The Questions for Candidates series started in June with Vancouver’s Kettle-Boffo controversy (ancient history?), and our appeal to the early field of candidates in the upcoming municipal elections to weigh in how the city was handling the requirement for Community Amenity Contributions from non-market housing developers.

Teasing out substantive(ish) policy platforms from candidates was crazy yet compelling; we followed with an “LRT vs Skytrain” question to Surrey and Langley candidates, and this fugly graphic. We soon realized the scope of possibilities for Q&A — with hundreds of candidates in 20+ municipalities — was dwarfed only by the time and effort to perform the outreach. Time to narrow the focus.

Today, the first of a six-part Q&A — on policy, politics and possibility — with four independent candidates for Vancouver City Council.

They’re each running a different kind of campaign; no logos, small budgets, and a glaring absence of infighting or intrigue. Just character, a c.v., and policies.

You may even know some of them…but what do you really know about them? Let’s find out.

Taq Bhandal

Taq is a researcher and PhD candidate at the Social Justice Institute at UBC, a public educator, and a women’s, indigenous and intersectional rights activist. If elected, she would become the first female council member of South Asian descent.

Sarah Blyth

Sarah is a youth, mental health, addictions, seniors and homeless advocate, founder and executive director of Overdose Prevention Society, and a two-term former Vancouver Park Board commissioner.

Adrian Crook

Adrian owns a mobile game development company, blogs at 5Kids1Condo, and is co-founder and director of two non-profit societies, Abundant Housing Vancouver and Abundant Transit BC.

 width=Francoise Raunet

Françoise is a French immersion teacher, social activist and former BC Green Party MLA candidate for Vancouver’s Point Grey riding, drawing 1,420 votes away from David Eby and Christy Clark in the 2013 election.


Now, onto the first question…

What is your position on housing, and how would you approach the affordability crisis?

There are many aspects to the housing issue in Vancouver. In terms of increasing supply and access to housing, I’d like to take a holistic approach to housing affordability through community-based development, eco-friendly design and also increased social housing. Also, increasing the number of units close to campuses for post-secondary students, and other folks who work primarily on campuses but can’t find safe spaces to stay close to there.

And also increased capacity at City Hall to decrease the wait-times for building permits. Right now, the wait-time is approximately 1-3 years, and based on the number of people who are moving to Vancouver every year, and the amount of people who currently need access to housing, that’s just not quick enough. I think part of that is increasing the number of people who are working towards making affordable housing a reality within the next one, two, three years.

Because of various marginalizations, there are currently folks who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Rather than ignoring that — not to say that current council has ignored it but there are definitely sentiments among marginalized communities that that is the case — I’d like to propose the increase in shelters for women, non-binary, and two-spirit folks across the city. And potentially piloting program like safe street sleeping beds, grants for homeowners to turn garages into temporary shelters or smaller homes, and potentially looking towards other cities and their models for how they are addressing homelessness as an issue.

I’ve been a renter forever. Housing has gotten tougher obviously over time. Just seeing the prices go up — it’s difficult to move or to even have pets.

I’ve worked on the downtown east side for over ten years, so I’ve always been well aware that we don’t have enough housing for people, especially our most vulnerable population. We’ve always had an issue with homelessness and people living in the streets that don’t want to. And people with mental and physical health issues should be housed. We have to have housing for everyone, and open up new housing options, and be open-minded about how we house people.

One of the things that I’ve always felt there needed to be more of — and more emphasis on — is the federal government providing more funding for co-op housing. Even just renewing leases. The federal government pulled out of funding coop housing in the nineties, and I think that’s a shame.

Co-op housing is a way for people to get in; they’re not owning, but you put some money down and you’re part of a community, and you contribute to something and work together to do upgrades. Lots of my friends have families growing up in coop housing. It’s a great way to live and a really great way to have community housing that different people with different incomes can afford. The rent doesn’t go up, and if their finances go down or they lose their job, there’s ways that their rents can be adjusted, or they adjust as they make more money. It’s just a really good way for people on a sliding scale to get into housing. A lot of people are on waiting lists right now.

