Political strategies

Vancouver housing strategies abound, but will a fractured council hamper the next mayor?

VANCOUVER — Voters in Vancouver’s mayoral election faced an array of proposed solutions to the city’s chronic housing unaffordability — but the same question hangs over all mayoral candidates and their promises.

It’s whether they’ll be dealing with the kind of splintered advice that incumbent Kennedy Stewart has faced for the past four years.

Statistics Canada data released last month confirmed that British Columbia leads the country as the province with the highest rate of unaffordable housing, largely due to the number of people paying high rents to live in downtown Vancouver.

The city’s unaffordability of home prices and income is also consistently ranked among the worst in the world.

“(People) can’t find adequate spaces to live in, either to buy or to rent, and so how to get more homes on the market, I think, has become the overriding issue,” said Hamish, a political scientist. from the University of the Fraser Valley. said Telford.

Mayoral candidates in Oct. 15 election offer landmark housing promises, ranging from increasing the housing stock to improving the permitting process to destroying the city’s current housing plans on behalf of more cooperatives.

But implementing those plans — for whoever wins the top job — could be complicated.

As one of the few major Canadian cities without neighborhoods, following the 15 people running to be mayor and the 59 candidates for one of 10 council seats can be dizzying.

In a bid to bring order to the chaos, candidates often run slates under various party banners, but Telford thinks the next mayor is unlikely to have a council majority of the same listing.

“It will then be the job of the mayor, really, to make this divided council functional,” he said.

“And although they all agree that the major problem is housing, they may have different approaches to solving the problem, and that will be the challenge for whoever becomes mayor, to get the council to pull in one direction at this subject.”

Incumbent Stewart, a former NDP MP, was first elected mayor in 2018 after running as an independent.

After four years of what he says is a “fractured” council with representatives from four different parties, he created his own party – Forward Together – to run with a list of candidates aiming for the majority.

He thinks the party has a good chance but says his experience has prepared him if it doesn’t happen.

“Regardless of the circumstances, I know I can push this plan forward, although it would be a lot easier with a majority,” he said.

Stewart’s 2018 campaign promised voters 85,000 homes over 10 years. Last year, the board approved 8,800 units, he said.

In this campaign, the pledge has more than doubled to reach 220,000 homes in 10 years, the majority being rental or social housing.

To get there, he’s leaning heavily on the city’s Broadway and Vancouver plans, which aim to increase housing density across large swaths of the city, as well as completing major construction projects, according to him, the developers delayed the question of whether the existing advice would give the green light.

“This council has been completely fragmented and so it’s so unpredictable when you bring a big project to the council whether it passes or not,” he said.

At the same time, he promised rental protections for those whose homes are being redeveloped.

“If your building needs to be remodeled, all of your costs are covered and then you can move back into the new building that replaces your old building at the same or lower rent,” he said.

Four years ago, Ken Sim was the Nonpartisan Association candidate who lost to Stewart by less than 1,000 votes. He said he’s spent years preparing for this time around and is confident he and his new ABC Vancouver party can win a majority and will be happy to work with others.

When it comes to housing, Sim’s argument is to speed up the city’s permitting process and pre-approve certain housing designs.

“If you wanted a simple renovation permit, you should be able to get it in three days. If you wanted to build a single-family home or a lane house or a townhouse, you could get your permit in three weeks; for low-rise and mid-rise buildings designed by professionals, within three months; and complex builds in a year, down from the six to 12 years that people expect now,” he said.

Mark Marissen, the mayoral candidate for Progress Vancouver, did not respond to a request for comment. The party’s platform includes a promise to provide $1,200 per household to all renters in Vancouver and waive one year of property taxes for all first-time home buyers.

“We will end the ban on apartments and more than double the number of housing starts across the city, mainly with family apartments of four to six floors. It makes sense to capture this new value and send it directly to the people who need it most,” Marissen said in a press release.

Housing and the related issue of homelessness dominated a series of pre-election polls as key issues in Vancouver, but crime and law and order also featured prominently during the campaign.

For the first time, the Vancouver Police Union held a mayoral debate and took the unprecedented step of endorsing a candidate, Sim.

He campaigned on a pledge to hire 100 more police officers and 100 mental health nurses to help address public safety issues, which he said could be funded without cutting basic services.

“We intuitively know that for every dollar we invest in this program, we should see a saving of at least as much, if not more, in avoided downstream costs to the system,” he said.

The NPA, which has seen four of its five councilors quit the party in the current term, is represented by Fred Harding in the mayoral race.

Harding, a former West Vancouver police officer, is campaigning hard on law and order and vowing to tackle what he sees as a “public safety crisis” in the city.

He wants to ask the federal or provincial government about $50 million a year for the next few years to augment the city’s police force, potentially bringing back retired officers or offering short-term secondments from other services. from police.

While he acknowledges it would be rare for another level of government to step in and fund municipal police, Harding said he was confident Ottawa or the province would step in.

“It’s also very rare for a city to be in crisis like Vancouver is. Remember, we’re not talking about a bad situation, we’re talking about a crisis.

On housing, the NPA also promises to speed up the permitting process, although Harding could not offer specific targets.

On the other side of the housing debate is Colleen Hardwick, who is aiming to rise from city councilor to mayor under the TEAM for a Livable Vancouver banner.

Hardwick said staying as what looked like a solo voice on the board for the past four years would do nothing but be distasteful to me.

“I knew it was essential to put together a team with a majority of six votes, in order to make all the changes that are really needed in the city,” she said. The mayor gets a deciding vote in the event of a 5-5 council deadlock.

Hardwick does not believe that the solution to Vancouver’s expensive housing is to increase the stock, putting her at odds with her old party, the NPA, and has instead promised to repeal the Vancouver plan and the Broadway plan.

She believes that the additional housing offered under these plans is unnecessary and would actually increase the overall cost of housing.

Instead, she proposes spending $500 million to build co-op housing on city-owned land to generate revenue for the city and create 2,000 units.

Hardwick wants to create a Downtown Eastside commissioner who would be responsible for auditing the services offered to residents.

“The intention is for the Commissioner to act as a catalyst to bring other levels of government together to complete this audit, as doing so will help us understand how to be more effective in our ways of addressing homelessness,” she said. .

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 12, 2022.

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