With the election just two days away, Vancouver’s COPE party has rolled out its “Housing Emergency Action Plan” – adding detail to the party’s consistent pledges to attack rising unaffordability with aggressive government intervention.
The plan, according to former NPA city councillor Gordon Price, may help shift public perceptions, causing housing policies once deemed too extreme to be taken seriously.
A summary written by COPE candidates for council Anne Roberts and Derrick O’Keefe pledges an array of efforts, including banning renovictions, building 5,000 non-market homes a year for six years, constructing thousands of modular housing units for homeless citizens, and pressing the provincial government for a rent freeze and a so-called “mansion tax” on homes worth over $5 million.
Here are highlights from the piece circulated to media by Roberts and O’Keefe: “COPE will…
- “introduce a motion establishing a cross-party Renter Protection Committee to advocate for the provincial government to set the maximum allowable rent increase at 0 per cent for the next four years across B.C. and for the province to stop landlords from increasing rents between tenancies…
- “ban renovictions immediately...
- “extend tenant protections across the city to renter living in single family zones….
- “seek a unanimous vote to build modular housing for everyone without a home, starting with 2,100 homes completed within one year...
- “introduce a motion to ask the province to give the city the power to implement progressive property tax on the value of mansions over $5 and $10 million -- the Mansion Tax….
- “reexamine the assets and the mandate and the city’s Property Endowment Fund and the newly created Affordable Housing Fund, to benefit low-income people and renters who need housing now. We’ll also immediately instruct city staff to find the funds to fill the former mayor’s promise that the social housing at 58 W. Hastings be rented at 100 per cent welfare/pension rates….
- “direct staff to enforce Section 23.8 of the Standards of Maintenance bylaw in SROs that allows the city to do necessary work and bill the owner, while also working to renovate or replace all 3,500 SRO rooms with self-contained homes through VAHA, including by using compulsory public purchase.”
- “move immediately to begin construction of non-market housing….30,000 new non-market homes over the next six years...
- “re-assign staff from the city’s real estate section to create a Co-op Housing Action Team to develop in-house expertise to building and maintaining publicly owned co-ops. Their job will be to renew new existing co-op leases within the first year, ensuring co-ops are affordable for low-income people, and to obtain federal and provincial revenues by working with CMHC and BC Housing and other agencies. They’ll also work with Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations to use Mansion Tax revenue to support First Nations housing land trusts.”
Finally, COPE would “direct staff to bring to council a report that outlines how the city can use new “rental-only zoning” powers to protect existing tenants, avoid gentrification, provide housing that’s affordable for low-income people, and extract wealth from any upzonings.”
Opening the ‘window’
Price called COPE’s plan a “great example of Overton Windowing,” referring to a theory about how ideas once considered extreme can become more acceptable to a wider public.
“COPE’s strategy, I assume, is to shift the ‘acceptable’ ‘realistic’ ‘seriously considered’ terms of public discourse to include ideas and policies outside the ‘comfort zone’ of other parties, media, academia, etc.,” said Price, responding by email to a Tyee request for comment. “That allows others to appear to be ‘moderate’ when the propose policies that, without COPE, would seem to be too extreme. And hence, the debate and then policy, shift in their direction.
“It works when (almost) everyone believes the party wouldn’t have a chance to implement their proposals, but the hope that is in some form they get incorporated over time by other parties who seem moderate by comparison,” Price explained.
Price noted “three problems: If they do get elected, it’s rather like the dog catching the bus. Other parties can Overton too, and everything gets polarized. And when middle ground is lost, bad things can happen.”
Price pointed to the loosened boundaries of public discourse in Trump-era U.S. as an example of such unintended consequences.
Patrick Condon, the UBC professor of urban design who was seeking to be COPE’s mayoral candidate before health issues cut short his run, said he had little to do with drafting the party’s housing plan but said “COPE is right to call this housing crisis ‘an emergency’” and said the only way to “fix a broken housing market is by introducing a robust non-market housing sector.”
“Well over 30,000 households are spending more than 50 per cent of their income on housing when 30 per cent has long been considered the upper secure limit,” Condon noted. “COPE's call for a four year rent freeze, far from being radical, is a measured response to this emergency. Those who say that this will stop the construction of new purpose built rental units have not been paying attention. Given how pitifully low our average wages are in Vancouver - the lowest of any major city in all of Canada - even if land was free the market can’t build purpose built rental to rent for affordable rates. It won’t pencil out.”
COPE has chosen not to endorse any candidate for mayor. The Action Plan announcement by Roberts and O’Keefe finishing by pledging: “To implement these urgent measures, we are ready to work with whomever is elected on October 20th.”