WEN writes City Council seeking clarity on Housing Agreement details for 1401 Comox project

(Update Sept 20, 2012: Mayor and Council did not acknowledge receipt of our letter, did not raise any of the points in the Council meeting on Sept. 18, and passed the bylaw with no discussion of the points raised below.)

WEN introduction: In the interest of clarity and following up on City Hall decisions regarding major developments in the West End, WEN wrote Mayor and Council on September 18 urging Council to discuss three questions, on record, regarding a bylaw for a Housing Agreement connected with 1401 Comox, the proposed 22-storey tower rezoning approved after a Public Hearing in July 2012. This gets rather detailed, but the points are very valid. To our knowledge, Council failed to discuss the topic, and we have not received any response from the City yet. Any updates will be posted here.

Dear Mayor Robertson and City Councillors:

Regarding the subject of this e-mail, an item in Council on September 18, 2012, it is positive to see the use of a housing agreement to ensure that the proposed dwelling units are used for the intended rental housing purpose.  This may have some benefit in avoiding the types of situations evident at 1128 Alberni Street (Carmana Plaza) where almost 100 purpose-built rental units are being operated as a hotel, in violation of the issued development permit, or the property at 1142 Granville Street (the first project approved under the Short Term Incentives for Rentals program), where purpose-built rental units are being operated as short-term furnished executive rentals.  Each of those cases is doing little to address housing challenges in the City of Vancouver. 

While the use of a housing agreement may be positive, we would appreciate it if you could ask staff to clarify the following points, on record, relating to proposed enactment of a bylaw for the draft Housing Agreement under item #11 of Bylaws in the Regular Council meeting on September 18, for 1401 Comox Street, a 22-storey tower, subject of a Public Hearing in July 2012.

First, the draft Housing Agreement appears to include an error in “Section A” under “whereas.” The project’s zoning allows for residential purposes, but the Housing Agreement states that the Owner intends to develop a mixed-use commercial/residential project. Should this be corrected before the bylaw is enacted? The neighbourhood has no awareness that any commercial uses are proposed on this site.

Second, Section E, part (i) of the agreement indicates that the units are required to quality as “For-Profit Affordable Rental Housing.”  For the record, what exactly does this mean? The City has not provided a response to previous inquiries regarding the definition of “affordable housing” so it is unclear what this means.  Saying something is affordable is different than actually measuring affordability against local incomes.  The proposed rental units are “market rental units” and  there is nothing to prevent these units from being the most expensive rentals in the West End, meaning they will be anything but “affordable” to the vast majority of West End residents.

Third, what is the intention of possibly allowing the conversion of up to 40 of the one bedroom units to studios as noted in Section 1., Part (s)? The rezoning was approved based on the project presented at the Public Hearing. Why is the unit mix now being noted as eligible for adjustment?  Section 2 (b) of the agreement indicates that the building must be a minimum of 123,480 square feet, so changing 40 of the units to studio suites would likely result in the proposed one and two bedroom suites becoming larger, and therefore more expensive.  Studio suites are also more likely be operate as short-term rentals, as is evidenced at 1142 Granville Street.

We hope that the Regular Council meeting will discuss and resolve these matters, on record, before the proposed bylaw is enacted.

West End Neighbours

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