By Marie Kerchum
Are Vancouver mayor and council making decisions in the best interests of Vancouver residents?
The question above requires examining the influences on the decision makers and reviewing the resulting pattern of decision-making at city hall.
A key feature of decision-making by Vancouver city councillors involves decisions on development across our city. Those decisions have a dramatic impact on current residents, and future generations, in respect to the livability of our city. Land use decisions and affordability are intimately connected because of the limited availability and price of land in Vancouver.
The pattern of decision-making regarding land use in Vancouver, particularly over the period of the last six years, has been to rezone targeted areas of the city (spot rezoning) for the purpose of building overheight towers, most often in the face of strong neighbourhood opposition. The Vision Vancouver rationale given for allowing the "spot rezoning", and the resultant construction of overheight towers has been this: "we" must prepare for the future through densification and adapt to change according to the EcoDensity Charter.
The Vision Vancouver council "solution" to the issue of housing affordability has allowed developers "bonus" density in the construction of overheight towers while breaching existing neighbourhood zoning bylaws. The net impact of Vision Vancouver’s Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing ((STIR)) program has not resulted in the creation of affordable housing. According to the CMHC Rental Market Survey for 2010, average West End rentals were: one-bedroom apartments renting for $1,110; two-bedroom apartments at $1,685; and three-bedroom at $2,568. For many renters this would hardly be considered "affordable" housing.
This particular "solution" to affordability has consistently worked in the interests of developers and consistently against the interest of renters in neighbourhoods across our city. With the STIR program developers have, or will make huge profits. In the process, residents have lost their voice in development decision-making in their neighbourhoods and have been disenfranchised from participation in the process of how their neighbourhoods evolve. The livability of neighbourhoods across the city has been put at risk.
Many neighbourhoods in Vancouver have, over the last six years, developed unique visioning plans to meet the challenges and responsibilities of the future. Vancouver communities have demonstrated the capacity to work together and collaborate with city planners to accommodate future growth and community needs. These plans have been presented to city hall by residents and community neighbourhood associations across our city, only to be ignored by our current council.
Community planning, with real input from neighbourhood residents and representative neighbourhood associations, takes longer to develop than our current council has allowed, and most certainly does not come in a "one size fits all" package.
The most significant situational pressure for Vancouver city council to address in the next term of council is the issue of housing affordability. The development community offers a "quick fix" to the dilemma of affordable housing, through the construction of overheight towers, in the process offering support to the mayor and council through tens of thousands of dollars of campaign donations.
Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) believes strongly that those who regulate land use policy (Vancouver city council) must not be funded by those they regulate because, inevitably, their decisions may be seen to be unduly influenced by the special developer interest groups, to the detriment of the greater public interest.
Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver will encourage Vancouver residents to play a much greater role in developing solutions for building Vancouver’s sustainable future. If elected, as a first order of business in the next term of council, NSV will introduce a grassroots, effective and democratic decision-making policy and process which will incorporate the voices of residents living in the diverse communities across our city.
The current Vision Vancouver city council has demonstrated that it consistently looks to the future without genuine respect and positive regard for city residents. Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver will ensure that all the residents of Vancouver are accorded the due respect and consideration we deserve.
Real democracy may take longer, but Vancouver residents deserve respectful input to the decision making that affects our lives, the lives of our families and the lives of those in the 23 neighbourhoods which comprise the heart of our beloved city of Vancouver.
Marie Kerchum is a Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver candidate for Vancouver city council.