Mayoral candidate Shauna Sylvester wants Vancouver to be North American capital of co-ops and cohousing

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      An independent mayoral candidate has unveiled a six-pronged approach in response to Vancouver’s shortage and high cost of housing.

      The first plank in Shauna Sylvester’s platform is to map all community assets—including land, community centres, schools, and neighbourhood houses—to “consider how they can be mobilized” to help address the housing crisis.

      Sylvester, an SFU professor of public practice, has pledged to immediately direct the $2 billion in the city’s affordable-housing fund to the community-housing sector to provide purpose-built rental accommodation.

      “I will use my networks and 30 years of working with federal and provincial governments to leverage their support, as well as other assets like pension funds or partnerships with faith communities, philanthropic entities, or financial institutions to build the housing we need,” she said in a speech unveiling her proposals.

      Sylvester has also pledged to make the city the North American “capital” of co-ops and cohousing. She pointed out that these models “nurture stronger, healthier communities” yet noted that the Paloma Housing Co-op near Commercial Drive took seven years to gain approval.

      “We need to cut the red tape and provide mechanisms to encourage more of this form of healthy community housing,” she said.

      One of her promises is to renew leases on all co-ops in her first year as mayor to protect existing affordable housing. And she has argued in favour of “medium-dense” projects of up to four storeys on two to three lots.

      “Co-ops recognize the need to phase in redevelopment and create more co-op housing on their land,” she stated. “They are experienced developers who understand how to implement a plan while minimizing the disruption on their communities.”

      Sylvester also wants the city to provide land for co-ops to “mobilize their capital” to provide more housing.

      Her other proposals include “building housing for humans at a human scale”. By that, she means providing alternatives to condo towers and mansions on large lots.

      “We will bring families and kids back into neighbourhoods by making room for people, not just demolishing and rebuilding luxury houses,” she declared. “But simply adding more supply is not going to bring the affordability we need.

      “We cannot upzone the entire city without also providing an affordability mechanism,” she continued. “By doing so, we just make single-family homeowners wealthier. We need to capture some of that wealth and redirect it to affordability.”

      In Sylvester’s view, one way to accomplish this is by allowing “gentle densification” on homeowners’ single-family lots, perhaps by adding three to four storeys that still respect the neighbourhood’s character and retain the tree canopy. She maintained that those homeowners who do this to add housing would see their permit applications fast-tracked.

      However, because their properties would become more valuable through this process, these homeowners would be required to pay a community-amenity contribution to the city, just as developers already do when they seek additional density from city council.

      “Going forward, the city would be very transparent in laying out the rules and the rate of the CAC,” Sylvester insisted. “The CAC will then be dedicated to rental assistance or put into an affordable-housing fund to create more affordable rental housing.”

      Vancouver already has a housing authority, but Sylvester has advocated creating a series of “targeted” authorities to provide housing to workers in specific sectors, such as education, retail, services, and emergency response.

      “In my first year in office, I will work in partnership with key employers, unions, and community-service groups to identify opportunities for creating viable housing authorities that ensure workers have secure and affordable housing in the city in which they work,” she said.

      The final two planks in her housing platform are completing community plans for different neighbourhoods in the city and fast-tracking “smarter, faster decisions to lower housing costs and get roofs over people’s heads”.

      “For example, we will get rid of minimum parking requirements and look at a set criteria that enables car-sharing, electric-vehicle charging within urban buildings and on the street, and expanded cycling storage,” Sylvester said.