One of the more remarkable aspects of the housing affordability crisis in Vancouver is the endless bloviating about community amenity policies and consultation processes, yet we are unwilling, or unable, to discuss actual root causes.
Stuart Smith is a director of advocacy group Abundant Housing Vancouver, and has done a lot of research on factors that have gotten us to where we are today, like exclusionary zoning. My notes from a meet-up over beer in early May include the names Sonia Trauss, Kim-Mai Cutler, and Stephanie Allen.
A few weeks ago, on the first of two days of public hearings in council chambers to debate the motion to amend RS-1 zoning across much of the city to allow for duplexes — an offshoot of the Making Room report (spoiler alert: it passed) — Stuart was one of the voices supporting this motion.
He was too short on time for an anecdote which would have served as an important educational moment — he shared it with me afterwards, along with the above map:
90 years ago, Harland Bartholomew drew this map. Its explicit goal was to constrain and separate apartments, and people who live in apartments, from detached homes, and the people who live in detached homes.
Many proponents of this map knew it would ghettoize apartments, and the racialized and marginalized people who were most likely to inhabit them at that time. They considered this a feature, not a bug.
This was a radical change to traditional ways of building a city. It’s been 90 years. The experiment has failed. It’s time to move on. It’s time to make room.
It’s possible this 90-year old zoning plan ultimately influenced the housing tempest we find ourselves in today.
If you buy into the idea that past is prologue — or, if you’re skeptical of Making Room and the duplex motion in general — watch and listen to the final 90 seconds of his Stuart’s actual presentation. It’s worth it:
The full text of Stuart’s five-minute presentation to Council follows.
Good afternoon Mayor and Council, thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak today and thanks to staff for doing the work to get us here.
My name is Stuart Smith, I’m a board member of Abundant Housing Vancouver, and I’m speaking in support of this item. It’s a very small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Abundant Housing Vancouver believes housing is a human right and can be affordable for all. To accomplish that we must consider more than just buildings. We must consider land and where it’s located.
When affordable housing is illegal on most of our land, it should come as no surprise that our housing is not affordable.
When it’s illegal to house everyone who wishes to live in a given area of land, it should come as no surprise that housing on that land becomes a luxury good, available only to the most wealthy.
Who’s not here? It’s worth remembering that while this hearing is well attended by people who believe passionately one way or another, there are another 640,000 residents of Vancouver who did not feel strongly enough about duplexes to give up a Tuesday evening. We should be wary of assuming that they chose a movie or a night on the couch because they prefer to maintain the status quo. More likely, it never occurred them that duplexes where a big enough deal to even think about or end up before council. I look forward to the day when I can return to that level of engagement, but for the time being, here I am.
It’s also worth considering the people who left Vancouver but want to come back. These people are not in the room with us tonight.
Finally, across Canada there people from all walks of life who have heard about our amazing city and wish to join us. It would be a mistake to assume those voices prefer the status quo. It would be a mistake to assume that building a wall around our city to keep future friend and neighbours out, is the progressive choice.
Who can stay? I’ve lived in Vancouver for 30 years and I would prefer to stay. But whether I can or cannot stay is unfortunately not up to me. This is true of many people in Vancouver, many people here tonight, and even some of you on council.
Our decision today on whether to end the ban on duplexes across most of the city land is not just about the land upon which duplexes will or will not remained banned. It is also about all the other land in the city.
Allowing housing in one area takes pressure off other areas. Prohibiting housing in one area, increases pressure in other areas.
Our decision today will determine some of the choices available to thousands of families who want to stay in Vancouver. Choices both of housing type and most importantly, housing location.
The choices of location available to those families will ultimately decide if I can stay, if my friends can stay, and perhaps if you can stay. If we choose to allow RS to make room, this will take a bit of pressure off my neighbourhood, making redevelopment and eviction a bit less likely. If we choose to maintain the ban on duplexes and other forms of housing across most of the city, the pressure on my neighbourhood will go up and the redevelopment and eviction become a bit more likely.
Finally, who makes room? We, and all our housing, and all this land – which we should remember is not ours – are all connected. Every lot, every block, every neighbourhood is connected to every other lot block and neighbourhood. There is no way to have a land use policy in one lot, one block, or one neighbourhood, that does not also affect every other lot, every other block and every other neighbourhood.
The effects of low density zoning to not restrict themselves to the areas which are zoned for low density.
The single largest consumer of land available for housing are the RS low density zones.
What’s left after they have taken their pound of flesh from our city, are small slivers along noisy, polluted hell-scapes called “arterials”, and parts of the old city of Vancouver that have been told they have to “make room” since 1927.
In RS we banned the high rise condo/rental apartment.
In RS we banned the mid rise apartment.
In RS we banned the low rise apartment.
In RS we banned social housing.
In RS we banned public housing.
In RS we banned backyard cottages.
In RS we banned bungalow courts.
In RS we banned mobile homes.
In RS we banned sixplexes, fiveplexes, fourplexes, triplexes, and of course, duplexes.
In RS we even banned basement suites. Then the federal government told us we had to allow them during the war, then we banned them again in 1956, and then finally we legalized them one more time, but only by marketing them as “mortgage helpers” rather than “housing”
Banning so much housing in one part of the city has effects that ripple out to every other part of the city. Banning so much housing in most of the city has massive effects on the small parts of the city that remain.
Earlier there was a reference to “four quadrants” where information sessions were held in RS areas.
The people who most need consultation about changes to the largest consumer of land in Vancouver – single family zones – are NOT the people who live in those areas. They are the people who live in the west end, who live in Fairview, who live in Mount Pleasant, who will be required to leave or squeeze in tighter if RS remains off limits.
Downtown has been “making room” for 90 years.
The West End has been “making room” for 90 years.
Fairview has been “making room” for 90 years.
Mount Pleasant has been “making room for 90 years.
If it is not time for Point Grey, Shaughnessy and Dunbar to “make room” when will it be?