Secured Rental Policy in low-density transition areas

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Rental housing is important to meet the needs of our diverse population and is vital to a healthy economy. With a growing population and one of the lowest vacancy rates in Canada, the need for rental housing is increasing across the city.

The City has had a policy in place supporting rezoning for new townhouse and apartment rental buildings in areas zoned for single family or duplex (RS or RT zones) since 2012. The rezoning process was lengthy, complex, and uncertain, and only a few projects have been built.

To encourage more secured rental housing, improve livability and address climate change, Council updated the policy in 2019. It is now part of the Secured Rental Policy. To implement the policy we are developing new rental zones. These rental zones will provide standard requirements for new rental housing, simplify the rezoning process and provide more certainty regarding what type of housing can be built in low-density areas.

In March 2020 we shared information about the policy and provided an opportunity for comment on the new rental zones. Since then, we have been considering the comments received and completing further technical work. We are now proposing some changes to Secured Rental Policy and have added more detail to the new rental zones. As part of the process we are providing an opportunity for the public and industry stakeholders to review and comment.

What is secured rental housing?

This type of housing is secured as rental through a legal agreement that ensures it cannot be converted to a condo or strata unit. Apartment buildings are the most common form of secured rental housing.

Other types of rental housing, such as a rented basement suite or condo unit, are less secure. Owners can evict tenants to move in, and tenants are often forced to move when the unit is bought or sold.

Rental housing is important to meet the needs of our diverse population and is vital to a healthy economy. With a growing population and one of the lowest vacancy rates in Canada, the need for rental housing is increasing across the city.

The City has had a policy in place supporting rezoning for new townhouse and apartment rental buildings in areas zoned for single family or duplex (RS or RT zones) since 2012. The rezoning process was lengthy, complex, and uncertain, and only a few projects have been built.

To encourage more secured rental housing, improve livability and address climate change, Council updated the policy in 2019. It is now part of the Secured Rental Policy. To implement the policy we are developing new rental zones. These rental zones will provide standard requirements for new rental housing, simplify the rezoning process and provide more certainty regarding what type of housing can be built in low-density areas.

In March 2020 we shared information about the policy and provided an opportunity for comment on the new rental zones. Since then, we have been considering the comments received and completing further technical work. We are now proposing some changes to Secured Rental Policy and have added more detail to the new rental zones. As part of the process we are providing an opportunity for the public and industry stakeholders to review and comment.

What is secured rental housing?

This type of housing is secured as rental through a legal agreement that ensures it cannot be converted to a condo or strata unit. Apartment buildings are the most common form of secured rental housing.

Other types of rental housing, such as a rented basement suite or condo unit, are less secure. Owners can evict tenants to move in, and tenants are often forced to move when the unit is bought or sold.

Q&A CLOSED. The second public comment period (July 10 to October 4, 2020) is now complete. The Q&A is now closed. Thank you to those who participated. Staff are reviewing the additional comments received and will include them as part of a report to Council. When the report is available, a link will be posted to this web page and notification will be provided to those who have signed up to receive information by email.

If you have questions, we’re happy to answer them. The Q&A will be open from July 10 to October 4, 2020. We will do our best to respond within 5 business days.    

If we think others would be interested in your question, we may post it here along with our response. Your email and personal information will remain private - only your questions and username might be shared publicly.


Q:        The blue areas on the map indicating eligibility do not appear to align exactly with the borders of the blocks that would qualify under the policy - why not?

A:        The map is a general illustration, and the blue areas have been standardized to reflect typical block depth in order to ensure simplicity and legibility. In some areas, this does mean the blue areas may over- or under-extend compared to the actual shape and dimension of certain blocks adjacent to an arterial. In order to ensure accurate interpretation of the map, staff have prepared a version with some explanatory notes. https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/secured-rental-policy-low-density-transition-areas-eligibility-map.pdf


Q:        Instead of implementing these changes to the Secured Rental Policy, would the City consider changing the existing zoning regulations to enable additional infill while still retaining character houses? Wouldn’t this encourage less waste and still enable new rental units?

A:        Some RT zones (including RT-7 and RT-8 in Kitsilano) do include incentives for the retention of character homes, and a city-wide Character Home Retention Incentives Program already applies in RS zones. Introduced in 2017, this program incentivizes the retention of eligible pre-1940s character homes by enabling the addition of more units to the house and/or the construction of an infill ‘coach house.’ Given the significant costs associated with retention and restoration, particularly in light of modern building code requirements, these retention opportunities are only generally viable when the resulting units are strata titled and can be sold separately. Requiring them to be secured as rental would not be feasible without significant extra density or other incentives beyond what the program already provides. For more information on the program, including a memo updating Council on the program from June 2019, please see: https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/character-home-zoning-review.aspx


Q:        Have you calculated the carbon footprint of building new housing and how many years it will take to mitigate this carbon footprint? Would it be more environmentally sound to encourage more suites in existing housing?

