With both Vancouver and Calgary recently announcing exciting expansions to their transit networks, I thought it would be interesting to compare Vancouver’s Skytrain extension along Broadway to the new Green Line LRT project in Calgary.
There seems to be only one issue this election that everyone is talking about, and it’s housing (note: I covered the minor issues last week). We’re in a crisis and every politician has a plan to make it better.
I’m happy for all the attention. I’m a renter who is frustrated by the ridiculous price of housing and the ever-increasing rents. When I moved to Vancouver in 2006, the market was crazy and it has only gotten worse since.
So what are the politicians promising and will it actually fix anything?
TL/DR: First we’ll go over some background, then we’ll summarize each of the parties positions, and lastly I’ll try to save my opinions for the end.
Why is there a crisis? In short, local wages have not kept pace with the price of housing. People earning average incomes in the city can’t afford to live here. It’s particularly a problem for businesses looking to attract and retain employees; young millenials who would will never be able to afford to buy if things continue; and the poor and marginalized who can’t afford rents anywhere and are becoming homeless in alarming numbers.
How did we get here? Vancouver has always been expensive. But things really went nuts in the past 10 years (just compare Vancouver to Montreal over the past 20 years). Record low interest rates, foreign capital, an investment frenzy, and money laundering are all to blame in some part. For a long time the rising prices were seen as a sign of success and it wasn’t until recently that there’s been enough pressure that politicians have started to act to slow down the housing market.
What has been done? The federal government has been tightening mortgage rules making it harder to borrow money, and interest rates are slowly rising after a decade of very low borrowing costs. The BC government brought in a foreign buyers tax and a speculation tax. And in Vancouver we have an empty homes tax, Airbnb restrictions, and 600 new units of modular housing for the homeless. Most of these actions were done in the past year, so it’s probably too early to tell if they’re having a measurable impact, but Vancouverites are still clamouring for action in this election.
What can the city do? The city doesn’t have a lot of power. Roughly half of what the various politicians are proposing will require lobbying the provincial and federal governments to make changes. But there are some things it can do on its own.
Other than the aforementioned empty homes tax and Airbnb regulations, the city controls zoning, building regulations, property tax rates, and owns a bunch of land.
77% of residential land in Vancouver is zoned for only single family homes (RS1) – no apartments, condos, or townhouses allowed. Not surprisingly these homes are impossible to buy for anyone without existing wealth. It is possible for the city to rezone these neighbourhoods to allow denser housing options that would distribute the high cost of land between more properties and bring down the price. However, many people suggest this would destroy the character of these neighbourhoods and would just trigger more speculation and higher prices without achieving true affordability.
There’s been a number of ideas floated by the various politicians running for office. The most common is support for temporary modular housing to help the most vulnerable. Some of the parties support changing zoning to increase the supply of housing, but others think property owners should be consulted more before we change the character of the single family areas of the city.
Note: Many of the candidates have been clarifying their positions on housing in this twitter thread. I’ve been doing my best to update the graph above to reflect that.
Vision is largely running on their record for the past 10 years. They’ve been both accused of not doing enough and moving too fast. They did a decent job tackling homelessness with shelters and temporary module housing projects, but they waited too long to act on general housing affordability. In 2015, Mayor Gregor Robertson even accused UBC prof Andy Yan of being racist for suggesting foreign money was fueling Vancouver’s hot housing market – a real lowpoint for Vision.
Since then they brought in the empty homes tax, regulated short term rentals (like Airbnb), built 600+ units of temporary modular housing – all innovative programs in Canada. One of their last acts was to change the zoning for Vancouver’s single family neighbourhoods to allow duplexes on all lots with their controversial Making Room policy.
Their housing plan includes:
tripling the empty homes tax
building more modular housing
expanding RS1 to allow triplexes, rowhouses, and townhouses in all neighbourhoods
YES Vancouver (and its leader Hector Bremner) deserves much of credit for the bold zoning changes that other parties like OneCity (and even Vision) are talking about now. 4 years ago policies like that would never have been considered, but Bremner won last year’s by-election with a promise to densify Vancouver’s single family neighbourhoods.
