Put the right pressure in the right place for affordable housing

Hogan’s Alley in 1969: 232 and 240 Union Street, at Main. City of Vancouver Archives, Ref COV-S168-: CVA 203-43

Housing in general and housing affordability in particular continue to grab attention in Vancouver.

In the case of the development of Northeast False Creek, the City of Vancouver owns two blocks on Main Street near Chinatown and Hogan’s Alley that it expropriated in the ’60s for the Georgia Street viaducts.

If ever there were a perfect place and opportunity for the city to build affordable/social housing, surely this would be it. Hogan’s Alley Society is calling on the city to build 100 percent rental housing on this site, with 70 percent of the units earmarked for non-market housing. This would provide much-needed affordable housing in one of Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhoods.

With Vision Vancouver currently holding a majority on city council, I’m not optimistic that the proposal put forward by the society will be acted on by the city’s administration. I would, however, be much more positive if we had a Green/COPE majority at 12th and Cambie.

On another housing front, several metro area cities are looking at the idea of a “locals first” policy when it comes to selling or pre-selling new condo developments. West Vancouver has recently been toying with the concept. The City of Port Moody and the District of North Vancouver have already directed their staff to look at policies along these lines, as has the City of Vancouver.

But I’m not sure “locals first” strategies will have the desired effect. What is needed, instead, is a requirement that all developments over a certain size make one-third of the units available on a rent-geared-to-income basis whereby the renter would never pay more than 30 percent of his or her income on rent.

When it comes to housing, let’s do everything we can to keep putting pressure where it belongs — on Vision Vancouver. Housing affordability is a basic human right and is not something we should leave to the marketplace.

Hogan’s Alley in 1973: The former Union Laundry at 274 Union Street. City of Vancouver Archives, Ref COV-S168-: CVA 203-65

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, developers, economy, gentrification, homelessness, Planning, racism, seniors, viaducts, Vision Vancouver | Tagged | Leave a comment

Reading politico tea leaves

 

Kerry Jang announced the other day that he will not be seeking re-election this fall. This brings the total number of Vision Vancouver council members not running for re-election to five, including Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The only two remaining Vision members of city council, Raymond Louie and Heather Deal, have yet to announce their plans. What does this tell us?

Vision Vancouver is in big trouble. In the recent by-election, the party’s candidate, Diego Cardona, came in fifth. Its primary source of funding at election time, money from big developers, is no longer available with the new regulations brought in by the province banning donations from corporations and unions.

The decision by so many Vision Vancouver council members not to seek re-election tells us that Vision’s troubles are very real. It reminds me of an election many years ago.

In the lead up to the 1993 municipal election, COPE had five city councillors — just one short of a majority. One of the five, Libby Davies, announced she would run for mayor. All of the remaining four COPE councillors decided not to seek re-election. Libby Davie’s campaign for mayor turned out to be a disaster, partly because of all the COPE members not running. At the time, she was at the top of the polls. Philip Owen was at the bottom, but he won the mayor’s seat by a landslide.

We’ll never know whether the four COPE councillors decided not to seek re-election because they could see the writing on the wall — COPE was in trouble — or it was actually their decision not to run again that so mortally wounded the party.

But back to today. I suspect that we now have a situation where Vision Vancouver council members are deciding not to run again because they recognize the fact that Vision is going to do very poorly this fall. However, their decisions not to run make Vision’s bad situation even worse. With so few incumbents running, Vision is left even weaker.

Will Raymond Louie announce his candidacy for mayor? If so, Heather Deal will be the lone remaining Vision councillor, and even she has yet to announce her plans.

For people who watch 12th and Cambie, these are exciting times. This kind of tumult rarely occurs! It may open the door to a new and different majority on city council — a Green/COPE one.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, developers, Green Party, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | 1 Comment

Gregor Robertson: 10 years of disappointments

A week ago, Mayor Gregor Robertson announced that he would not be seeking re-election this fall. So now is the time to reflect on what his 10 years in office have meant.

