Short-term rental restrictions: First step or attention diverter?

City council has taken a step in the right direction by voting to prohibit short-term rentals like Airbnb for anything that’s not a person’s principal residence.

This much-overdue decision will hopefully bring some relief to long-suffering tenants who are finding it more and more difficult to secure rental accommodation in the city.

While I welcome council’s decision to significantly reduce short-term rentals, I must question how big an impact this decision will actually have on the rental market.

The real solution lies not so much in regulating short-term rentals but, instead, requiring developers to build a certain percentage of every new project as below-market rentals. It would be very simple for city council to require all developers to set aside 10% of all units in any new development as rent-tied-to-income suites. Tenants in these suites would not be required to pay anything more than 30% of their income on rent.

With the large number of developments being approved every year in Vancouver, such a requirement would not only deliver much-needed rental stock but perhaps even more importantly, it would ensure rental accommodation available at below market rents. Availability is important, but if housing is priced out of reach of the average person it is still unavailable.

Vancouver’s work force is being hollowed out as an overwhelming number of workers can no longer afford to live in the city. As workers move away, it becomes harder and harder for employers to fill job vacancies, which has a negative impact on the economy. A recent article in the Vancouver Sun by Randy Shore, for instance, reported that the BC Tech job search site has 1,200–1,500 jobs posted at any given moment. One of Vancouver’s best-loved eateries, Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe and Pie Shop on W. 4th Avenue, has to close early because they can’t find enough staff.

While I support city council’s long-overdue decision to restrict short-term rentals, I worry that they will have succeeded in diverting our attention away from real action on this crisis.

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, City Hall, developers, gentrification, Metro Vancouver | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ordinary folks just made a difference!

Vancouver’s development permit board have turned down Beedie Holdings Ltd.’s application to develop a site at Keefer and Columbia in Chinatown with a controversial condo project. This was an historic victory for the community — one made possible because ordinary folks like you and I organized tirelessly to make it happen.

Beedie had originally proposed a 12-storey structure, which the community quite understandably opposed. The new development would have been far higher than surrounding structures, overshadowing the adjacent Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, the Chinese Cultural Centre, and the Memorial Square honouring Chinese veterans. Local residents also wanted a project that provided affordable housing for Chinatown’s seniors and other residents struggling to find a home — not gentrification.

Last year, the developer brought this proposal forward to a public hearing, as they were required to do. As a result of intense lobbying and many nights of public delegations speaking against the proposal, city council turned it down. This was a big victory for all who want more affordable housing and developments that fit into their neighbourhoods.

The developer scaled back the proposal, reducing it in height from 12 to nine storeys. As the zoning already in place would allow nine storeys, a public hearing was no longer required. However, the proposal still had to be approved by the development permit board, which is made up of three senior staff members from city hall.

The board rarely turns a proposal down. Not since 2006 has it rejected one. So things were looking good for the developer. However, this scaled-back proposal contained absolutely no non-market or social housing, and would have added to the housing affordability crisis we already have.

The development permit board turned down the revamped proposal.

Community and social housing activists are now pressing hard to see the developer enter into a land swap with the City of Vancouver whereby the city would become the owner of the Keefer Street site. This would open up the door to a development made up entirely of social housing.

Sometimes it is possible to beat the developers. Chinatown’s residents and other concerned citizens just provided us with a great example.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, developers, equality, gentrification, homelessness, National Housing Strategy, People Power, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It’s no trick — campaign finance reform is here!

It is finally coming! Campaign finance reform will have a dramatic and, I believe, very positive impact on the 2018 municipal election.

Our provincial NDP government has just announced that legislation is on its way which will ban union and corporate donations in municipal election campaigns — this just one month after they banned the same at the provincial level. This latest reform in campaign financing will take effect retroactively to October 31 of this year.

In Vancouver, the two pro-development parties, Vision Vancouver and the NPA, will be particularly hard hit by this new legislation because every municipal election they raise millions of dollars from developers. This has a very corrosive effect on decision-making. It has resulted in very pro-development city councils where developers get pretty much whatever they ask for.

The new legislation will also put a cap of $1,200 on the amount an individual can donate.

