Housing Vancouver Strategy

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On 29 November 2017 Vancouver City Council heard from speakers to the 248-page report

Housing Vancouver Strategy (2018 – 2027) and 3-Year Action Plan (2018 – 2020)

Eye on Norquay producers Joseph Jones and Jeanette Jones saw this occasion as a valuable opportunity to mesh Norquay concerns with this new expression of City of Vancouver policy direction. Here is what each of us said to Council as speakers 10 and 11 to the agenda item.

Joseph Jones on Housing Vancouver Strategy

The following comment focuses on two concepts mentioned — but scarcely mentioned — in the new Housing Vancouver Strategy. Those two concepts are amenities and Neighbourhood Centres.

Yesterday Gil Kelley mentioned amenities once. He stated that amenities should be for QUOTE not just a few good neighborhoods UNQUOTE. Thank you for that, Gil Kelley.

Throughout the 248 pages of the report, “amenities” are almost always taken for granted, and they are presented as something that already exists. On only three pages * does the report in any way contemplate the provision of amenity — but even then, always as “other community amenities” subordinated to housing, and always as something vague that might somehow be extracted from new density somewhere at some future time.

I move on to Neighborhood Centres. Five separate pages in the report mention “neighbourhood centres.” **

Over a period of fifteen years, the City of Vancouver put many millions of dollars into a massive city planning program.

Neighbourhood Centres was a core concept. During that undertaking, city planners remade two adjacent local areas along Kingsway in the heart of East Vancouver. Both projects encompassed hundreds of acres. In 2004 the City mass rezoned 1,577 properties, and in 2010 another 1,912.

From what we residents can see so far, that flipping of thousands of properties over to a denser zoning was all that the City of Vancouver ever really cared about.

The planning for the first neighbourhood centre at Kingsway & Knight was never completed. To take that approach could fairly be called hit and run. Then the City of Vancouver web site remake of 2012 mysteriously disappeared Kingsway & Knight from the list of active planning areas.

On page pdf-56/A-34 the new report presents Norquay as a Case Study applicable to the future of much of the rest of Vancouver. Mention is made there of 172 Norquay development applications received as of February 2017. Our own current count is 206, a number that leaves out the megaprojects along Kingsway. That rate of development computes as about 11% of our houses in about 4 years.

The planning for Norquay eventually produced some documents about public realm that specified public benefits. But after seven years we see little delivery on any of the promises made to Norquay. At this stage, we feel ripped off. In terms of amenities, our existing community pretty much started out with nothing — and we still have nothing, except new dwellings for more people who also have nothing.

Look at the single biggest promise made to Norquay. The 2400 Motel site on Kingsway. The City of Vancouver owns those 3.5 acres. In addition to significant new community space, that site is supposed to provide 100 units of non-market housing.

You already have the land. You need to find the will to deliver on what you promised. If you started tomorrow, we residents would be lucky to see payback by the mid-point of the Norquay Plan’s stated lifespan.

*  amenities on:  pdf 109 / B-7 ; pdf 112 / B-10 ; pdf 120 / B-18

**  Neighbourhood Centre on:  pdf 12 / report 12 ; pdf 13 / report 13 ; pdf 53 / A-31 ; pdf 55 / A-33 ; pdf 111 / B-9

Jeanette Jones on Housing Vancouver Strategy

I would like to concentrate on one proposal in this report to address Vancouver’s housing crisis. The Housing Vancouver Strategy sets the construction of 5000 two and three bedroom townhouses as a target to be reached by 2027. I have chosen to focus on this item because I live in Norquay, an area of Vancouver that has traditionally housed a high proportion of families.

The 2010 Norquay Plan rezoned the entire residential part of our neighbourhood for duplexes, townhouses, coach houses and four-storey apartments. Norquay is a demonstration project for this strategy to make family housing more affordable. Here we can already begin to see what is real rather than aspirational.

Our first three projects for rowhouses and stacked townhouses have been completed in 2017, and I have attended open houses for at least one unit in each of them. I have also viewed quite a few duplexes and coach houses. They are more affordable than a new single family house. But they are still not affordable to most Norquay working class families. Even that limited affordability often comes at the cost of livability.

My biggest concern is so many tiny bedrooms and inadequate living rooms. Bedrooms can be as small as 7’1″ x 8’2″, unable to hold much more than a bed. There is often no place for a child to play, or even to do homework. Many units are narrow, and the main floor is usually an open area. By the time space has been made for a kitchen and a dining area, very little remains for a living room. A rowhouse that costs $1.34M for 1974 sq.ft. should be able to seat more than four people in the living room. Where can families work and play together? Or entertain friends?

Surely, I thought, the City of Vancouver has guidelines for room sizes. But the only relevant guidelines I could find — the High Density Housing for Families With Children Guidelines — do not even mention living rooms. The specifications for bedrooms do not include any actual measurements. By way of contrast, BC Housing Design Guidelines for 3 bedroom social housing units require a minimum bedroom size of 92 sq.ft. and a living room that seats at least 6 people on sofas, loveseats, or armchairs.

I am happy to see that Housing Strategy #4 lists as its first action “Review and modernize the High-Density Housing for Families With Children Guidelines,” and that this action is already underway. However, the topics to be considered are stated as “family unit sizes, amenity requirements, and design flexibilities such as interior bedrooms.” There is no mention of room sizes.

Completing the review of these guidelines should be a priority action. Adequate minimum room sizes for bedrooms and living rooms need to be specified, before any of the proposed 5000 townhouses are approved. Unless new family housing is both affordable and livable, families will continue to move out of the City of Vancouver.

Postscript: The comment made by speaker 2 Aaron Leung (Chair of Children, Youth & Families Advisory Committee) stated many of these same concerns.


Written by eyeonnorquay

29 November 2017 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Comments

One Response

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  1. The devil is always in the details. Big thank you to Joseph and Jeanette for picking those out! Now that Vancouverites can see the emptiness in those buzz words and the missing room size guidelines, should we still allow politicians to wiggle away and fool more citizens?

    Bill Chu

    1 December 2017 at 8:20 am

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