Affordable rents: There’s a way, just no will

KEYSOver the last number of years, Vision Vancouver has been offering developers significant incentives in the form of waiving development cost levies or DCLs in return for a commitment from the developer to provide purpose-built rental housing. (See my June 29 blog on DCLs.)

Unfortunately, this has not helped at all in addressing Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis. The problem has been that the rental stock provided by these developers has been typically priced far above what the majority of us could afford.

A truly progressive city council would be requiring not only that the developer provide purpose-built rental housing, but would also stipulate the amount of rent that could be charged. This would ensure that the rental stock was affordable.

Nathalie Baker, an excellent municipal lawyer and daughter of former long-term Vancouver city councillor Jonathan Baker, was recently interviewed by Carlito Pablo of The Georgia Straight. She spoke in detail as to exactly what the city should be doing to control rent when it spirals out of control. You can read the entire article here.

The whole point is there’s a perfectly useful tool that already exists in the Vancouver Charter that could be put to good use — if there was the political will to do so.

Look it up for yourself. Under section 565.2 of the charter (Housing agreements for affordable and special needs housing), council can enter into housing agreements whose terms include “rents that may be charged and the rates at which rents may be increased over time.”

One wonders why the Vision-dominated council hasn’t made maximum use of this provision in the charter. This question is answered as soon as you look at who funds Vision Vancouver. In 2014 alone, Vancouver’s development community donated literally millions of dollars to the party’s election campaign.

Hopefully David Eby’s recent legislation barring campaign contributions from corporations and unions will make for a much better city council after this fall’s municipal election. Along these lines, I was pleased to see Green Party city councillor Adriane Carr recently move a motion asking city staff for an audit of the rental-incentives program for developers.

We need more of this kind of thinking on council.

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, City Hall, developers, electoral reform, gentrification, Green Party, homelessness, influence peddling, National Housing Strategy, NDP, Planning, seniors, social justice, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hurried “chainsaw massacre” of our city’s zoning


I don’t normally read the Vancouver Sun — it’s much too conservative for me. However, I was recently made aware of a great guest editorial by Elizabeth Murphy, a respected urbanist and former member of Vancouver’s planning department.

Her op ed ran July 2 and is a must-read. Calling it a “chainsaw massacre”, she does a great job of summarizing the devastating effects we are likely to experience if Gregor Robertson’s mass rezoning motion goes through.

In a rush before the fall election, Mayor Robertson is trying to push through a citywide mass rezoning that would apply to all areas currently zoned as single family. Under his proposal, duplexes, triplexes and any multi-unit developments will be permitted where currently only one residence is allowed. And the public was given only three days to respond to the 680-page report!

A mass rezoning of this scope has never been done before in our city’s history for good reason. It will result in the elimination of existing older housing stock, which will destroy neighbourhood character and create mass speculation. It will actually cause a significant increase in the value of existing single-family residences, making matters worse, not better, regarding the housing crisis it purports to solve.

Most of the current Vision Vancouver city council members — who make up the majority on council now — are not accountable because they aren’t running again in the upcoming election, so there is little enraged citizens can do. Nevertheless, I would urge you to read Elizabeth’s op ed piece. If you feel like I do, phone the mayor’s office at 604-873-7621, or email the mayor and council via this link.

Posted in affordable housing, Broadway Corridor, City Hall, COPE, developers, gentrification, homelessness, National Housing Strategy, Planning, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Developers, their fair share — and real low-cost housing

house arrowsHousing was all over the news this week, but three examples really speak to the usefulness of development cost levies in this regard — when they’re used for real affordable housing.

I’ve long been critical of the City of Vancouver for its policy of waiving development cost levies or DCLs when a developer agrees to build market rental housing.

DCLs are paid by developers on a square footage basis and then used by the city to help pay for things like affordable housing, childcare facilities or parks. But the root of the problem is that in an Orwellian approach, the mayor and his Vision Vancouver henchmen redefined affordable housing — that is, housing geared to income — to include market rental housing. This allows the city to waive DCLs when the developer agrees to build market rentals! (See my October 2016 blog on this.)

Case in point: The Georgia Straight reported this week that a developer in Kerrisdale will be building a project that includes one-bedroom units that will rent for $1,900/month. Is the city really better off waiving DCLs in return for this type of expensive housing?

