By FRANCES BULA
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, October 13, 2018
VANCOUVER -- Peter Cox wants to vote for people in the Vancouver civic election who will tackle housing for people like him: a renter.
The 41-year-old, who runs his own recycling business, is renting a one-bedroom condo in Fairview for a reasonable $1,400 a month, but worries about how precarious it is for renters in the city, with most of their options squeezed into the small spaces allowed for apartments in the city.
Like many voters in this election, Mr. Cox is paying the most attention during the campaign to how candidates are proposing to tackle Vancouver's sky-high prices for both renters and owners.
Poll after poll shows housing is the top issue.
Real estate prices have flattened, but it's still nearly impossible to find a house for less than $1-million, even in the cheapest part of town, and the rental-vacancy rate remains near zero while rents continue to go up.
As a result, parties and candidates are pitching multiple solutions, leaving voters to sort out a mass of sometimes contradictory, sometimes overlapping, ideas.
Most contestants say they will donate city land for housing, presumably more than the 20 sites already dedicated for that purpose in the past few years, and that they'll finally sort out the logjam in the permitting department.
And everyone is talking about more housing of some kind.
THE PROMISES Independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart is promising to double the city's current plan for building homes for lower-income earners, with 25,000 new homes in the next 10 years that would be affordable units managed by non-profits.
The Non-Partisan Association's mayoral candidate Ken Sim has talked about allowing two basement suites in every house as a short-term fix that could provide 40,000 new homes, with a promise to conduct a citywide planning process that would establish where new development can occur.
Independent Shauna Sylvester talks about creating special housing authorities that will focus on developing housing for certain sectors of employees the city needs.
Hector Bremner of Yes Vancouver has come up with the most aggressive building plan of the bunch, promising that by prezoning areas throughout the city for more density and by speeding up the permit process, 20,000 new homes a year - half of them rental - could be built.
And the Green Party - a group of four council candidates polls and political analysts are saying could end up being the dominant voice on council - has come up with a detailed housing plan that is being widely praised by housing experts and other candidates on the left.
The party is promising that half of all housing that Green councillors would approve would be rented at below-market rates, and that the party would insist that anything new defined as "affordable" would be rented to people for no more than 30 per cent of their household income. That's in contrast to current city policy, which gives developers incentives to build rental properties, but without any requirement that those dwellings be affordable by that 30-per-cent definition.
Housing experts looking at the jungle of policies and initiatives have tried to simplify things for potential voters by categorizing the approaches.
THE PRINCIPLES "There are two ways to address affordability: You can try to push down the wrong side of demand [such as foreign investors or Airbnb] or you can create a lot of supply," says Tom Davidoff, a University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business professor who is a prominent voice in housing analysis.
Prof. Davidoff says parties such as the NPA or Coalition Vancouver, headed by former Conservative MP Wai Young, are essentially saying "do nothing" about either supply or demand.
The left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors and the new ProVancouver, which is especially focused on targeting foreign investment and Airbnb operators, are "very heavy on pushing down demand," Prof. Davidoff says.
Yes Vancouver is all about pushing up supply.
And the rest - Ms. Sylvester, Mr.
Kennedy, the Greens, OneCity and many of the prominent independents - have proposals on both the supply and demand sides, he said, although the Greens are "more moderate on supply" than the others. Those approaches all have some appeal to some sector of voters.
In Vancouver's west-side Dunbar neighbourhood, Alison Bealy, who rents the top half of a Vancouver Special in the area she's called home for 32 years, is mostly interested in Mr. Sim and the NPA's approach.
"Ken Sim said he believes in neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood plans, he believes in consultation," Ms. Bealy said. Like many in the area, she says Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver were a disaster.
"And Hector Bremner just wants to build everything everywhere. We've had 10 years of that and nothing is affordable."
Back in Fairvew, Mr. Cox has been looking at all of those ideas and pondering as well. He's not thrilled by the proposal of two basement suites in every house.
"We've stuffed enough of our renters in the basement," he said.
Instead, he's going to be voting for anyone who will take on the difficult task of introducing denser kinds of housing to the city's single-family neighbourhoods.
That means parties such as OneCity, some independent council candidates who are "urbanists" and one of the two independent mayoral candidates on the left.
But not the Green Party.
THE GREENS FACTOR Although the Green Party looks poised to see all four of its council candidates elected, and Mr. Cox likes some of them, he is hesitating because of the way Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr has voted against so much new housing in the city during her two terms.
According to statistics put out by the mayor's chief of staff, Ms.Carr voted against about a third of the 15,000 units of housing that came to council for approval through public hearings in the past three years.
"Carr's voting record is disappointing," Mr. Cox said. "She should be looking at climate change as an issue."
Vancouver's former head planner, Brent Toderian, also said the Green Party's track record at council is worrying. "When I hear parties that proclaim to be green opposing smart, strategic density, it concerns me."
Green candidates say they are hearing that message and they are trying to reassure voters the party will have a different role going forward.
"When Vision Vancouver had an absolute majority and the ability to push through any legislation, it meant that Adriane's vote wouldn't mean that a project would die on the vine. There was a luxury in being able to vote against something on principle," said Pete Fry, one of the four council candidates.
He said Green Party candidates won't all vote the same way and they do understand they'll have a new role. "We need to have a different approach."
That approach will be key for whichever mayoral candidate wins, as the new leader will likely have to work with a mixed council where the Greens are dominant.
Ms. Sylvester said she believes they, and Ms. Carr, will be a positive force. "I think [Adriane] will play a very different role."
Peter Cox, who lives in a one-bedroom condo in Vancouver, says he's worried about the city's rental market.
RAFAL GERSZAK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL