Crazy STIR Program Will Not Die

Graphic Is Building Massing Drawing for STIR Project Now Under Construction at 3522 Porter Street, 1896-1898 Victoria Diversion, 3615 Victoria Drive (DE413947) ]

Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) has been around for two years now. The city web site still claims that STIR is “a time limited (2.5 year) program” that has fastened onto

an opportunity to increase rental housing supply during the current economic downturn, while supporting the development industry to maintain jobs and invest in the City’s economy.

The “short term” is now promising to become indefinite long term. The recent Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2012-2021 (July 2011) says:

Enhance on-going rental incentive program building on lessons from STIR. Continue to achieve secure purpose built rental housing. Focus on assisting smaller projects. (Appendix B, page 4 of 11)

“Assisting” indeed. This rich and supposedly temporary package of giveaways to Vancouver’s development industry appears to have become highly addictive.

All that Vancouver residents get back from providing heavy subsidies to developers is a vaguely specified requirement for production of market rental housing.

In other words, the developer rakes in a package of fee waivers, favorable property tax assessments, parking reductions, priority permit processing — and at the same time achieves steroidal density and obtains latitude to build even smaller boxes than usual.

In return, Vancouver residents receive the opportunity to pay whatever rent levels the market for brand-new dwelling units will support — as they stroll through a landscape devoid of even the pittance amenity usually provided by new development through DCL (developer cost levy) and CAC (community amenity contribution). While mourning, don’t forget that even CAC typically folds back into enhancing the developer’s own site, in forms like semi-privatized “public” space primarily enjoyed by tenants of the development itself.

This is one of the many reasons that Vancouver has become physically less attractive during accelerated build-out, except perhaps for the elite who occupy higher-end premises and protected enclaves. Think only of the continuous experiential deterioration in access to community centre facilities. Overcrowded swimming pool, anyone?

Take three STIR projects on the fringes of Norquay as example: 3068 Kingsway, 3522 Porter Street etc, 2730 East 41st Ave. What are common features? Unattractive locations, design out of scale to surroundings, cheap construction.

The most sustainable thing in Vancouver is developer profit levels. The greenest thing is the envy that developers display for continued and greater concessions. The most liveable thing is the zombie appetite to take out new pieces of established neighborhoods for the new construction that is always less affordable than the old.

What could be worse? Try some future City Council, whose “will” so famously cannot be “fettered” by policy of a present City Council. Some future City Council could allow those STIR rental units to flip over into sellable condos!

Check out the September 2008 report of Vancouver City Planning Commission on Market Rental Housing in Vancouver . Dig back into this originator document of STIR to discover fantasies of requiring rental status for the property for only 10 years rather than the customary 20 to 60 because “10 years is a common holding period for apartment investor’s analysis”!

If the mouth of this snake ever finds its tail, this scam will have come full circle and morphed into a Vancouver-based ouroboros.

Further Reading:

The Ugly Story of Short Term Incentives for Rental

Deconstructing STIR: Vancouver’s Tax-Cuts-for-Developers Housing Strategy

Making a STIR