YES Vancouver has one of the most detailed housing platforms (a whopping 49 page pdf) and it’s the only issue the party is talking about. They don’t have a single policy that isn’t housing related.
The #LetsFixHousing action plan includes:
rezoning the single family neighbourhoods to allow triplex, fourplexes, and small apartment buildings.
incentivizing purpose built rental buildings
more density near rapid transit
supporting temporary modular housing
a 50% capital gains tax on speculators who flip properties
OneCity has proposed solving the housing crisis with a combination of zoning to increase housing availability, taxes to discourage speculation and bring in revenue, and the construction of thousands of new units of subsidized housing on city-owned land.
The main difference with Yes Vancouver, is OneCity is proposing more city-funded housing projects paid for with new taxes that will also curb speculation.
Their platform includes:
zoning changes to allow more apartments and social housing in all neighbourhoods
The Green Party housing platform is big on goals and platitudes (like “recognizing the right to housing”, “defining affordability relative to local incomes”, and “setting a goal of 50% below-market-rate housing”) and short on actual actions. Their track record when it comes to supporting the construction of more housing in Vancouver is not good. As Kevin Quinlan points out, Adriane Carr frequently voted against housing projects if there was any neighbourhood opposition.
For #vanpoli followers, the City Councillor who voted against the most housing projects at public hearing this past term was Green Clr Adriane Carr, by a significant margin. 4575 units of housing she voted no to. That works out to 32% of all housing that came to public hearing
The Greens do have one of the more unique housing proposals: resident-workers housing. They point to Whistler as a model, where 50% of units in all multi-unit condos are sold to the city at half the market rate for worker housing. In Vancouver, they suggest a similar model could be used for firefighters, police, teachers, child-care workers, and health care workers. They also suggest using school land to build housing for teachers.
The Green platform includes:
allowing two or more secondary suites
developing a city-wide plan
retaining character homes
getting rid of parking minimums
rental only zoning to protect older apartment buildings
Kennedy Stewart is a housing policy nerd. When he decided to run in May, he suggested the city should wait to see how the bunch of new measures from the city and province are working before adding more policies. Which is the rational, data nerd approach. However, sensing the frustration in Vancouver, he’s since come out with a number of proposals to fix things, including:
tripling the empty homes tax
using rental zoning laws to protect apartments
allowing triplexes and fourplexes on single lots in the least-dense neighbourhoods
big targets for new units 85,000 over 4 years (including 25,000 rentals)
Shauna is a huge fan of co-op housing, and wants to make Vancouver the North American capital for co-ops and co-housing. She’s focussed most of her housing platform around a goal of a 3% vacancy rate and the actions needed to get there. She’s proposing:
speeding up the construction of purpose built rental
allowing upzoning of single family lots to allow duplexes or triplexes, but only if they pay a CAC (Community Amenity Contribution)
supporting a land-value capture tax like OneCity’s
As a co-founder of Abundant Housing, Adrian has been a huge advocate for more housing choices in all neighbourhoods of Vancouver. He’s a big proponent of incentivising purpose built rental and thinks Vancouver needs more housing options between the two extremes we predominantly have right now – single family homes and huge condo buildings. His housing ideas are probably closest to YES Vancouver.
A young renter who wants to ensure there is more housing options for everyone. His platform focuses on purpose built rental, ending the “apartment ban” in Vancouver’s residential neighbourhoods, and decreasing minimum parking requirements.
Sarah’s platform focuses more on the opioid crisis, but she does express explicit support for co-op housing in his platform.
My favourite proposal is OneCity’s land value tax. Although the details still need to be worked out, I think it’s crucial that the city institute a system to capture the increasing value of the land. I like that the tax both reduces speculation and also raises money for the city to spend on social housing.