I’ll tell you up front that I do not look back with any degree of fondness at Gregor Robertson’s time as mayor of Vancouver. Here are a few examples that explain why.

When a developer wishes to apply to city council to rezone a piece of property, a public hearing is convened, giving members of the public, both supporters and opponents of the project, the opportunity to speak to council about the application. Prior to Gregor Robertson being elected mayor, city councillors could only vote yea or nay on a developer’s rezoning application if they had been present at the public hearing. This made sense as delegations from the public assumed their comments would be taken into consideration.

But Mayor Gregor Robertson changed all this. Partway through his tenure on council, he changed the public hearing bylaw to make it no longer a requirement for city councillors to be present throughout the public hearing if they wished to vote on the developer’s application.

It’s now quite common to witness members of Mayor Robertson’s party, Vision Vancouver, absent themselves from large portions of public hearings, and yet still vote on these developers’ applications. I should also note that rarely, if ever, does the mayor or his party vote against developers seeking to rezone their properties at public hearings.

Another example: Prior to Gregor Robertson being elected mayor, it was not uncommon for city council of the day to reduce or eliminate development cost levies if a developer agreed to provide a certain amount of social housing within the proposed project. This “carrot on a stick” approach resulted in much-needed social housing at no cost to taxpayers.

But Mayor Robertson changed the definition of social housing to include rental housing at market rates. It’s now quite common for a developer to avoid paying development cost levies simply by including rental housing at market rates, which does nothing to provide much-needed affordable housing.

In addition, I’d like to point out that Vision Vancouver’s campaigns under Mayor Gregor Robertson were bankrolled by developers every election throughout the past 10 years.

To underscore all of this, we have more homeless people on our streets today than when he first ran for mayor in 2008 on a platform that promised to bring homelessness to an end.

We have a perfect example of his failure in this regard from this week’s public hearing regarding a 2016 rezoning proposal at 58 W. Hastings. Activists brought to the public hearing a written promise actually signed by the mayor that 100 percent of the project would be “welfare/pension-rate community-controlled housing”, also known as shelter rate housing. The reality today is that only one-third of the project is at shelter rates. Another broken promise.

With the exception of a few positive environmental initiatives — such as all the improvements for cycling in the city — Mayor Gregor Robertson has implemented an agenda very similar to that of the Non-Partisan Association, which has always supported businesses and developers at the expense of neighbourhoods and the average citizen. Ergo my well-known expression: Vision Vancouver is the NPA, only with bike lanes.

With the mayor’s departure coupled with those of Vision councillors Geoff Meggs, Andrea Reimer and Tim Stevenson, one could say that Vision Vancouver’s days are numbered — and that we’re about to witness a sea change at 12th and Cambie in this fall’s municipal election.

I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll see a Green/COPE majority and finally enjoy a positive change that puts neighbourhood needs ahead of the wishes of big developers.

 

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, Canadian politics, City Hall, COPE, developers, gentrification, Green Party, homelessness, influence peddling, NPA, People Power, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vancouver Park Board, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A made-in-B.C. ridesharing solution is the winner!

The provincial government’s all-party committee on ridesharing is in the midst of holding hearings on whether or not to allow this service into British Columbia.

I’ve written about this topic before expressing my concerns about the negative impact ridesharing services such Uber and Lyft will have on taxi drivers. One of my biggest concerns is that many taxi drivers will see their life savings put at risk if the taxi industry is not protected one way or another.

A number of people at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have researched and spoken out about interesting alternatives that offer homegrown solutions with various forms of ridesharing, car-sharing or just plain sharing of ride resources, some of which can protect taxi drivers at the same time.

In each case, the solution is tailor-made for the jurisdiction concerned and avoids some of the pitfalls and poor practices that have plagued ride-hailing companies. (Employee mistreatment and corporate scandals at both Uber and Lyft have been well-documented, including Lyft’s opposition to its drivers’ attempts to unionize.).

