Governance & Politics
September 28, 2018

Public Hearing Moment: With Housing, Who Makes (and Receives) Room?

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.

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Any macchiatto tour of Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant hood must now begin (or end) at one of the most west coast of open-air patios — at 14th and Main.

Pavement-to-Plaza, a new video by the team of Brian and Kathleen of small places, shows how the new configuration at this popular intersection, in the midst of a busy stretch of high street stores and restaurants, is also fulfilling the demand for calmed public spaces, with safer passage for people on bike and foot.

Check out the video below — a head-bobber, for sure.

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The majority of Vancouver’s land is zoned for residential use, but forbids apartment buildings.  (click to enlarge)

Thanks to @GRIDSVancouver for this rendering of the opportunity in Vancouver to change zoning and provide more housing for more people.

My question: how will this play out in the upcoming civic election? A split across traditional left-right dimensions? Emergence of new poles of opinion  density increase, or status quo; rezone or not; rezone much, or a little; rezone on arterials only; rezone only mansion-oriented pockets; rip out bike lanes?

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Candidates of various persuasions keep telling me that housing is the #1 issue for Vancouver in the 2018 civic election.

I suppose that various parts of the political spectrum will find ways to claim this issue for themselves. Crazy, I know, but maybe by coming up with policies and platforms that lead to solutions. (Well, maybe.)

Here, COPE lets us know just what they stand for, as we tiptoe deeper into the troll-infested topic of housing, rezoning, density, neighbourhoods — and brace ourselves for the blow-back from certain quarters.

COPE’s opening policy statement (below) seems like a stake in the far left of the political spectrum. And would you expect anything less from the party whose recent electoral slogan was “Tax the Rich”?

With thanks to COPE council candidate Derrick O’Keefe (@derrikokeefe)

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There are some surprises in the City of Vancouver’s Northeast False Creek rezoning plans for 750-772 Pacific Boulevard (the Plaza of Nations site, or Sub-area B), and the 777 Pacific Boulevard site (1 Robson Street, or Sub-area 10c) — previously covered by Price Tags —which appear to favour the developer, not the public.

The BC Pavilion Corporation — or PavCo, the public developer and a BC Crown Corporation under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture — is exceeding the recommended square footage for the sites laid out in the guidelines by nearly twenty per cent.

The plan insists on a “gateway” of three over-height towers, well above the established heights for the site of 300 feet. Instead of three 30 storey buildings, the plan is asking for two tall towers of 42 storeys and a “smaller” tower of 40 storeys.

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YES! Vancouver is not to be confused with “Yes Vancouver”, the spankin’ new Vancouver civic political party of Mayoral hopeful Hector Bremner.

YES! Vancouver has been active since at least 2007, according to their web site.  And this is what they do.

YES! Vancouver is a philanthropic networking group of professional women looking to make powerful connections with fellow girl bosses, go-getters, and risk takers.

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Amidst the ongoing housing affordability crisis in the Vancouver region, and just four months before municipal elections, City of Vancouver council earlier this week unanimously approved a new financial strategy for the Housing Vancouver strategy.

Intended to support the addition of 72,000 new homes across Vancouver over the next 10 years — half of which will serve households earning less than $80k/year, and two-thirds of which will be for renters — this is just one among a number of decisions made by Council supporting their Making Room program, including:

  • creating Affordable Housing Endowment Fund
  • allocation of first $8M of Empty homes tax revenue to support co-ops, rent bank and SRO upgrades
  • amendments that would: allow triplexes, quadplexes and other multi-unit forms in low density neighbourhoods; set maximum unit sizes in low-density neighbourhoods; reduce or eliminate parking requirements; provide greater support for projects with community benefit, such as new rental, co-ops, co-housing or land trusts; and, in some circumstances, reduce or eliminate setback requirements and design guidelines that limit housing options.

All of Wednesday’s actions are summarized in this press release from the city.

Some critics have expressed concern that increasing allowable density on sites without significant changes to the rezoning and development permit process will just recreate the same affordability crisis we are in today, thus “kicking the can down the road”.

Are we sure this will bring affordability and sufficient options to the city? We asked some regular Price Tags contributors what they thought.

Photo: Lanefab Design/Build. Check out their #NoAssemblyRequired collection on Pinterest: “Built Examples of Small Lot Multifamily Housing”.

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In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26-storey office building at 555 Cordova. Dubbed “The Icepick”, the iconoclastic development would have been shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver.

Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station, and since it opened in 1914, the proposed remnant building site has been the station’s eastern access and parking lot.

The proposed site is not a separate building lot, and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The Icepick was turned down by City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back, this time with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original.

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