Another item that caught my attention, also in the Straight, was the massive rezoning in Grandview-Woodlands allowing for 3,000 new housing units. The question that must be asked here is how affordable these units will be, given the example above. Will the Grandview-Woodlands rezoning simply result in another Vision Vancouver gift to developers?

Many of you may have heard about the withdrawal of Boffo Developments from The Kettle Society’s project at Commercial and Venables. This development would have provided much needed low-cost housing. For once, the city would have extracted real social housing from a developer. But the city also wanted a certain amount of development cost levies. The developer said no, and pulled the plug.

In this case, I believe the city was doing a good job in trying to make the developer pay its fair share. My only criticism of the project would have been its height. At 12 storeys, it definitely would not have fit in to the neighbourhood.

So where do these examples take us at the end of the day?

Development cost levies can be a useful tool the city should be using to make developers pay their fair share. But in the housing department, the wheels have come off ever since the Vision-dominated council dealt everyone in our city who can’t afford $1,900 rent a nasty blow by turning affordable housing into market rental housing.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, developers, equality, fiscal responsibility, gentrification, homelessness, influence peddling, National Housing Strategy, Planning, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A fighting chance with limits on big money in politics

johnny-automatic-bag-of-moneyLast week I blogged about the very positive, upbeat COPE nomination meeting I recently attended. This week let’s take a look at the bigger picture — the likely impact of new legislation that will govern campaign financing in this fall’s municipal elections.

David Eby, B.C.’s Attorney General, brought in legislation last September shortly after Vancouver’s by-election that I predict will have a dramatic and very positive impact on municipal elections across the province going forward.

Historically, developers have been purchasing election outcomes. As an example, in Vancouver’s last municipal election, both Vision Vancouver and the NPA collected millions of dollars in donations from developers to finance their campaigns. Many would argue this had a very corrosive impact on decision-making at 12th and Cambie after the election.

This new legislation will do away with donations from developers and unions as well as limit individual contributions to $1,200 a year (the second-lowest limit in Canada). Parties, such as COPE, which have been at an electoral disadvantage in the past when it comes to campaign financing, can now operate on a more level playing field.

The impact of this new legislation will be province-wide. For instance, Surrey First — Surrey’s equivalent of Vision Vancouver — will also no longer be able to bankroll their election with such big blank cheques from developers.

Because of these changes, I’m very optimistic about the outcome at the ballot box this coming October in Vancouver. At long last COPE may finally bounce back. And hopefully we will once again have city councillors ready, willing and able to speak up for the average citizen and not be beholden to developers.

To learn more about big money in politics, check out Geoff Dembicki’s excellent series of articles in The Tyee.

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, City Hall, COPE, developers, Elections - British Columbia, electoral reform, equality, gentrification, NDP, People Power, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vancouver Park Board, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

COPE is definitely back!

COPE_LogoIf you support COPE and the kind of progressive policies it stands for, I’ve got good news for you.

Last Sunday, I attended the COPE nomination meeting — the first COPE meeting I’ve attended in almost a year since I started stepping away from my executive role with the party. What a breath of fresh air! The meeting started precisely on time, went smoothly throughout, and was totally absent division and the procedural wrangles that have so frequently taken place at previous COPE membership meetings the past few years.

The room was filled to overflowing without an empty chair. I think there’s a mood in the air for genuine progressive politics. I also think our decision not to run a candidate and, instead, endorse Jean Swanson in the 2017 by-election for city council won us a lot of friends and supporters.

The membership nominated one of the strongest slates to run for elected office under the COPE banner in a long time. For city council, they nominated Jean Swanson, Anne Roberts and Derrick O’Keefe. For school board, it’s Barb Parrott and Diana Day. And for park board, Gwen Giesbrech and John Irwin.

When it came to the fundraising pitch I was knocked right over! Mel Lehan, a longtime COPE member and former candidate, did the pitch. He began by asking if there was anyone present willing to donate $1000. To my shock and amazement over 15 people came up to the mic, each pledging $1000. I have never seen that before at COPE! Clearly, enthusiasm for COPE is back.

The meeting wrapped up with a debate with 3 mayoral candidates — Shauna Sylvester, independent candidate; Kennedy Stewart, independent candidate; and UBC professor and urban design expert Patrick Condon, who is seeking the COPE mayoral nomination. (We will nominate our mayoral candidate at a membership meeting in August.)

