Vancouver’s developer-backed municipal party, Vision Vancouver, has recently approved the final recommendations of its Housing Affordability Task Force. The recommendations have been widely criticized for being more of the same pro-market ideology — higher density without any affordable housing!
What would a progressive City Council propose? COPE has recently released its own housing recommendations in its 2012 Affordable Housing Report. Here is a summary and some thoughts on the eight key recommendations of that report.
1. Use a concrete, measurable definition of affordability that is fair to all income levels. Use the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation [CMHC] definition – a definition used and accepted for decades by all levels of government in Canada. CMHC defines affordable housing as housing that costs no more than 30% of household income at every income level. Developers have consistently argued that units rented or sold at market rates are ‘affordable’. This is based on the argument that if someone is able to afford it, it is affordable.
2. A broader and deeper definition of homelessness is needed than the one currently used by the City’s Task Force. During and after the 2008 election the Mayor promised to end homelessness in Vancouver by 2015. More recently this commitment has been amended to “street homelessness.” COPE adopts the Canadian Homelessness Research Network definition which includes: unsheltered (eg. on the street), emergency sheltered, those in temporary accommodation, and at-risk of homelessness, i.e. those whose housing situation is precarious or does not meet public health and safety standards.
3. Stop issuing permits that lead to renoviction. The eviction of tenants is one of the driving causes of homelessness. Renovictions – now infamous in Vancouver – occur when a property owner renovates an apartment and evicts tenants in order to raise rents. The City of Vancouver facilitates this process by issuing permits for renovations and redevelopments that put tenants on the street.
“COPE will issue no demolition or renovation permits in rental buildings that lead to evictions [other than in extreme and unforeseeable health and safety situations] for 6 months, while a full public review of the permitting process as it relates to renters and evictions is completed with the goal of eliminating renovictions.”
4. Build City-owned and resident-managed affordable housing. The marketplace is not capable of providing affordable housing for all income levels – as Vision Vancouver seems to think. The City of Vancouver has the resources and land to make affordable housing a reality. COPE will build affordable and social housing that is developed and owned by the City of Vancouver Housing Authority.
5. Enable alternative forms of land and housing tenure. Many cities facilitate the creation of alternative forms of land and housing tenure, including co-operatives, mutual housing associations, and community land trusts. The report states that, “Taking a portion of land and housing out of the private marketplace is essential for creating more affordable housing options for low and moderate-income residents.” COPE seeks to establish a program administered by the Vancouver Housing Authority to work with locally-based financial institutions, non-profit organizations, and community housing groups to establish alternative forms of housing tenure.
6. Meaningfully involve residents and community in development projects. Vancouver needs a genuine system of community consultation. Anyone who has taken the time to attend public hearings at City Hall knows that corporate interests drive the development process. City Councils need to take advantage of the insight and energy of tenants when creating new developments. COPE would prioritize the progressive and balanced input of the community and residents over the interests of real-estate lobbyists and those who profit from housing construction.
7. Acknowledge the real issue of Gentrification. Gentrification is a real problem in Vancouver with real effects on the lives of low and middle-income people. In the name of building “mixed communities,” policy-makers have created a situation in which the stock of affordable low-income housing has been reduced substantially in affordable neighborhoods like the DTES. Expensive condos have taken their place. Services, amenities and retail outlets have responded to changing demographics by raising prices, while police and private security have increased ticketing and harassment of low-income residents, further complicating the lives of the most marginalized people in the city. COPE is developing a plan to preserve the tenure of low-income residents, Aboriginal people, Chinese seniors, and other existing residents of the DTES. If elected COPE would use zoning and other city planning tools to preserve affordability in Vancouver.
8. Strengthen inclusionary Zoning. In contrast to Vision’s recent decision to diminish inclusionary zoning requirements in new and existing neighborhoods, COPE is committed to an inclusionary zoning approach to city planning. COPE would ensure that each neighbourhood in Vancouver better reflects the income mix of the city. New housing developments should have a fixed per cent of social housing and affordable housing. COPE supports a 1/3 social housing, 1/3 affordable housing, 1/3 market rental ratio for all developments of more than eight units. COPE also recognizes that mixed developments should not be used to gentrify affordable neighborhoods.
The difference between Vision and COPE has never been clearer — where affordable housing is needed, Vision offers nothing but higher density. COPE, on the other hand, proposes real solutions.