For instance, in Winnipeg taxi drivers formed their own successful taxi cooperative. In some jurisdictions in the States, community-owned ride-sharing services have sprung up.

When both Uber and Lyft turned their backs on Austin, Texas, for example, a number of ride-hailing alternatives filled the void, including the community-based RideAustin. This non-profit, community-based rideshare service enables drivers to earn more income since RideAustin doesn’t take any commission, plus it donates monies raised to various community health and cultural initiatives.

What a great idea for B.C.! A community-owned ridesharing service could be better tailored to offer a win-win solution — better service for the consumer, but also protection for the current taxi drivers and a boost for the community. This week, the B.C. Taxi Association recommended a made-in-B.C. solution to the all-party committee: a single app that would give access to all ride services (including both taxis and Uber).

Let’s keep our eye on B.C.’s ride-sharing strategy and the all-party committee hearings. Some big changes appear to be on their way.

Posted in British Columbia, Green Party, NDP, taxi, transportation, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A tip of the top hat to the Westender

Last week the Westender newspaper announced they were ceasing publication of their print edition. While they will continue to have a web presence, hard copies will no longer find their way to your doorstep or local business.

I still have fond memories of the time in the late 1980s when I began to run ads in local newspapers for my law practice. The Westender was the local community newspaper I went to first. Maurice Goldberg, the ad salesman at the time, was a remarkable fellow. He was in his 70s with no retirement on the horizon and took public transit everywhere. He showed a keen interest in me and my law firm. Selling an ad to me was almost secondary. He truly represented what set local newspapers apart from all other forms of media. The Westender in those days was chock-a-block with interesting articles about local events in the West End, especially art and cultural happenings, as well as municipal politics — all in all, things you would never learn from the big dailies.

What does the demise of the Westender print edition mean? Besides the loss of excellent jobs for some of its personnel, I’m sad to say it also signals another nail in the coffin of community newspapers. For us readers, when these types of smaller, community papers close, it’s a loss not just from a pleasure perspective — the pleasure we gain by reading them.

More importantly, it’s also the loss of some of our understanding of both local culture and local politics along with the ability to keep local politicians accountable. Slowly but surely, we’re losing critical information about our community’s culture along with the bright lights shining into all the nooks and crannies at 12th and Cambie. In the case of the latter, it means we will inevitably end up with much poorer government.

Fingers crossed that the Vancouver Courier and the Georgia Straight remain healthy and vibrant. While they have both shrunk a fair amount over the past few years, they still play a vital role in keeping the fifth estate alive.

On that hopeful note, I want to tell you that this is my last blog for the year. My next one will be in early January. In the meantime, Penny and I wish you and your family the very best of the season and a Happy New Year!

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It’s been a great ride!

I’ve been on the COPE executive on and off for some 30 years. But at our AGM in November I did not seek re-election to the executive board. At the same time, I announced I would not be running again for elected office, starting with the 2018 municipal election in Vancouver.

I was first attracted to COPE back in the late 1970s while still in my teens. I would attend city council meetings and never ceased to be impressed by the lone COPE city councillor, Harry Rankin. Harry was always able to effortlessly summarize a complex debate into common sense. He was also a masterful debater, always standing up for public delegations and the average person. COPE — an alternative to the developer-friendly NPA — strongly advocated for a city council focused on the needs of citizens and neighbourhoods. Harry and COPE were a match made in heaven.

2017 HandyDART press conference

Some of the amazing 2014 COPE campaign team!

In the early 1980s, COPE appointed me to the Vancouver Public Library board of directors; in 1986, I was elected chair. From this position, I lobbied successfully for a significant increase in library services for print-disabled people and for Vancouver’s many multilingual communities.

 

In 1990, I was elected to my first three-year-term as a COPE park board commissioner. Working with the community, we at COPE were able to achieve a number of victories. One of the biggest ones was that we forced the then-NPA majority to phase out the long-held practice of having privately catered dinners for park board commissioners before their meetings. The money saved was diverted into children’s programming. We also moved the park board toward a pesticide-free policy.

Occupy Vancouver in 2011

In 1993, I was re-elected to a second three-year term on the park board. Working with environmental groups, COPE forced the NPA to adopt a bylaw significantly restricting the Vancouver Public Aquarium’s ability to capture whales from the wild.

In 1999, I was elected to a three-year term on Vancouver city council. My most memorable recollection of that term was the lockout of bus drivers by TransLink. Public transitcame to a halt. Many held NPA councillor George Puil responsible for the lockout because as chair of TransLink, he took a very anti-union position.

Working with the public and the bus drivers, COPE organized a massive occupation of city council chambers. The NPA councillors and mayor fled the chamber! Days later, an agreement was reached between TransLink and the bus drivers, ending a long and bitter lockout.

Poster from a campaign I co-organized with COPE to reinstate the ward system for Vancouver elections.

In 2002, I was re-elected to city council, this time with what appeared to be a COPE majority. Eight of the 10 city councillors elected along with the mayor were COPE candidates. Although COPE soon broke into two factions — COPE Classic and COPE Lite — I managed to get city council to implement two initiatives I’m still very proud of. Both of these initiatives are still in place.

COPE campaign trail 2005

The first was an Ethical Purchasing Policy I worked on with Raymond Louie — one of the many people of other political stripes I could work with over the years as long as we shared certain values. It ensures that all suppliers to the City of Vancouver pay living wages to employees and that all products and services they supply to the city respect the environment and meet fair labour standards, even if they’re from international sources.

The second initiative was the Vancouver Food Policy Council. This is a civic agency that’s responsible for working on food issues and food security for Vancouver and provides advice on these issues to city council. It also does things like connecting seniors who have gardens that need tending with students who would like to do some gardening, and advocating for using schoolyards to teach kids about growing food.

Stuart Mackinnon during my 2011 campaign for City Council

Regrettably, COPE Lite broke away from COPE and went on to become Vision Vancouver — the NPA with bike lanes. However, I’m proud to say that COPE, despite electoral setbacks, has soldiered on and will continue to soldier on. Happily, I will continue to be involved even though I’m not on the executive. I want to contribute what I can to keep a party in the heart of Vancouver politics that puts the average person first.

I have greatly enjoyed my many years of involvement in civic politics. However, there comes a time when all good things must come to an end. It’s time for new blood and fresh ideas within COPE, and I’m very happy to step aside to make room for new leadership.

Penny and I rolling with COPE in the 2014 Pride Parade.

I’m looking forward to spending more time with my wonderful partner Penny, and I’ll continue to serve my clients at my legal practice. And never fear, I am not hanging up my political spurs entirely! I know we need all hands on deck if we want to make Vancouver an affordable place to live again. Watch this space for more articles and critiques of the powers that be!

I look back on my involvement in civic politics with COPE with great memories of what is possible when elected officials work with the community and put neighbourhoods ahead of developers. But I could never have done it without my many, many COPE colleagues, supporters and collaborators over the years.

So a big, heartfelt THANK YOU! to each and every one of you.

It’s been a great ride!

——–

I’m honoured to report that COPE is hosting a dinner in my honour on Thursday, February 15th 2018. There will be dinner, an open bar, and radical luminaries from the community. Proceeds will go to COPE! Click here for more info and to buy tickets

Facebook event page is here

 

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, fiscal responsibility, food security, HandyDART, Harry Rankin, Labour, NPA, TransLink, Vancouver, Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver election, Vancouver Park Board, Vision Vancouver | 1 Comment

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 , , , | Comments Off on Ordinary folks just made a difference!

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 | Comments Off on It’s no trick — campaign finance reform is here!

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 | Comments Off on Transit justice now: Bring HandyDART home