I’m not a fan of the rent freeze proposed by COPE, although it would directly benefit me. The reason rents keep rising is that the vacancy rate is less than 1% in Vancouver. That is fundamentally what needs to change. A rent freeze discourages the building of new rental buildings and creates an ever-increasing gap between the rents of people who have lived here for a long time (rent-controlled) and what rents are for people just moving here (what the market wants to charge). It also traps people in their unit. Market rents in our neighbourhood are 30%-50% higher than what we’re paying right now. We can’t afford to move. Luckily we have a good landlord and live in a stable building, but for those who don’t it’s a real problem. COPE is proposing tying rent to the unit instead of the tenants so it wouldn’t be able to rise when a new tenant moves in, but that would be a huge change and would really discourage new apartment construction.
The Green’s resident-workers housing proposal is interesting, but I can’t see it working in Vancouver. It makes sense for a resort town like Whistler, where there’s a clear split between the tourists and the workers. But in Vancouver, the majority of residents are workers. Why single out a few professions (like firefighters and nurses) for special housing? And the proposal to put teachers housing on school grounds is unique but equally bizarre. I can’t see any teachers wanting to live on the school grounds where they teach. Full points for creativity, but I think we need solutions that provide housing for everyone.
I think the most important part of any party’s housing platform is not the specific policies, but the urgency to act. It feels like some parties are favouring older property owners who are resistant to change over younger renters who are desperate for it. The language is guarded but the biases are clear. The NPA and Green Party are the NIMBY parties, talking about preserving neighbourhood character and consultation with neighbourhood groups. It is language you won’t hear from the YIMBY parties like OneCity,YES Vancouver, or (to a lesser degree) Vision. Even COPE shows more urgency to act with policies targeted at renters.
We’re less than a month away from the election and we now have platforms to judge the candidates by. Last month, I did a high level overview of the parties. Here are some of the more interesting ideas floating around in their platforms.
Alcohol in Parks and Beaches
It’s a pretty simple idea. Adults should be able to indulge in a glass of wine on the beach or growler of beer in the park responsibly without risking $230 fine. Supporters of allowing alcohol in parks, at least on a trial basis include:
OneCity, who first brought it up with their Thirsty for Change campaign
Funding is now secured for the Broadway subway line, from VCC-Clark to Arbutus, with construction beginning in 2020 and finishing in 2025. Some local politicians are arguing that we should build it right the first time and extend it all the way to UBC. Normally transit priorities are set by Translink which is a regional body and needs buy in from other cities in Metro Vancouver, but as outgoing councillor George Affleck points out, the Broadway line is not funded by Translink so the city could fund the extension to UBC without regional buy-in.
Pushing for the Broadway Line all the way to UBC in a single construction phase are:
Considering that opioid overdoses are killing hundreds of Vancouverites every year, it’s surprising how little attention politicians are giving it. Here’s a roundup of the ideas proposed by the politicians who are brave enough to tackle what is obviously a complicated issue.
Leading the charge for a better response to the opioid crisis is Sarah Blyth, the founder and executive director of the Overdose Prevention Society and independent candidate for council. She’s proposing more overdose prevention sites, street drug checking programs, and a wider range of treatment options.
The other politicians who are talking about the issue mostly agree with Sarah Blyth, and are also calling for various degrees of drug decriminalization.
Unlike in past elections where bike lanes were one of the major issues, few parties are talking about them, other than Coalition Vancouver who wants to rip them out. I guess that’s progress but I still want to know where the parties stand. Hopefully we’ll know more when Hub releases its survey results in early October.
In general, some of the strongest champions for cycling and active transportation are:
Tanya Paz, from Vision Vancouver has chaired the Active Transportation Policy Council since 2013.
TL;DR – If you want a list of who to vote for, wait for the next blog post. This is just about the parties. OneCity is my favourite.
Vancouver is about to enter one of the most interesting and uncertain elections in recent history. The mayor and most of the current councillors are not running for re-election, a bunch of new parties with similar sounding names have formed, and new campaign finance rules are limiting the influence of big moneyed donors like developers.
Here’s my attempt to distill the issues and help make you an informed voter. Note, this is my personal opinion and is completely subjective. I have plenty of biases – I’m a parent, renter, computer nerd, environmentalist, cyclist, and urbanist.