A:        The City has studied the carbon footprint associated with new construction compared to existing older homes. When accounting for embodied and operational greenhouse gas emissions, new construction quickly outperforms existing older buildings. Even with a highly renovated character house, a new house provides a net reduction in carbon emissions within 14 years. If the choice is between renovating an existing house, including adding additional suites and infill buildings, and housing the same number of people/families in a new rental apartment, the new rental apartment will provide a significant net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. 


Q:        Would it be possible for existing homeowners to develop a rental building on their lot through the Secured Rental Policy and move back into one of the units as an owner-occupier?

A:        The main intent of the Secured Rental Policy is to encourage the creation of new purpose-built rental housing to add to the supply of rental housing options available to renters in Vancouver. The City utilizes several legal tools to ensure buildings developed through this policy are permanently secured and operated as rental housing, and to help ensure future renters living in them are not vulnerable to the same types of insecurities that exist for secondary rental housing (such as basement suites, laneway houses or rented units in a stratified building). These tools include residential rental tenure zoning and housing agreements that restrict the use of the units and require them to be rented as per a tenancy agreement subject to the Provincial Residential Tenancy Act. Staff are exploring potential opportunities that support the policy objectives while creating some flexibility for existing owners interested in redeveloping their own individual lot while retaining ownership and being able to live in one of the new units themselves, or renting a unit to a family member. That flexibility would be considered on a case-by-case basis, and would be expected to be limited to the smaller off-arterial options (i.e. a 4- or 6-plex) for single-lots.


Q:        Are houses that meet character home incentive criteria eligible for redevelopment under the Secured Rental Policy?

A:        Under the Secured Rental Policy, retention is not required for character houses that are not heritage registered or designated but may be eligible for incentives under either the  RT-7 or RT-8 zoning or the Character Home Retention Incentives Program (2018).  We know from studying the outcome of the Character Incentive Program that projects recently completed under that  program are substantially re-built and retention levels are low.  Demolition of a designated heritage building or building listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register would not be permitted. 


Q:        How will the proposed minimum front yard setbacks for the new rental zones affect the livability of the units in existing adjacent houses and sun exposure in front yards?

A:        All of the options under the new rental zones include a minimum front yard setback of 12 feet. Some buildings would be built to this minimum, however some may choose to provide larger front yards, and some may need to provide additional setbacks to accommodate requirements such as dedications or statutory rights of way.

The potential impacts on neighbouring buildings will depend on the specific context of each site, including its orientation and location in relation to adjacent properties. The front yard setbacks and other regulations of the new zones have been designed in consideration of minimizing these impacts while balancing them with other objectives. Shadow and overlook impacts are expected to be modest in most cases, especially for locations off arterials.


Q:        Will all of the responses that come in on Shape Your City be made available to Council? Are they going to be tabulated? Will you be determining the neighbourhoods where these responses originate and tabulating opinions and responses according to neighbourhood?

A:        The standard practice at the City is to provide a summary of comments received rather than a verbatim list. These are tabulated at the category or theme level, and we also include unique comments (i.e. there will be comments included that may only have been provided by one person).  

With respect to reporting responses by neighbourhood, the new comment form on the project page specifically asks for neighbourhood of residence, with the intent that we will provide an indication of the responses by neighbourhood, or at least for the neighbourhoods that provided the most responses.

The comment form used in March did not ask participants to identify their neighbourhood of residents, but we did estimate the number of responses where a specific neighbourhood was named. For example, if someone stated their comment was specific to Kitsilano, that was tabulated, and would be identified in the report to Council.


Q:        What kind of changes will you be considering based on the input that you receive?

A:        The engagement in 2020 is focused on the proposed new rental zones and the updated policy and eligibility map. Changes have already been made to the policy and map based on previous input, including the shift to simplify the locational criteria by removing the 150 meter arterial buffer and instead focusing the policy on the first adjacent block.  There is potential to further adapt and refine the policy and the new zones based on input received, if it is determined that  ideas from input could improve the policy and/or address concerns without compromising the overall goal of incentivizing the construction of new  purpose built rental housing.

Staff are still reviewing and evaluating the full engagement response (open until October 4th, 2020) to determine whether any further refinements to the policy or the new proposed rental zones are warranted.