Smaller parties such as COPE have long been massively outspent by the two pro-developer parties. This is because COPE does not accept donations from developers.

When COPE was founded in 1968, it was to offer the citizens of Vancouver an alternative to the then only developer-funded party, the NPA. Regrettably, we now have not one but two parties on city council in bed with developers.

I am intrigued by the impact this new legislation will have not just on the election campaign itself but, more importantly, on the behaviour of city councillors between elections. Will Vision Vancouver councillors continue to vote consistently in support of big developers or will they now become more receptive to the needs and wishes of the citizens of Vancouver in the same way that Adriane Carr and the Vancouver Green Party have demonstrated over the past six years?

The NDP put a smile on my face yesterday, making for a very Happy Halloween.

Posted in British Columbia, COPE, Elections - British Columbia, Green Party, influence peddling, NDP, NPA, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Leave a comment

Transit justice now: Bring HandyDART home

Many of you will be unaware of the fact that TransLink’s HandyDART service is not operated by TransLink. Instead, this very important shared ride service for people with cognitive and physical disabilities is contracted out to a third party — ultimately, an American, for-profit company called MVT. (The parent company of MVT Canadian Bus Inc., which operates HandyDART, is American-owned MV Transportation based in Dallas, Texas.)

Many of us in the HandyDART community have been asking for years that TransLink end this practice and bring HandyDART in-house. A report presented to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation last week is also requesting the same thing.

By comparison, most of our transit operations are wholly owned subsidiaries of TransLink, including Coast Mountain Bus Company, which operates the public bus system. If TransLink’s conventional public transit can be operated as wholly owned subsidiaries, then why not HandyDART?

This would mean that all of the profit MVT currently makes operating HandyDART would be re-invested in higher levels of service. Currently, HandyDART users experience long wait times, trip denials and an overall decline in service while millions of dollars a year leave Metro Vancouver and flow south of the border to Texas-based MVT.

A number of years ago I helped co-found the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance, an advocacy group made up of HandyDART users. We have been lobbying hard to bring about a change in the way HandyDART services are delivered, namely that TransLink bring HandyDART in-house.

A number of months ago TransLink initiated a Request for Proposal seeking bids for a new multi-year contract for HandyDART. In December, the results of the RFP are scheduled be announced. But over the past few weeks, the HRA has been lobbying hard asking TransLink to abandon the RFP process.

The HRA would also like to see the current TransLink board of directors replaced with a more accountable board. For many years, TransLink’s directors were appointed by Metro Vancouver. That way all municipalities had input into the governance structure at TransLink. But the provincial Liberals did away with this approach and took over the appointment of the TransLink board. The HRA would like to see the current governance model replaced with a model that is receptive and accountable to regional input.

It’s critical that our new provincial NDP government directs TransLink to bring HandyDART in-house. Let’s also hope that the NDP follows through on its promise to do away with the provincially appointed board of directors, and return TransLink to regional control.

We need you! At this critical time, we urge you to write your mayor and MLA urging them to bring HandyDART in-house. Connect with us through the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance website, Facebook page, and Twitter to support our efforts and learn more. 

 

 

Posted in accessibility, British Columbia, equality, HandyDART, Metro Vancouver, social justice, Transit, TransLink, transportation, Vancouver | Tagged | Leave a comment

My prediction: This won’t be the last we hear from Jean Swanson

 

The byelection results for the one seat open on Vancouver’s city council are in. As feared, the NPA candidate, Hector Bremner, won as a result of the progressive vote being split. To my disappointment, this means that my favourite city councillor, Adriane Carr, must continue without anyone on council to second her motions so they can be debated. But to my pleasant surprise, Jean Swanson did very well, coming in second.

COPE decided not to run a candidate and, instead, endorsed Jean as a unity candidate. Had either Vision Vancouver or One City done the same and stood behind Jean, she would have won. Jean obtained 10,263 votes, placing her short of victory. The One City candidate obtained 6,327 votes, well ahead of the Vision candidate, who only obtained 5,411 votes. Add either of these vote totals to Jean’s and she would have comfortably defeated Hector.