The debate was lively and highlighted the stark differences between these 3 individuals on issues such as housing and transportation. My full support goes to Patrick Condon — I hope he succeeds in getting COPE’s mayoral nomination.

All in all, the meeting was a great success. COPE is back!

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, developers, events, homelessness, People Power, Vancouver, Vancouver election | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

COPE’s nomination meeting — a party comeback highlight

This coming Sunday, June 10, at 2 p.m. the Coalition of Progressive Electors will hold its nomination meeting. COPE has done a very impressive job of rebuilding over the past COPE_Logofew months, and this nomination meeting looks like it will be very well attended. The highlight of the meeting will be a debate between independent mayoral candidate, Kennedy Stewart, and chair of the urban design program at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Patrick Condon, who is rumoured to be seriously considering running for mayor with COPE.

Some names to watch: Former journalism instructor and Vancouver city councillor, Anne Roberts, is seeking a council nomination. If nominated she will be a very strong candidate. Barb Parrott is seeking nomination as a candidate for school board. She’s a former member of the BC Teachers’ Federation, where she earned a reputation as a very hard-working union activist. Diana Day is also seeking a school trustee nomination. If nominated she will have the support and endorsement of the Vancouver and District Labour Council.

With Vision Vancouver apparently on the way out, now may be the perfect time for a COPE comeback at the polls.

The nomination meeting will be held at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, 1440 W.12th Ave. in Vancouver. You can find more details about the meeting and nominations here, on COPE’s website.

Penny and I hope to see you there!

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, events, People Power, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vancouver Park Board | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faster than driving & having more fun — on a bike!

On CBC Radio this morning, I was listening to an interesting piece about the annual Rush Hour Challenge put on by HUB Cycling to see which mode of transportation is the most time-efficient to get a commuter to downtown Vancouver. The challenge pits cyclists, car drivers and transit users against each other to see who can reach a designated downtown destination the fastest from various starting points throughout Metro Vancouver.

This news piece got me thinking about how much road space is freed up each time we shift a car driver to public transit or onto a bike. Bicycle lanes — by making much safer environments for cycling — have contributed to a significant shift to cycling as the preferred mode of transportation for many people. And this translates to savings for all of us — for example, even a 10 percent increase in physical activity nationally delivers approximately $150-million in direct healthcare savings annually.

bikelove2Bike lanes not only make for safer cycling but also speed up biking commute times. Since the Rush Hour Challenge started in 2009, cyclists got downtown faster more than two-thirds of the time. For the East Van team, one of 7 teams in this year’s challenge, the transit user was the fastest for the door-to-door trip, doing it in 20 minutes. The cyclist was next, in 24 minutes. The car driver was the slowest at 30 minutes.

The other part of the challenge is seeing who had the most fun and hands down it was the people who biked. Imagine that — putting pleasure into commuting. 

Don’t forget that Bike to Work / Bike to School Week is May 28 to June 4. The more folks we can get out of cars and onto bicycles the better off we all are.

Posted in bicycle lanes, Broadway Corridor, cycling, HandyDART, Metro Vancouver, People Power, Skytrain, sustainability, taxi, Transit, TransLink, transportation, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ian Campbell: Why would you run for Vision?

If you’ve been following the amazing race for mayor in the City of Vancouver, you will be aware of the latest candidate to throw his hat in the ring — Ian Campbell, hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation and friend of Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Much has been said about the fact that if Mr. Campbell is successful in obtaining Vision Vancouver’s nomination for mayor we will have a First Nations’ candidate running for the office.

angie dennis

Angie Dennis was the first Indigenous mayoral candidate for Vancouver City Council; she ran under the COPE banner in 1972.

Those with good memories, however, will remember it was COPE that was the first municipal party to run an indigenous person for mayor in Vancouver. In 1972, Angie Dennis ran for mayor under the COPE banner — the first Indigenous woman to run for a major party.

Leaving aside which political party was first in this regard, I have to ask why Ian Campbell is seeking the Vision nomination.

The housing affordability crisis here in Vancouver has disproportionately affected First Nations — a crisis that could have been addressed by Vision Vancouver during its previous 10 years in office. It was not. Developers were given free rein throughout the city, and were not required to set aside a certain percentage of their projects for affordable housing.

I also have to raise the awkward fact that Ian Campbell’s Squamish Nation has traditional land claims to some of the land in large parcels in the city slated for massive, high-density redevelopment: the 52-acre Jericho lands in Point Grey; and the 21-acre site of former RCMP headquarters on 33rd Ave. (alone slated for as many as 2,000 residents). B.C. Liquor’s soon-to-be-gone distribution plant on Rupert Street is also part of the mix. Mr. Campbell helped to convince the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh to work together on the redevelopment of these three parcels.

I predict that once again Vision Vancouver, if it is still in power when these redevelopments come before council, will fail to make it a requirement that 30% of the units developed are earmarked as rentals with rent set at 30% of a person’s income.

I wish Ian Campbell all the best. But he will certainly not get my vote at the ballot box should he be successful in getting Vision Vancouver’s nomination for mayor.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, developers, First Nations, gentrification, homelessness, social justice, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry’s message: more important than ever

May 8 would have been Harry Rankin’s 98th birthday. I was reminded of this special date when I attended the premiere of The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical at the Playhouse Theatre May 3 as part of the DOXA documentary film fest.

Harry Rankin — my hero and mentor — was an unforgettable individual. I had the great honour of working together with a number of individuals to help bring about the production of this documentary about him. Others involved included his son, Phil Rankin; grandson, Micah Rankin; and Julius Fisher, who helped produce it along with John Bolton.

Back in 1986, a fellow by the name of Peter Smilsky, who articled at a law office across the street from Harry’s, began putting together a film about him. He captured a lot of original footage, including some fascinating breakfast meetings between Harry and well-known journalist, Jack Webster. (These two Vancouver legends used to get together for breakfast once a week at 7 a.m. at a restaurant in the Downtown Eastside.)

Peter never did finish his film. Fast forward to 2015, when Julius Fisher and director Teresa Alfeld came on the scene to complete the project.

The premiere was sold out with not an empty seat in the house, and the audience seemed to really appreciate the entire documentary.

Today, because of demand, there’s a third repeat showing of the film at SFU Woodwards (149 West Hastings). If you miss it, next time the film is shown in Vancouver, I urge you to attend. I guarantee you’ll greatly enjoy it — especially because Harry’s message about development and how important it is for municipal governments to take control of zoning to ensure we can all live together is now more important than ever.


Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, developers, events, gentrification, Harry Rankin, Vancouver, Vancouver election | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Better to debate than deliberately disrupt

The provincial NDP are proposing a new school tax on homes worth more than $3 million. The revenue projections are in the vicinity of $200 million and would largely be used for seismic upgrades for school buildings.

Many of the homes that would be affected by this new tax are located in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding of Attorney General David Eby. Full disclosure: I live in this riding, and Penny and I own one of the houses that would be affected.

Mr. Eby decided to host a town hall meeting to discuss this new tax. People were asked to RSVP in advance. The event quickly filled up. It was then moved to a new, larger venue where, once again — even with the additional space — it quickly filled up.

Unfortunately, those intent on creating chaos at the meeting then got to work. CBC Radio and other media reported that the leader of the opposition, Andrew Wilkinson, circulated a letter urging people to show up regardless of whether they had registered in advance or not. Also, two real estate companies took out ads urging people — including non-constituents — to do the same.

With the event already at capacity with people who had registered in advance, this spelled trouble.

David Eby was placed in a difficult position. Many of the people who had volunteered to help out at the town hall meeting were seniors and young people — individuals who would be unable to deal with crowds of people pushing their way into an already full event. The last straw was when a last-minute protest was planned to “march on in”. With safety at issue, Mr. Eby had no choice but to cancel the town hall.

This is unfortunate as the proposed new education tax certainly needs much debate. Should individuals who are asset-rich but income-poor be forced to pay this new tax? Would it be fairer to instead raise the marginal income tax rate for individuals earning over $200,000 a year?

Had the town hall event gone forward, these and many other interesting questions and ideas would have been raised since a panel with speakers from both sides of this issue had been planned.

It is one thing to disagree. It is another thing to deliberately disrupt.

I hope David Eby is able to organize another venue on another date, and that this issue will get the debate it deserves.

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, developers, economy, education, equality, fiscal responsibility, gentrification, Liberal Party, NDP, Vancouver | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment