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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UBC Economist Tom Davidoff has some thoughts about how to deal with housing unaffordability.  His ideas involve increasing density within the vast swaths of Vancouver land that are now zoned for extremely low density.  Plus complex review of real estate taxation, CAC’s and political responsibility for control of land usage.
His ideas presage a political challenge to shift hearts and minds from the entrenched viewpoint that living in a single family home is the inalienable birthright of every person in Canada. Not to mention the simple resistance to change from the status-quo — those now comfortably housed in Vancouver’s old car suburbs.
To my thinking, it’s a better solution than pushing car suburbs onto the ALR.

Davidoff would like to see the province step in to mandate density targets. He suggested municipalities could then hold auctions in which developers could bid to build to those density targets.
Instead of developers contributing a community amenity contribution, which are set by the city and are different for each project, Davidoff proposed the affected community come up with the amount they expect to be compensated for “the economic loss if you allow townhomes, if you allow condos.”
“If we do contributions for density that way, we extract as much wealth as we can from wealthy homeowners and builders, and we give a lot of benefit to locals so they have a reason to accept density.”
Thanks to Jen St. Denis in Metro

In this 33:48 video Prof. Davidoff discusses his ideas in much more breadth and detail. With PowerPoint slides too!!  At 24:30, things get interesting with recommendations on a market-based approach to densification.

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