Last week during a public hearing, Vancouver City Council approved one of its largest standalone social housing projects to date — a 411-ft-tall, 39-storey tower with 193 units.
This 100% social housing tower is set to replace a ground-level parking lot and a 1972-built, two-storey building with the Ismaili Community Centre and Jamatkhana at 508 Drake Street and 1317 Richards Street — the southwest corner of the intersection of Drake Street and Richards Street.
City council approved the project unanimously, with independent councillor Colleen Hardwick abstaining from the decision.
The project is spearheaded by MCYH Multigenerational Housing Society in partnership with Larco, and DA Architects and Planners is the design firm.
Since the rezoning application was submitted in Fall 2020, the total number of social housing units has been slightly reduced from 198 to 193, but this was done to achieve larger and more functional units within a challenging triangular-shaped floor plate, similar to the Living Shangri-La tower.
The lower floors of the tower are rectangular in shaped, but the upper floors starting from the 10th floor are roughly half the size of the base floors to avoid intruding into view cones B1 and C1 protecting the view of The Lions’ mountains from the South False Creek seawall at Charleson Park and the Laurel Street Landbridge Park near West 7th Avenue.
The tower’s height also maximizes on its allowable height, restricted by View Cone 3 emanating from Queen Elizabeth Park.
Vancouver City Council has approved a 39-storey tower with 100% social housing + Islamic centre.
Just like Shangri-La, it has triangular-shaped floors because of view cones, resulting in a grossly inefficient design & far fewer homes. #vanpoli #vanrehttps://t.co/wAxxsIUmmW pic.twitter.com/13OtBbjFGk
— Kenneth Chan (@iamkennethchan) June 22, 2021
The view cones were a point of contention for one public speaker during the public hearing, who criticized the municipal planners and pleaded to city council to consider view cone relaxations for social housing projects in the future.
Upper floor plates that followed the larger size of the floor plates in the base of the building would conceivably generate more social housing units, improve the livability of the units through more efficient unit layouts, and improve the financial outlook of the project. As a result of the limitations, there are generally just five units per floor.
“DA and Larco did absolutely terrific work on this, but they had to go through architectural gymnastics in order to deliver an inefficient floor plate. I don’t mind if I can’t look at The Lions from kilometres and kilometres away, I just want to recommend to city council and the mayor consider social housing to encroach into the view cone ever so slightly to allow for an efficient floor plate, one that can deliver probably 25% to 40% more social housing. We desperately need it in our city,” said the speaker.
“On top of that, the economics of the project would probably be better. I can’t begin to describe how expensive it would be to build this flatiron, triangular-shaped, chamfered design.”
Only a slight intrusion into the view cones have been permitted by city staff in order to provide all units with Juliet balconies.
The unit mix is 89 studios, 84 one-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units, and three 10-bedroom units.
At least 30% of the units will be offered at rent-geared-to-income rates for households with incomes below BC Housing’s income limits, and at least 70% of the units will be rented to seniors — defined as having at least one member of the household who is aged 55 or older.
MCYH Multigenerational Housing Society is pursuing potential funding from senior governments to further improve the affordability of the units.
The base floors — totalling 32,300 sq ft within the tower podium — are dedicated as replacement community space. This includes a prayer hall on the second level, reading room on the third level, social hall and recreational space on the fourth level, and learning centre on the fifth level that opens up to an outdoor amenity space on the podium rooftop. Islamic-inspired screens provide the facade for the community space floors.
“I know the degree to which the pluralistic society, altruism, and the commitment to this kind of housing and work that is ingrained in this culture. I do have a lot of confidence in the community and their commitment to making this work,” said Green Party councillor Pete Fry.
“It is a beautiful looking building, and I appreciate the pluralistic spiritual component that they’re embedding into it.”
Four underground levels will provide 53 vehicle parking stalls and 209 bike parking spaces. The total floor area is 167,000 sq ft, creating a floor area ratio density that is 13.91 times the size of the 12,000 sq ft lot.