Vancouver Sun Article

Developer pitches downtown Vancouver rental development for essential workers

Proposed 47-storey tower in downtown Vancouver would have 104 rental units set aside for essential workers, but needs a zoning change from office to residential.

A prominent developer wants a zoning change to allow him to build a 47-storey residential tower on a commercially zoned site in downtown Vancouver that would include housing for paramedics and other essential service workers. 

Reliance Properties CEO Jon Stovell said city staff had previously refused to advance a rezoning enquiry for 484 rental units where there is now a parking lot – beside the 27-storey MacMillan Bloedel Building (designed by Arthur Erickson) at the corner of Melville and Thurlow streets. Of those rental units, 104 would be offered at below-market rent for essential workers making between $39,200 and $78,500 a year.

“Our initial inquiry for our workforce housing project was almost two years ago and it never saw the light of day at city hall, even though it met key housing objectives,” Stovell said in a statement. “Council’s new policy finally gives us a path forward.”

Stovell was referring to a new approval process at the City of Vancouver that, according to Mayor Kennedy Stewart, “ensures housing and development proposals that often languish for years behind closed doors will now come before the public and councillors in a fair, open and transparent hearing — with an overall objective of clearing our existing backlog of project proposals.”

Stewart said projects that created rental, social and co-operative and supportive housing would get higher priority than condos built “for speculators.”

“These changes shift control from civil servants to council and encourage for-profit and non-profit housing developers to build more of the affordable housing we need. This is good for residents struggling with high housing costs. Good for our economy. And good for our city,” Stewart said in a statement earlier this month.

Stovell said there are already more than five million square feet of office space under development in downtown Vancouver — including five towers in various stages of design and development being completed by Reliance — and that housing for mid-income earners is in high demand in the downtown core.

Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., submitted a letter to support Reliance’s proposal.

“It is critical for emergency responders and front-line workers to live in the communities they serve, especially if there is a natural disaster like an earthquake, which requires immediate and co-ordinated response. In recent years, employers in downtown Vancouver have increasingly stated that housing affordability challenges have affected their ability to recruit and retain staff,” Clifford wrote in his letter.

Occupations that would qualify to rent in the proposed Reliance building include paramedics, firefighters, nurses, police officers, teachers, bus drivers, grocery clerks and construction workers.

The Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association and the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association recently won zoning approval to build a five-storey mixed commercial and residential building at the southwest corner of Commercial Drive and East 13th Avenue that would include 27 rental units for early-career teachers traditionally priced out of the Vancouver rental market.