(Updated) Here we provide the text of a letter by WEN Director Virginia Richards that was published in the October 9, 2014, issue of WE Vancouver (The Westender). She wrote it to set the record straight, in response to an article entitled “West End rental building 30 years in the making,” written by Robert Mangelsdorf (the managing editor of The Westender). Below we print Ms. Richards’ letter (published version and longer unpublished version), followed by the original article by Mr. Mangelsdorf, and some references.
The Westender is owned by Glacier Media.
Rants/Raves: The Lauren is totally bogus
The Lauren offers little for West End (published version)
The Lauren at Comox and Broughton Streets (Westender Sept. 18-24, 2014) is being marketed as the “first purpose-built market rental tower for close to 30 years” but the 22-storey rental tower at St. Andrews Church three blocks to the east was built only 10 years ago. Rezoning of The Lauren site was contentious and bolstered neighbourhood demands for an updated West End Community Plan, a plan that now prohibits similar tower development in the centre of the West End.
The Lauren was approved under the City of Vancouver’s STIR program and received a huge 375 per cent increase in density and forgiveness of $1.7 million in Development Cost Levies. The developer did very nicely thanks to Vancouver taxpayers who will pick up the future tab for municipal infrastructure this project should have helped finance.
The Lauren contains six units under the provincial government’s SAFER program with a rent subsidy to eligible seniors and rents starting at $1,175 per month, but these units are offered for only five years. While the developer has promoted his benevolence, what will become of the surprised seniors at the end of the five-year period?
During the rezoning process, city council and the public were told by the developer that market studio and one bedroom apartments would rent for between $860 and $1,465 per month. Instead, these same units range from $1,400 to $1,800, with townhouse units at up to $3,200. It’s convenient for the leasing manager to sing the building’s praises, but while the project was approved as “affordable rental housing” the units are instead some of the priciest rentals in the West End. There is little “affordable” about this project, and little in it for the community.
–Virginia Richards, longtime West End resident
Longer, unpublished version, by Virginia Richards
The article titled “Rental Building First of its Kind in 30 years” (Westender Sept. 18-24, 2014) is the perspective of the leasing manager, Trevor Shumka at the development “The Lauren” – at the site of the now-demolished church at Comox and Broughton Streets.
The building is being marketed as the “first purpose-built market rental tower for close to 30 years”, yet the 22 storey market rental tower at St. Andrews Church (three blocks east) was built 10 years ago. One cannot simply tip St. Andrews tower into the downtown. It firmly within the city’s West End boundary which may not suit a marketing promo.
“The Lauren” was one of the first projects approved under the City’s Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program – originally offered as “affordable rental housing.” In addition to the expedited approval process, The Lauren received a huge 375% increase in density along with forgiveness of $1.7 million in Development Cost Levies. The developer did very nicely thanks to Vancouver taxpayers who will pick up the future tab for municipal infrastructure that this project should have helped finance.
Rezoning of the site was contentious. It caused the community to question the future of the West End and wonder whether City Council would abandon the zoning and development guidelines established some twenty years ago to protect the West End’s unique mix of density and liveability. Sadly the answer was “yes”. The site was rezoned. But one of the outcomes of community input was a community plan process for the West End. And while many are not completely satisfied with the resulting community plan, the plan prohibits future tower development like “The Lauren” within the centre of the West End, but sadly injects huge tall towers along the edges of the West End – Davie, Robson, Alberni and south side of Georgia Streets.
As approved, the development contains six affordable housing units, secured by the developer for only a period of five years. These subsidized units for seniors fall under the provincial government’s “SAFER” program. These rents start at $1,175 per month. While the developer has promoted his benevolence, one has to wonder why these units were not secured for the life of the building. What will become of the surprised seniors at the end of the five year period?
The STIR program was to improve housing affordability. Yet current rental rates at “The Lauren” were not presented during the rezoning proposal when the developer told Council that studio and one bedroom apartments would rent for $860 – $1,465 per month. Instead, the rents are now “market rental” rates ranging from $1,400 to over $1,800. There is little “affordable” about this project, and little for the community in exchange for the huge increase in density that was permitted on this site.
West End rental building 30 years in the making
Robert Mangelsdorf — WE Vancouver
The first purpose-built market rental highrise to go up in the West End for close to 30 years opened its doors to tenants this month.
The Lauren, located at 1051 Broughton, contains 186 units, including six affordable housing units administered by Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation and Qmunity, BC’s LGBTQ resource centre.
The building was the first project approved under the City of Vancouver’s Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program.
“There weren’t that many incentives [from STIR] other than an expedited approval process and slightly increased density,” said residential leasing manager Trevor Shumka.
However, without that added density, the project would likely have been developed as condos, he added.
According to Shumka, 60 to 70 per cent of new tenants at The Lauren are coming from elsewhere in the West End, underscoring the need for new rental properties in the neighbourhood.
“This community desperately needs quality rental properties,” he said.
The building also features green space with public artwork constructed from materials from the former church that used to be located on the site.
“That will all be open to the public,” Shumka. “We’re committed to this neighbourhood for the longterm.”
Rents in the building start at $1,175.
The Public Hearing for this rezoning was held on June 11, 13, and 14, 2012. City Council received 28 letters in support, 111 letters opposed, and 5 “other.” Twenty-five speakers were in favour, and 44 against. Here is the link to video of speakers at the Public Hearing, minutes of the Council meeting, and correspondence submitted from the public, plus related documents by the applicant (Westbank Projects Corp, Henriquez Partners Architects) and City of Vancouver staff.
Later, we will add references regarding the SAFER units for seniors, as we have received inquiries. People are shocked that the program is only for five years.