Burning the fields before the election

Repost of September 21st, 2018 Georgia Straight article


This is a repost of September 21st, 2018 Georgia Straight article.

Vancouver is in the midst of an affordable-housing crisis and our civic government has a drastic solution to this problem: upzone 97 percent of single-family lots. This is an irreversible solution that impacts all residents and will change the face of housing in Vancouver forever. Even more alarming is that this government wants to pass this proposal just one month before the election, and with very little public input.

As someone born and raised in Vancouver, I never never witnessed a proposal this extreme, and I fear for the average Vancouverite who will need to deal with the consequences of this decision. Unfortunately, I am not sure most residents understand what the implications of this proposal are.

By mass upzoning most of Vancouver, this takes away the financial risk to developers to create high-density housing and it will sacrifice huge amounts of developer fees needed to build community amenities like community centres and green spaces. This will cause property values to rise and it will work against all attempts to modulate housing prices to reconnect them with local-taxpayer incomes.

Community activist and former planner Elizabeth Murphy put it this way: “Current policy programs have resulted in massive land-value inflation. City of Vancouver maps from 2016 show how ‘hot’ properties that inflated beyond the average are distributed across the city. They closely reflect the areas of the city that have undergone planning programs for increasing density and the resulting speculative inflation.”

Even UBC professor Tom Davidoff wrote in a 2007 paper that “even if every building in Manhattan grew to 100 stories tall, prices would fall by less than 15 percent.” Patrick Condon seems to agree: “Precedents suggest that a tripling of allowable density, as the mayor proposes, would triple land prices while not reducing housing costs one bit, and lead to the demolition of any heritage house that may be on the parcel.”

With evidence pointing to this move being great for developers and not so great for housing affordability, I suspect wealthy developers will already have staff working on development applications waiting for the mass rezoning to go through. The way I see it, Vision Vancouver is leaving a parting profitable gift to developers.

More importantly, the way this proposal is being pushed through at the last minute, there is a clear and present danger to communities all across Vancouver. This upzoning will also remove any say that residents and the future council have with regards to the future of Vancouver’s development. It disempowers Vancouverites and gives power to a few planners, politicians, and their developer friends. This is an assault on the very core consultative processes and democratic values Canadians believe in.

Have citizens forgotten what Vision Vancouver was criticized heavily on during the last election? They do not listen. Even for this proposal, city residents have been given little notice about the public hearing, and most cannot even attend the scheduled 3 p.m. start time. Keep in mind: many Vancouverites need to work one or two jobs to be able to afford a roof over their heads. Three p.m. is simply not accessible for most residents. It is, however, convenient for the developers and many of their supporters, who often speak at public hearings to protect their own interests.

Experts like Condon and Scot Hein have asked for a full city community-development plan. I agree with that need. This mass rezoning, however, is not a full community plan as it lacks the comprehensive and intensive community consult that accompanies the creation of such a plan.

Thoughtful community plans take time to carefully craft. Hundreds and thousands of opinions from residents are needed to create an accurate picture of what is wanted and needed by Vancouverites. Relying on a select group of "housing experts" to determine the direction of our city continues the disconnect that residents feel between themselves and city officials, who merely offer a handful of senior staff and a few open houses to gather input.

We have seen a surprising amount of public hearings for development proposals just months before the election. Besides this citywide rezoning proposal, the neighbourhoods of Joyce-Collingwood, Grandview-Woodland, Chinatown, Strathcona, and Kitsilano are all undergoing development. It’s important to welcome new neighbours and provide housing, but the process of consultation employed so far is flawed. I have heard from community leaders from various neighbourhood associations who are desperate for this process to be more inclusive. They fear that the voices that are elevated are the ones of planners and developers. As residents who live and contribute to these neighbourhoods, the ones who create the community—they are not prioritized.

This mass rezoning is an assault on democracy and it will be like an atomic bomb going off. Vision Vancouver is going to burn the fields so that the next council will have even more challenges correcting the damage that has been done over the last 10 years.

I urge every city-council candidate—of whatever political stripe—to join me in leading this charge to create a city that truly values every individual—and not just those who are in power.

We need to create a city that is once more fair and just.


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