What lessons can we learn from this byelection? Clearly, Jean’s campaign was the most energetic. By speaking directly to the issue of housing she was able to mobilize a volunteer base throughout the entire city. I was particularly attracted to her mansion tax proposal.

The last time an independent candidate did better than Jean did and actually won an election in Vancouver was when Carole Taylor was successful in 1986. My crystal ball tells me that this byelection will not be the last time we will hear from Jean. Perhaps she will run again in one year in the 2018 general election; perhaps she and her supporters will create a new party.

Only time will tell.

 

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, Green Party, homelessness, NPA, People Power, social justice, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Vancouverites, get out and vote!

Today, October 4, is the first of two advance voting days for the Vancouver by-election October 14 to elect one new council member and nine school board members. The second advance poll will be held October 10. Both advance polls are located at City Hall. Of course, regular voting day is Saturday, October 14 and you’ll have to check where your nearest polling station is.

The by-election for a new council member was caused by the resignation of Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs, who accepted a position with the newly elected provincial NDP.

Many may wonder why it’s important to vote in this by-election. I am reminded of longtime city councillor, Harry Rankin. At one point in his 12th run for a seat on council, he was declared elected. He went to bed not realizing there was still one more poll yet to be counted. The poll happened to be in a conservative area of the city.

As Harry was sleeping, he flipped from being just barely elected to runner-up. He lost the election by a mere handful of votes! If just a few more Harry supporters had come out to vote he would have been elected. In the end, all turned out well as Harry was finally elected in his next try, but the moral of the story of the story is that every vote counts.

In this by-election, I see two strong contenders: Jean Swanson, who is running as an independent with the support of COPE, and Pete Fry with the Green Party.

Hopefully, Vision Vancouver will not secure another seat on council. The current Vision-dominated council has been very pro-developer. They have given the developers pretty much everything they asked for while little has been done to address the housing crisis. A defeat of Vision would send a very strong message to 12th and Cambie.

Both Jean Swanson and Pete Fry have offered creative planks in their election platform to address the housing crisis. I am particularly attracted to Jean’s proposal for a mansion tax, which would see property taxes increased on properties worth more than $5 million and the monies raised used for much-needed affordable housing.

It’s a beautiful day today. Get out and vote!


MORE INFO

Click here for more info about where and how to vote in the Vancouver 2017 by-election.

Visit COPE for more information on COPE candidate Diana Day (for School Board) and COPE-endorsed Independent candidate Jean Swanson (for City Council).

 

 

Posted in affordable housing, Canadian politics, City Hall, COPE, Green Party, Harry Rankin, NPA, People Power, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

If you can afford a mansion, you can afford more property taxes

Jean Swanson, one of the candidates in this fall’s by-election for Vancouver City Council, has recently proposed a mansion tax. Under her proposal, property taxes would be tiered in much the same way that income tax is tiered — the lower your property value, the lower your property tax rate would be.

In making her point, Jean made her announcement in front of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson’s $76-million home in Point Grey. The mansion tax would see the owners of homes valued at $5 million and up to $10 million pay an additional 1 percent in property taxes. For homes worth $10 million or more, owners would pay an additional 2 percent. In Chip’s case, for instance, she says it would mean paying an additional $1.7 million over the $195,000 in property taxes he’s already paid.

The revenue generated by this additional mansion tax, which she estimates to be about $174 million annually, would be used to help address the crisis of homelessness in Vancouver.

Jean’s proposal seems to have captured the imagination of many civic watchers, including me: It’s a doable idea. It makes sense. It would only affect a small percentage of Vancouver’s homeowners.

If we can tier income tax, why can’t we do the same thing for property taxes? As a society, we accept the idea that those with higher income should have their income taxed at a higher rate. Most would be strongly opposed to a flat tax on income. But we currently have a flat tax on property. Whether you own a postage-stamp-sized $200,000 condo or a sprawling, 10-bedroom property worth tens of millions of dollars, your property is now taxed at the same rate.

Let’s hope Jean’s idea catches fire. Regardless of who wins the municipal by-election, it would be great to witness her proposal implemented at 12th and Cambie.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, homelessness, National Housing Strategy, social justice, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Three cheers for regulating campaign donations!

During the recent provincial election campaign both the NDP and the Green Party made strong commitments to electoral financial reform.