You will be voting for 1 Mayor, 10 city councilors, 7 parks board commissioners, and 9 school trustees.
If you’ve voted in the past, there are 2 notable changes this year.
The order of names on the ballot will be randomized. The ballot is long, and a lot of voters just tick the first few names in each category. In elections past, most of the winners had last names starting with A, B, C, or D. That will change this year.
You can vote at any polling station in the city, not just the one assigned to you. So if you’re at the park or library on Saturday and there’s a polling station nearby, you can vote there.
If you want more details on how voting works, check out the city’s website.
The official list of candidates won’t be known for another week and many parties are only starting to release their platforms. We do know there will be at least 10 different party names on the ballot. Some you will recognize and some are brand new.
Most of the parties are only running a handful of candidates for each position, so you’ll probably end up voting for candidates from several parties. I’ll release my list of endorsed candidates in the next few weeks. In the meantime, here’s a look at what the parties stand for.
The Cambie Report‘s listeners did a great job classifying the political parties along three axis: the traditional left/right axis, plus a municipal axis that classified parties as urbanist or conservationist. You might know COPE as a left-wing party and the NPA as a right-wing party but the urbanist/conservationist axis is more interesting and can help to differentiate the parties from each other.
An urbanist party is one that looks to actively change the shape of the city to feature more walkable neighbourhoods, mixed-use developments, bike lanes, and density (see the New Urbanism principles). In Vancouver, they’re often supported by the YIMBY and Abundant Housing groups.
A conservationist party is more concerned about preserving the current character of neighbourhoods and limiting change. They favour heritage preservation, limiting growth, restricting immigration, and lots of consultation with neighbourhood groups. In Vancouver, they’re often supported by the NIMBY and HALT groups.
The party that has dominated city politics in Vancouver since 2008 under the leadership of Mayor Gregor Robertson. They’re responsible for introducing food trucks, backyard chickens, bike lanes, the Arbutus Greenway, and a plastic straw ban to Vancouver.
Vision has seen their popularity drop as they’ve been blamed for the housing crisis, and almost all of their incumbents are not running for re-election, which is never a good sign. They are widely criticized for not doing enough to keep Vancouver affordable and their close connections with developers, but in the past year they’ve introduced an empty home tax, restricted Airbnb rentals, and started construction on 600 units of temporary modular housing. Is it too little too late for Vancouverites fed up with the skyrocketing cost of living? Probably.
Vote for them if… you think the city is on the right (cycle) track.
The right-wing opposition to Vision over the past 10 years. They’ve traditionally been the voice of business owners in Vancouver, but the party is in turmoil. Of their 4 potential mayoral candidates, one left the party (or was kicked out) to start his own party (Yes Vancouver) and another joined Coalition Vancouver.
In the past two elections, they’ve campaigned on opposing Vision’s bike lane expansion and have a council candidate (Colleen Hardwick) who has actively campaigned against bike lanes in the past. They’ve seemed to soften their tone so far, but I’m skeptical.
Their housing policy is best summarized as “gentle density but only if neighbourhoods want it”, which is pretty much status quo for Vancouver over the past 20 years.
Vote for them if… you’re nostalgic for the days of Mayor Sam Sullivan.
The Green Party has a lot of momentum and a great brand. They’ve had success in recent provincial and federal elections, and in Vancouver they have elected representatives on all three boards (council, school, and park).
As an environmentalist, I should be a natural Green Party supporter, but I disagree with many of their policies. As you can see on the chart above, the Green Party leans toward the conservationist ideals, closer to the NPA on many issues than Vision Vancouver. They’ve opposed the Broadway subway, densification, and even smart meters – all policies that have received vocal opposition even though they’re important environmentally. They also opposed Amazon expanding the number of developers it employs in Vancouver.
That said, they have a few strong candidates that I may vote for, especially on park board.
Vote for them if… being ‘green’ is more important to you than actual policies.
A fairly new party to Vancouver. They formed in 2014 and elected their first representative during the 2017 by-election. They’re a young (with candidates under 40), urbanist, left-wing party and have been getting a lot of buzz from people who have supported Vision in the past.