Obviously we need more housing for people that live here. Rents are so high. And once you get into housing, nobody can move because every time you move the rent goes up everywhere, so you get stuck. If you move, your options get worse. You end up in a place that’s not as good as the one that you left. It’s a weird situation.

We’ve been forced into a dichotomy — condos or detached homes. For a long time I’ve believed — and you can see it in all the missing middle talk — that there’s ground between those two options, and in different types of tenure, that we haven’t explored as a city. Things like land trusts or co-housing, and obviously affordable purpose-built rental needs to play a huge role.

There’s so much we haven’t done. We really haven’t tried hardly anything in order to address our housing crisis. I started my blog to advocate for just one of that whole array of different ways of living that we need to start exploring if we’re going to return affordability into the market. There’s nothing wrong with building more condos or detached houses, but they won’t solve the problem. It’s all the other stuff that we haven’t been doing.

A friend of mine lives in co-housing on 33rd between Knight and Victoria — I think it’s 75 people living in about 31 units that used to take up the space of three detached house lots. That doesn’t mean we raze the entire west side and replace it with that, that’s not what we’re talking about when we talk about reforming land use. It’s that we allow that to happen, because right now it’s the hardest thing to get built in this city, for a bunch of reasons. In the co-housing scenario, it’s hard to get developers involved in it, and developers know the system better than anyone. So it’s hard to get individuals through that system.

We can be doing things to allow that type of development to occur more naturally on a faster scale in the city, whether it’s co-housing or co-ops, social housing, housing for homeless. Housing with community benefits needs to be fast-tracked and incentivized so it will tip the scales toward that type of housing over market housing.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with market housing, it’s going to continue to get built on its own because the economics for that pencil out better than anything. But the economics and the system work against things like these other housing types, whether you call it the missing middle or whatever. Everything from the bungalow court to the low-rise apartment building, or those smaller developments — that’s the stuff we need to tip the scales in favour of, because economically it’s very hard to get those things to pencil out these days, given our high land cost.

My position on housing has pretty much always been the same. I was lucky enough to grow up in a housing co-op, and I live in one now. My whole life I’ve been an advocate for co-op housing and other forms of non-market housing. Using city land for non-market housing obviously has to be a priority for council, but I realize that can’t be the whole market.

The housing argument has been framed around density vs non-density, and I fall more into the density camp, but not towers so much. I’d like to see mixed-use townhomes and 3-4 storey residential buildings, similar in many ways to what you see in Mount Pleasant and around Commercial Drive, where you have a mixture of single family homes and some 3-storey walk-ups and townhouse complexes. I think it makes for a more diverse and interesting community.

In terms of how to finance housing, I like OneCity — they’ve been talking about what they call a windfall tax. The idea that when transit or some sort of public investment results in appreciation of property value, that those specific windfalls would be subject to higher taxation because they’ve benefited from this public investment. I think that makes a lot of sense. We could have a dedicated place where these housing funds were going into, some sort of a community trust or community land bank, so that it could be a lot more transparent. I do worry a bit about the opacity of the planning decisions at city hall.

The other argument from the anti-density side, or the ones that are less concerned about building more supply, is that when you re-zone a single family lot so somebody could put in a fourplex, that’s going to really raise property prices, and it’s not going to help with affordability. I think that’s a really valid concern, and I wonder if there aren’t some sort of financial measures that we could build into it that could prevent that from happening. I’d be interested exploring it how we can densify without causing an even further escalation in the price of the average family home, so that it isn’t even more out of reach of most people. And that’s why non-market has to be part of it.

We continue tomorrow with Part II — how we picked these four candidates, and question #2 (transportation).

Are you an independent council candidate in Metro Vancouver? Comment below to let us — and voters — know where you stand on housing in your community.

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