Why did City Council vote to keep Shaughnessy for the mansion-owning elite?

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      On November 15, Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle brought forward a motion for more density in the Shaughnessy neighbourhood.

      With its big (and beautiful) houses, Shaughnessy is emblematic of wealth and privilege in our city. And while Metro Vancouver’s population grows, Shaughnessy’s is in decline, shrinking more than any other neighbourhood in the last census count. The average price of a home in Shaughnessy is $8 million. At almost 1,100 acres, it has less than eight people per acre, and has the lowest renter density (0.3 per acre) in the city. East Vancouver, by comparison, has three to four renters per acre. 

      Shaughnessy’s exclusive status is by design, thanks to the First Shaughnessy Heritage Conservation Area: an Official Development Plan bylaw that applies only in this area and is intended to promote large, detached mansions. In the past few decades, various city initiatives to add laneways, duplexes, basement suites, and apartments have all been exempted in Shaughnessy in order to preserve the narrow interests of the wealthy homeowners in this neighbourhood. Shaughnessy is also exempt from the recent city-wide change that permits multiplexes in various single-family zones.

      Many members of the public agreed with Councillor Boyle’s motion, calling for an end to the neighbourhood’s exclusionary regulations. Supporters noted that heritage architectural design preferences could be maintained while much-needed new homes were added. The BC Non-Profit Housing Association and the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC also supported the motion; their letter noted that Shaughnessy offers “significant opportunity to meet the broad range of housing needs for current and future Vancouver residents,” and that they would “support the City of Vancouver’s land acquisition program for affordable housing development.” 

      The cost of land in Shaughnessy is actually extremely low, as illustrated by this map (screenshot reprinted with permission below). The city has funding for acquiring land for affordable housing, and Shaughnessy’s low land values would give us the most bang for our buck.

      Map created by Jens von Bergman.

      Despite all the support, the majority of councillors from our governing party of ABC Vancouver voted in opposition, defeating the motion. Their reasons included “many housing units underway,” that “city staff have limited capacity,” and that “it is a redundant effort” given all of the other current housing initiatives. One councillor said that “we need to look at all neighbourhoods,” despite voting to preserve Shaughnessy’s exemption. Another councillor called supporters “divisive” for pointing out that Shaughnessy’s zoning history is racial and class-based.

      Shaughnessy exemplifies the systemic barriers preserved by our land use regulations, which privilege the few while widening the housing wealth gap. This barrier exists only on paper, and costs us nothing to address. Those who opposed the motion are using their power and actions to show that upholding inequitable barriers is more important than prioritizing housing needs for our many current (and future) residents. There is no ethical justification for preserving a wealthy mansion district in the middle of our city—especially while so many are at risk of being altogether pushed out of this place they call home. It is a sign of a deeply unserious government that just does not understand the housing deficit we are in, or what we must do to climb out of it.

      Some say that solving the housing crisis will require more than just supply. In this case, I agree. It will require challenging the status quo, and it will require serious leaders who are willing to address and dismantle the deep inequalities rooted in our exclusionary regulations. Which, let’s be honest, created our housing crisis in the first place.