Tuesday, the NDP came through with a bill that will go a long way towards creating a level playing field in that regard during provincial elections.

The legislation tabled by the NDP will eliminate all corporate and union donations. Donations from individuals will be capped at $1,200 per year. On a transitional basis, political parties will be entitled to a modest payment from the provincial government based on the number of votes they obtained in the previous provincial election.

I’m very pleased with this legislation! Removing corporate and union donations from the political landscape will go a long way towards democratizing provincial elections. Here’s how.

As a candidate for any election, if you can’t get your message out through blanket advertising, then the only other effective way to do so is through town hall or all-candidates meetings. So when you don’t have a huge war chest stuffed with corporate and union donations to finance carpet-bomb advertising, you are forced to meet with the public. The beneficiary is democracy.

Let me offer you an example of that. In the month leading up to Toronto’s most recent municipal election there were literally hundreds of all-candidates meetings. This is most certainly attributable to the fact that spending by politicians seeking election is highly regulated and capped in Ontario. This contrasts with Vancouver where the number of all-candidates meetings leading up to our most recent municipal election were few and far between. In Vancouver, developers literally purchase the outcome of an election.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the legislation tabled by the NDP will be used by the provincial government as a template to take the next step — regulating financial donations and the subsequent financial expenditures of politicians seeking municipal office.

Posted in British Columbia, Canadian politics, Elections - British Columbia, equality, NDP, People Power, Vancouver | Tagged | 1 Comment

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win

Have you seen the recent video of NDP leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh responding to a racist heckler?

The video I’m referring to has gone viral. In it, Jagmeet is confronted by a very loud and clearly agitated woman demonstrator at a rally of his supporters in Brampton — one of the rallies he calls “JagMeet & Greet”. She walks right up to him and begins to yell at him about his support for sharia (Islamic) law and the Muslim Brotherhood. The irony is that Jagmeet Singh is a practising Sikh, not a Muslim.

Jagmeet could have responded with anger or defensiveness. Instead, he pulled a page from the playbook of Mahatma Gandhi (by the way, the title of this blog is a quote from Gandhi). Jagmeet calmly diffused the situation. Remarkably, he defended her rights to express her opinion, pointing out that “we don’t want hatred to ruin a positive event”, and urging the audience to show “love and courage”, which is his campaign theme.

It’s too early to tell but it is quite possible that this incident may become a galvanizing point in the NDP leadership campaign. It looks like Jagmeet has already signed up more new NDP members than any of his other three competitors, and he has received the most top NDP leadership endorsements.

Jagmeet Singh offers a level of enthusiasm and youthfulness not present in the other candidates. His response to the heckler is indicative of a different type of leader — one who has the courage to give voice to ideas we need more of, and the ability to squelch negativity with positivity. I might add this is totally the opposite of what we see south of the border.

I, for one, will be very excited if the NDP elect Jagmeet Singh as their new leader.

Posted in Canadian politics, NDP, racism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fair play would go a long way at ICBC

ICBC rates are set to jump again — this time by 6.4 percent. This follows the insurance corporation’s largest annual loss ever — a loss caused in large part when BC’s previous Liberal government withdrew massive amounts of money from the corporation and put the money into provincial coffers.

Will the rate increase fix the problem? I think not. Much more needs to be done.

As a lawyer practising in the field of personal injury, much of my bread and butter comes from ICBC cases. Too often, ICBC unnecessarily delays the settlement of files. Too often, ICBC is unwilling to offer my clients fair settlement for their injury. As a result, many years ago, I instituted a policy of starting a lawsuit on behalf of my clients on the day I am retained.

The sooner I can nail down a trial date, the better for my client. But this would not be necessary if ICBC had a practice of offering fair settlement without the prospect of being forced to go to trial.

Let’s hope that with a new government in office in Victoria, the winds of change will blow through the corporate head office at ICBC, and they will take a first step in cutting costs and increasing revenue by offering fair compensation without needing to be forced to go to trial.

UPDATE: I was interviewed on this topic recently on CTV — you can see the article and video here.

 

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, economy, fiscal responsibility, justice system, law, NDP, transportation | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment