Vote October 20 — don’t let others decide for you!

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This coming Saturday, Oct. 20 is municipal election day.

I’ve already voted at the advance poll so that I’m free to volunteer for the candidates I’m supporting on election day.

Who am I supporting?

For me, it was a very easy decision. I voted the entire COPE and GREEN slates. I abstained on the mayoral ballot. And I voted in favour of the three capital referendum questions.

Why am I supporting COPE and the Greens in this election?

I am very attracted to two of COPE’s policies — the mansion tax and the rent freeze. The mansion tax will create the revenue necessary to aggressively tackle Vancouver’s homeless crisis. The rent freeze is long overdue. For over a decade, rents have been going up at a rate far exceeding the inflation rate. The Residential Tenancy Act ties rents to the person, not the suite. What this means in real terms is that whenever there is turnover in the suite, the landlord raises the rent as much as the market will bear. It’s not uncommon now for a one-bedroom suite to rent in excess of $1,800 per month.

I am also aware of the environmental crisis humanity faces. Just the other day the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a dire report. Humanity has 10 years to get its act in order. This means getting as many Greens elected as possible a very high priority of mine.

With regard to the mayoral ballot, I thought long and hard about who might offer the best platform to address our No. 1 crisis — housing. Sadly, I concluded that none of the candidates recognize the need to dramatically move from market-based solutions to non-market solutions, such as 50% of the market being comprised of non-market housing with rent geared to 30% of income.

And when it comes to capital plans, I always support them. They make for a healthier city.

No matter how you vote, don’t forget to get out there on Saturday, Oct. 20 if you haven’t already voted in the advance polls. If you don’t help decide who you want to govern, others will gladly do it for you — and you may not like the results.

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Vancouver 2018 voter information (where, when, how to vote)

Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) (click on candidates for school, park & council)

Vancouver Greens website

 

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, Green Party, People Power, sustainability, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vancouver Park Board, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Support “shop local” when you “vote local”

vote-and-shop-localWith “for lease” signs popping up everywhere in Vancouver’s commercial districts, it’s become crystal clear just how difficult the situation is for our city’s small businesses.

Online retail is part of the reason so many small businesses are closing shop. Many of us now find the convenience of shopping with our keyboards much preferable to walking through our neighbourhood stores. I confess — I’m one of those consumers.

But a much larger and more significant cause of small business failure is the astronomical rent increases they’ve had to endure in Vancouver over the past decade. With the local real estate boom, landlords have jacked up lease rates far beyond the inflation rate. Most of the “for lease” signs we see in our local shopping districts are the result of the commercial tenant’s lease expiring and the landlord demanding rent far in excess of what the long-time commercial tenant can afford.

Much has been made recently of the need to protect residential tenants from high rental increases. Last week, the provincial government reduced from 4.5% to 2.5% the maximum amount a landlord can raise a residential tenants’ rent by in 2019.

I say it’s well past time for government to introduce legislation protecting commercial tenants. If there can be a cap on residential rent increases, why not a cap on commercial rental rate increases, too? This wouldn’t just benefit commercial tenants — it would also do a lot to keep our local shopping districts alive and vibrant by dramatically reducing the number of empty storefronts.

If the provincial government isn’t prepared to take action and introduce legislation to protect commercial tenants, then I call on the City of Vancouver to do so.

It’s election time! Let’s make sure that the candidates we vote for in the upcoming municipal election are prepared to stand up for commercial tenants. If we don’t take action now, we’ll soon have no other choice than to drive to suburban malls or shop on-line with our keyboards.

Remember, voting day is October 20. Advance voting is October 10–17. Check to see if you’re already registered, and/or find more 2018 election info here!

Posted in British Columbia, City Hall, developers, economy, gentrification, NDP, Planning, Vancouver, Vancouver election | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Make elections fairer — support pro rep!

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Do you ever feel like your vote doesn’t count because the parties you vote for never get in? Then you’ll definitely want to say “yes” to proportional representation in the upcoming referendum on provincial electoral reform.

I know it’s a bit confusing with two important votes happening about the same time, but once the Oct. 20 municipal election is over, we’ll have a chance to make voting fairer in the November referendum on changing our provincial voting system to proportional representation.

Unlike the municipal election where we’ll go to the polls and vote, the provincial referendum will be conducted by a mail-in ballot you will receive in a voting package mailed to you by Elections BC between Oct. 22 and Nov. 2.

I’m very excited about this referendum, as I’ve long been a supporter of shifting from the current first-past-the-post system to proportional representation.

Proportional representation would result in the legislature more accurately reflecting the popular vote. Let me explain.

With the current first-past-the-post system a party can win the overwhelming majority of seats in the legislature with as little as, say, 40 percent of the popular vote. Under proportional representation — or pro rep, as it’s known in shorthand — a party winning 40 percent of the popular vote would get 40 percent of the seats.

In the last provincial election in 2017, the BC Green Party received nearly 17 percent of the popular vote. However, they only won 3 of the 87 seats, or about 3 percent. Under a new and much fairer pro rep system, the BC Green Party would have won 20 seats in that election.

With the legislature much more accurately reflecting the results of the popular vote for all parties, we would see much more cooperation between political parties. To get a bill passed by the legislative assembly, the different parties would be forced to work with each other.

Even more exciting, the up-coming referendum on provincial proportional representation might also open the door to pro rep at the municipal level.

Already, Vancouver mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart is talking about the possibly of conducting future Vancouver municipal elections under a pro rep system. This would be a terrific change! Sadly, municipal elections are currently notorious for their low voter turnout because once voters feel their vote doesn’t count, they stop coming out to the polls.

Fingers crossed that the pro rep referendum at the provincial level is approved by the electorate and we can finally move to a much fairer electoral system. Even better if it spurs a fairer, pro rep system for Vancouver’s next municipal election. It would mean more people voting and a healthier democracy for everyone.

* * *

To be able to vote in this important referendum on proportional representation, make sure you’re registered to vote provincially.

You can vote in the referendum if you are:

  • a Canadian citizen,
  • 18 or older as of Nov. 30, 2018, and

  • a resident of B.C. for at least 6 months immediately before Nov. 30, 2018.

You can register on-line with Elections BC here or call 1-800-661-8683. If you do not receive a voting package by mail, you can request one from Elections BC from Nov. 3 to Nov. 23. Once you receive your voting package, you must return your mail-in ballot by November 30.

Voters will be asked two questions on the referendum ballot:

Vote for COPE Independents!

  1. Should we keep the current first-past-the-post voting system or move to proportional representation?
  2. Rank three proportional systems: Dual Member Proportional (DMP), Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), and Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP).

You can learn about these systems here from Elections BC. I’ll discuss the three different systems in an upcoming blog.

Posted in British Columbia, Elections - British Columbia, electoral reform, NDP, People Power, proportional representation, Vancouver, Vancouver election | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Out the door for Vision — and good riddance

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This Monday, with just four days to go before the deadline for candidates to file their registration papers for the October 20 municipal election, Vision Vancouver’s mayoral candidate, Ian Campbell, suddenly pulled out of the race. He did so issuing a brief statement, refusing to take any calls or interviews from the media.

What does all this mean for this fall’s municipal election?

Vision Vancouver — Vancouver’s dominant civic party for the last 10 years — is in very deep trouble.

Only 1 of its incumbent city councillors is running for re-election. And now the party has no mayoral candidate. To top things off, Vision is only running 5 candidates for the 10 city council spots. It was unable to round up enough qualified candidates to fill all the vacancies Vision incumbents are leaving behind as they exit council, school board and park board.

Why did Ian Campbell withdraw so suddenly? Perhaps it was the polling. Recent polls have Vision Vancouver in 4th place behind the Green Party, COPE and the NPA. Or perhaps it was some yet-to-be disclosed personal issue. All of this is likely to become clearer someday, but for the time being we’re all left in the dark.

If Vision was not already in deep trouble as we move ever closer to voting day October 20, they are in even deeper trouble without a flag bearer.

In any civic election campaign, your mayoral candidate is the spokesperson for the entire party. It’s much harder for a party to get press coverage and profile without a mayoral candidate.

Carlito Pablo’s recent article in the Georgia Straight describes more fuel being added to the fire. The Vancouver and District Labour Council, a powerhouse in Vancouver’s political scene, has cautioned Vision against fielding a new mayoral candidate.

As things currently stand, I predict that Vision Vancouver will be very lucky to elect just 1 city councillor this fall. Ditto for school and park boards. At long last the all-powerful Vision Vancouver, now just a shadow of its former self, is about to be swept out the door by the electorate, as it rightfully should be.

I say good riddance!


Remember, voting day is October 20. Advance voting is October 10–17. Check to see if you’re already registered, and or find more 2018 election info here!

 

 

Posted in City Hall, COPE, First Nations, Green Party, NPA, People Power, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vancouver Park Board, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Turn up the taps & cool housing prices more

water-2971049_640For many years now housing prices in Vancouver have been moving up at a very fast pace — so fast that most of us have been priced right out of the market. Economists will forever debate the causes of this phenomenon. However, it would appear that at long last relief finally may be here.

Provincial and local governments have taken a number of steps to dampen the red-hot housing market, including the foreign home-buyers tax, taxing empty homes, and a property speculation tax (although that last one got watered down).

Now the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver has released August statistics. For the second month in a row, prices for detached homes, townhouses and condos have fallen in Metro Vancouver. And it’s not just prices that are falling — the number of sales fell as well in August, adding to this past April’s benchmark, which saw the lowest number of home sales in April in 17 years.

It’s still too early to say with any certainty that we may look back at this summer of 2018 as the turning point in housing prices in Vancouver. But fingers crossed that the correction continues, allowing more and more of us back into the housing market.

We have a long way to go before housing prices return to the realistic levels they were historically. Up until about a decade ago housing prices were much more aligned with people’s incomes. Government must still do a lot more to ensure that correction trends continue, bringing prices back into balance with local incomes over the long-term.

