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COPE Unveils Last Minute ‘Housing Emergency Action Plan’

Policies once deemed extreme may find traction: former NPA councilor Price

David Beers 18 Oct

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.

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…

COPE’s housing plan demonstrates little faith that market forces can restore affordability to Vancouver, vowing to…

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.”  [Tyee]

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