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Nine sites set as feds offer $500M loans for Vancouver rental developers

Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser was reluctant to share locations of all nine sites backed by the low-cost loans
Sean Fraser, the federal minister responsible for housing, was at the University of BC campus August 16 to announce nearly $500 million in low-cost loans for developers to build 1,100 rental units across nine sites in Vancouver.| Mike Howell

Canada’s minister responsible for housing announced August 16 that the federal government will provide nearly $500 million in low-cost loans to developers to build up to 1,100 rental units across nine sites in Vancouver.

But Sean Fraser was reluctant to share details or the locations of the projects. He only acknowledged one of the sites was a six-storey building under construction on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, where the minister made the announcement.

“Aside from UBC, we've discussed with some of the proponents that they have a desire to share their own news to celebrate the occasion in their own communities,” said Fraser, when asked by Glacier Media for details on the projects.

“You should expect in the weeks ahead, the individual project proponents will be looking forward to sharing the details of the specific projects that impact their communities.”

The project at UBC is in the 5700-block of Gray Avenue, where crews are working on the 150-unit building. A mix of studio, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom homes will be available for faculty, staff and other campus workers.

A news release said a minimum of 15 of the homes will go to the elderly, young people, students, “individuals in need of assistance,” or individuals whose eligibility is dependent on them being members of the university’s faculty or staff.

Fraser didn’t say how much rent would cost at the nine sites but suggested it would be a range of prices that would be determined by the income of the person or family interested in moving in one of the buildings.

“So at the top end of the price point for the projects we're funding today, it's going to be at about 30 per cent of the median household income,” the minister said.

“But every single project that we're financing is going to have units that are available at a lower price point than that — some of them as low as 70 per cent of that typical market rent that would exist for a median household income.”

City councillor Pete Fry, who was in a deputy mayor role, spoke at the news conference and later told Glacier Media that he was grateful for the federal government’s investment.

Fry noted council has approved several rental housing projects in recent years — a total of 4,260 units in 2022 — but many are stalled because of poor economic conditions, high interest rates and difficulty in finding construction workers.

Those numbers do not include development at UBC, which is not in the city’s jurisdiction.

“So if this kind of financing is one of the pieces that can help move the dial on some of those housing units that we've already approved — but we just can't seem to build — then it's a step in the right direction, for sure,” he said.

Coun. Peter Meiszner also attended the announcement and was equally pleased the federal government was making an investment in rental housing in Vancouver, where prices continue to increase and the market remains tight.

City staff have also pointed out 75 per cent of newcomers to Vancouver are renters.

Meiszner said he’s heard the projects planned for Vancouver will be near rapid transit but didn’t have more details. He suggested sites along the Broadway corridor, where a subway is under construction, might make sense.

“This is a fantastic announcement from the feds,” he said. “We're hearing of many projects that are having trouble finding financing, which is really concerning in the housing crisis that we’re in.”

The low-cost loans come via the federal government’s rental construction financing initiative, which was created to encourage the construction of more new purpose-built rental housing in Canada.