condos almost exclusively since then.

Ottawa needs to reverse that policy, she said, or find other ways to stimulate rental housing construction.

Increased use of basement suites or laneway homes in single-family areas aren’t a complete answer, she added.

The supply of new basement suites being created is dwindling and may eventually run out, she said.

And house owners can demand the space back, so suites are an inferior substitute for purpose-built rental buildings that offer tenants reliable permanent homes.

“We’re pulling out all the stops and we can barely move the needle on getting new rental built,” added Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Wright said local governments can make land available for rental housing, increase densities, reduce fees cities charge and speed up the approval processes.

Metro has launched the website RentersSpeakUp.org where renters can post their own stories to put a face on the statistics and add to the pressure for reform.

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