City of Vancouver STIRs Up Affordable Housing

City breaks ground on first purpose-built rental project in Vancouver.

Credit: Yolande Cole

Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke on November 2, 2010, at the Granville Street site of the first rental building that will be constructed under the City’s Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing program.


The first purpose-built rental project in Vancouver aims to meet the need for more rental housing and to create construction jobs


On November 2, 2010, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson helped developers break ground on the site of the first purpose-built rental project in the city in three years. The 1142 Granville Street site is the first project to be approved as part of the Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) program, which was launched in June of 2009. 


Through the two-and-a-half-year initiative, the City aimed to meet the need for more rental housing and to create construction jobs during the recession.


Mayor Gregor Robertson said the development of the 10-storey, 106-unit building will help to meet a crucial need for rental units in a city where more than half of the population rents. However, he noted that while the hundreds of new units the initiative is estimated to create is a significant boost to the rental housing supply, it’s a “drop in the bucket” compared to the overall need across the city.


“It’s been several years since anything’s been built that’s dedicated to rental, and the number of buildings that have been purpose-built for rental housing over the last several decades is a small number,” said Robertson. “It’s certainly nowhere near what is required to replenish the stock of rental housing that has dwindled over the last couple of decades.”


Mayor Gregor Robertson hopes to improve affordable housing in Vancouver through STIR, a rental building project

Mayor Gregor Robertson breaks ground with developer Dale Bosa of BlueSky Properties at the Granville Street site.


The City has received 12 applications under the STIR program, two of which have been approved by council. The projects will produce roughly 820 units. That’s compared to an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 new rental units that are needed each year to meet demand. The current average rate of construction of purpose-built rental units in Vancouver is 137 per year, according to the City.


Robertson said the units at 1142 Granville will be rented out for just below the average downtown rental rate of $1,090.


The STIR program provides incentives to developers to construct rental units, such as relaxations on parking requirements and waived development cost levies and community amenity contributions. The 1142 Granville project will be developed by BlueSky Properties to LEED Silver standards, including water efficiency and water energy management.


Robertson said the creation of rental units is part of the city’s strategy for addressing the housing crunch. Vancouver currently has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, at 1.2 percent.


“The whole housing spectrum needs to be addressed, and rental housing is a critical piece of that in Vancouver,” he said.


Just over 1,500 social housing units at 14 sites are also currently under construction in Vancouver. Robertson said that tenants are expected to begin moving into the social housing units at the controversial Olympic Village site next month.


“It may take some time—a number of weeks—for the buildings to all fill up, but the goal is to get people moving in in December.”


Vancouver writer Yolande Cole


Yolande Cole is a freelance writer and photographer based in Vancouver. Originally from Calgary, she has reported for news outlets including The Province, the Ottawa Citizen, the Canadian Press and Focus newspaper in Kigali, Rwanda.