For instance, a capital gains tax due upon the sale of residential properties might be a policy governments should consider. It would mean that individuals can no longer realize enormous unearned windfalls upon the sale of their residential properties. The tax revenue generated could be earmarked for non-market housing, such as co-ops.

In many European cities like Vienna, where 6 out of 10 residents live in subsidized or municipal housing, non-market housing makes up the majority of the housing stock. This gives everyone, especially young couples and people starting out in life, a real opportunity to obtain housing — something still so desperately needed in Metro Vancouver.

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, developers, economy, fiscal responsibility, gentrification, Green Party, homelessness, Metro Vancouver, National Housing Strategy, NDP, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have a fabulous summer enjoying our great city!

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I can’t believe it’s already August!

In just a few days, I’ll be closing my law office and taking my annual staycation with my partner, Penny. We love this time of year as it gives us the opportunity to be tourists in our own city — Vancouver. What an incredible place we live in.

Every year Penny and I do up a schedule of things to do and places to go throughout our 3- or 4-week holiday. This year we plan on revisiting many of the highlights of our last staycation.

The Museum of Anthropology is always a fascinating place. This year the main summer exhibit is Arts of Resistance, Politics and the Past in Latin America. I can’t wait to see this as Latin American politics have interested me for decades.

Throughout Latin America, broad social movements attempt — many times with success — to bring about positive social change. Cuba has accomplished so much with so little. In Bolivia my hero, Evo Morales, has done so much for his tiny and very poor nation. In Mexico, we just witnessed the election of the nation’s first-ever left of centre populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement. Arts of resistance are definitely more important than ever for Latin Americans, given the atmosphere in the US right now.

The Southlands area in Dunbar along the Fraser River is always an opportunity to escape the city without leaving the city. Its idyllic environment convinces you that you’re in the countryside. The large lots, no developments over 2 storeys high, and lots of horseback riders make for a very peaceful and restful afternoon. We never forget to spend at least an hour at Southlands Nursery. We enjoy the atmosphere as we wander through the greenhouses, where the motto is “beauty always comes before profit.”

Our annual staycation is never complete until we’ve spent a full afternoon taking in Granville Island. The market and all its offerings are a feast for the tummy and for the eyes. Outside the market and throughout the island are entertainers of every sort, from musicians to magicians.

Granville Island provides an excellent opportunity to support the amazing people in our cultural sector, who often struggle to make a living. Another piece of good news in that regard — Arts Umbrella will be taking over the space that Emily Carr University of Art and Design used to occupy. For a great way to wrap up a long afternoon on the island, have a bite to eat outside at the Granville Island Hotel, where you can watch the boats go sailing by.

I won’t be blogging again until late August or early September. In the meantime, I wish you all a fabulous summer, and urge you to take full advantage of the incredible city we are all so fortunate to be part of.

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View cone demolition – another nail in the coffin of affordable housing

Yesterday, Vision Vancouver approved the application for a tower adjacent to BC Place Stadium. The application is from BC Pavilion Corporation or PavCo, the provincial Crown corporation originally created to manage the Expo 86 site. The tower, one of three PavCo is proposing in total for the site, has created a lot of concern given the fact it will intrude into a view cone of the North Shore Mountains.

Council — with 2 NPA councillors excusing themselves and the 3 remaining non-Vision councillors opposing it — gave PavCo the green light for the proposal: At 400 feet if all of the units are market rentals or, if PavCo keeps to the height restriction of 300 feet required to protect the view, the Crown corporation can choose to build condos for outright sale or market rentals.

Vision Vancouver continues to push the myth that market rentals can somehow help to address today’s housing crisis. One wonders just how unaffordable rental suites will be in a tower overlooking False Creek on one side and with mountain views on the other. My educated guess is that one bedroom units would surely rent for more than $2000 a month. Two bedroom units would be even more expensive.

The real solution to the housing crisis is to require developers to build non-market rentals where rents are geared to income. Historically, such suites have rented for no more than 30% of a person’s income.

Yesterday, Vision Vancouver announced to the world that Vancouver’s view cones are for sale. Let’s make certain that this October we elect a city council prepared to protect our city’s few remaining view cones and willing to truly address our housing crisis.

steve bohus pavco

“MICROSCOPIC” INTRUSION: Massing model of proposed PavCo tower & other proposed towers, as viewed from Cambie Bridge. Mayor Gregor Robertson, in denouncing opposition to the proposed PavCo tower, called the intrusion into the view cone “microscopic”, and wondered why opponents didn’t mind other things that blocked views, like traffic lights and trees. Opposition stems in part from the failure of market rentals to address the housing crisis, since market rentals are out-of-reach for average Vancouverites; meanwhile Vision Vancouver continues to push the myth that market rentals can somehow help to address our housing crisis. Image courtesy of Steve Bohus @stevebohus

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, City Hall, developers, gentrification, Heritage, homelessness, National Housing Strategy, NPA, Planning, Vancouver, Vancouver election, viaducts, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Affordable rents: There’s a way, just no will

Hurried “chainsaw massacre” of our city’s zoning

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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 , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Developers, their fair share — and real low-cost housing