They’re not running a lot of candidates (only 2 for council and 3 for school board) but in my opinion they’re the strongest candidates with the best ideas.
Their housing policies include policies to crack down on speculation and build more affordable housing across the city.
Vote for them if… you want a hip, urbanist party to have influence in local politics.
The traditional left wing-party in Vancouver, but they’re a spent political force these days, having been completely shutout in the past 2 elections. Both Vision Vancouver and OneCity were originally formed from members abandoning COPE.
While OneCity is running a new generation of millennial candidates, COPE is running with the old-guard of Vancouver’s left-wing. Both Jean Swanson and Anne Roberts are in their mid-70s. That said, Swanson is a fighter and she probably is the party’s best hope of electing someone. They’ve distinguished themselves from the other parties by strongly advocating for a rent freeze and mansion tax.
Vote for them if… you think class warfare is what Vancouver needs.
Formed only a few weeks ago when the NPA refused to allow one of their councillors, Hector Bremner, to run for mayor. He left the party and formed a new one. They seem to be positioning themselves as the only right-wing party that strongly supports urbanist ideals. They want to dramatically densify the single-family neighbourhoods of Vancouver’s west side.
They have the bottom-right quadrant of the political axis above all to themselves and it will be interesting to see how they do. They’ve got some rich backers and already have billboards up before the campaign has officially started, circumventing the campaign finance rules.
Vote for them if… you want to mass rezone all of Vancouver’s west side.
Yet another new party with a similar sounding name. They hate Airbnb, developers, and foreign buyers. They have some bold ideas to fix Vancouver’s housing market by controlling demand, some which deserve attention, but their candidates and supporters are some of the most toxic trolls on Twitter. They’ve also released one of the worst transportation platforms I’ve ever seen, with a promise to get rid of distance based pricing for transit and no mention of cycling.
Vote for them if… you think a bunch of online trolls should run the city.
In the next two weeks I’ll release my endorsed candidates. I have no idea who to vote for mayor (Shauna Sylvester, Kenedy Stewart, and Ian Campbell all have potential). For council, the OneCity candidates are a lock for me and I’m considering candidates from the Green Party, COPE, Vision, YesVancouver, and a few independents to round out my ballot. I’ve barely started to look at school and park board candidates.
If you have any recommendations on candidates you like, please add a comment.
It looks like the City of Vancouver is proceeding with its plan to tear down the viaducts. I can’t wait. I live across from viaducts and bike along the Dunsmuir Viaduct to get to work. The area is a dead zone of empty parking lots and ugly elevated roadways. An expanded park and new developments will be a welcome change.
Only in Vancouver would cycling slowly along a recreational bike path be illegal. It’s ridiculous. I run faster than most seawall cyclists, and yet they’re required by law to wear safety gear. The City of Vancouver has its own by-law (60D) that extends the provincial helmet law (part of the Motor Vehicle Act) to the city’s car-free paths and parks.
It’s possible that skateboarders and rollerbladers have it worse than cyclists. They can’t legally use the city’s side streets unless bubble-wrapped.
A person must not ride or coast on non-motorized skates, skateboard, or push-scooter on any minor street unless (a) that person wears a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, and front and rear reflective equipment, and, in the case of skates or a skateboard, wrist guards; and (b) the skates, skateboard, or push-scooter has a braking mechanism.
Wrist guards are so important they were mentioned twice!
I realize these by-laws are rarely enforced, but if the city wants to show it’s serious about active transportation then it should scrap them. I think most people can decide for themselves if the risks of rollerblading without wrist guards is acceptible.
In related news, Vancouver’s bike share system has been delayed, yet again – now estimated to launch in 2015 (after being proposed in 2008 and approved by council in 2012). Dealing with the mandatory helmet law continues to be a stumbling block. Apparently they’ve worked out a vending machine solution. Seattle is set to launch its bike share program this fall with the same helmet vending machines, so we’ll see if they actually work or cause a logistical nightmare.