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Municipal Politics

Time for a New Generation at Vancouver City Hall

A decade of failure on housing affordability shows need for new people and new ideas.

Scott de Lange Boom 28 Feb

Scott de Lange Boom is a housing-insecure young professional and housing advocate. He’s co-founder of the PolitiCoast podcast.

Vancouver is poised for change. Mayor Gregor Robertson and more than half of Vision’s councillors have announced they will not be running again — and it’s hardly surprising. There is a palpable sense of anger in this city, most of it directed at City Hall.

Housing reaches new heights of unaffordability with each passing year. Families are having to make heart-wrenching choices about whether they should seek greener pastures where a down payment doesn’t take more than 20 years of saving or they have more choices to rent than a broom closet in a condo or a mouldy basement.

These problems, while always brewing in the background, have ballooned under Vision’s tenure, while the mayor and his councillors appeared to be asleep at the switch. When they finally did respond, it was too little too late.

Vision has largely kept the existing zoning, the bylaws that dictate what can and cannot be built, intact. Its much vaunted “housing reset” came almost a decade after Robertson and Vision took power.

So did the unambitious Cambie Corridor plan which proposes to increase density in the corridor. Ten years after we spent more than $2 billion to build the Canada Line, we are finally allowing a minor increase in housing along the route. But not without still reserving a large amount of the area within walking distance of the transit line for nothing but multimillion-dollar detached houses. The same pattern persists along much of the Expo Line.

In the midst of a housing crisis, this is bordering on outright negligence. During a crisis, when strong leadership is most needed, we have seen an utter lack of it out of City Hall.

Vancouver needs new leadership. We need leaders who are willing to make the hard and necessary choices. Leaders who won’t back down in the face of complaints from a small but vocal minority, but instead will make the unpopular and needed decisions.

When Vancouver needed a leader to confront the housing issue head-on, roll up his or her sleeves and use every tool in the kit to solve the crisis, we got a mayor who instead played the blame game with the province. The single biggest tool in the city’s tool box, land use and permitting what would determine whether housing is scarce or abundant, was barely touched in any meaningful way.

The new government must not be afraid to make sweeping reforms to the city’s land use policies. When purpose-built rental buildings are banned on more than 70 per cent of residential land and are desperately needed in the face of a vacancy rate under one per cent, it is little wonder rents are skyrocketing and unscrupulous landlords capitalizing on the situation. Sadly Vision has done little to end the apartment ban.

The one promising development to come out of City Hall has been the initiative advanced by the city’s newest councillor, Hector Bremner, to take on Vancouver’s most atrocious zoning by changing West Point Grey’s mandatory mansions’ zoning in favour of allowing six-storey rental buildings in the area directly adjacent to UBC. (Bremner is seeking the NPA nomination to run for mayor in October’s municipal election.)

Unfortunately, Vision and the Green Party voted to bury the motion. Vancouver deserves better than those nominally “progressive” parties that choose to protect millionaires in mansions from the “indignity” of living near renters in the midst of a housing crisis.

Real leaders put the mission before themselves. When given the choice between packing City Hall with communication staffers to gin-up publicity for the mayor, or directing resources to ensure the city can deliver effective and timely services, the choice should be a no-brainer. But the growth in communications staff while approvals for desperately needed homes face ever lengthening delays reveals a deeply misguided sense of priorities.

As long as social and below-market housing projects languish for years in long, cumbersome and understaffed permitting and zoning processes, the crisis will persist. The first priority of the new government has to be to implement a bold and comprehensive plan to deliver housing of all types in a timely and cost-effective manner. Housing delayed is housing denied.

I love Vancouver. This city has given me great opportunities, but with every year it’s accessible to fewer and fewer people. The high cost of living is driving people away. Young people and new families are looking elsewhere for opportunities and a place to put down roots.

Vancouver is the economic heart of B.C. Without fixing the city, we will drive away the next generation of entrepreneurs and push out existing businesses to areas where housing isn’t so desperately scarce and expensive. Without the people and enterprises that contribute so much to B.C., we won’t be able to pay for the aging population’s health care or invest in the next generation. Without strong leadership and bold action, the city and province will become a hollow shell of its former self.

Vancouver deserves a better future. Over the next nine months I will be working hard to ensure we elect a new generation of leaders to the mayor’s office and council chamber. I encourage everyone, particularly millennials, who are now both the largest voting block and the hardest hit by the housing crisis, to do the same. Together we can fix Vancouver.  [Tyee]

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