Kennedy Stewart faces challenge gaining Green support for housing initiatives in single-family areas of Vancouver

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      For the first time in a decade, Vancouver's mayor is a tenant rather than a homeowner.

      Kennedy Stewart has some ideas for helping improve life for tenants, which he elaborated on in an interview with the Straight during the election campaign.

      He's already given consideration to the city assembling land by buying single-family homes or duplexes.

      Once this has been completed, he suggested that the city could rezone these properties.

      "Then we can have rental-only that we assemble and we could turn over to a nonprofit," he said.

      That's one method that could help him meet his goal of 25,000 affordable nonmarket rental units in the next decade.

      He also said during the campaign that he supported the Vision Vancouver–controlled council's "Making Room" zoning, which allows duplexes in single-family-zoned areas of Vancouver.

      This mass rezoning covered 52 percent of the city's land area and occurred in the final council meeting before the election.

      This "Making Room" policy was opposed by the only two incumbents who were elected: Green councillor Adriane Carr and NPA councillor Melissa De Genova. It was also opposed by NPA councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball. 

      In addition, the Making Room initiative was vehemently rejected by NPA councillor-elect Colleen Hardwick in a speech she gave before council prior to the vote.

      "The thought that, on your way out, you would even consider approving these sweeping citywide zoning bylaw changes without due process, without proper public consultation, and without community input, is unconscionable," Hardwick told council before the vote. 

      It takes a two-third vote of council to reconsider a policy. If the five NPA councillors-elect come together on this, they will need to secure the support of three other councillors to do this.

      Carr has two Green colleagues elected to council: Pete Fry and Michael Wiebe.

      So theoretically, there could be enough votes around the table for an NPA-Green alliance to undo one of the most significant moves advanced by Mayor Gregor Robertson's party to increase the supply of housing in the city.

      One of the city's most vocal tenant advocates, Jean Swanson, was also elected as the sole COPE member of council.

      In an interview with the Straight during the campaign, she pointed out that it wasn't that long ago—in the 1960s—when tenants weren't even allowed to vote in municipal elections.

      She wants renters to receive more respect at Vancouver City Hall.

      "I think a lot of that feeling toward renters is still kind of embedded in the bureaucracy and the politics of the city—where renters are seen as somehow less than owners," Swanson said at the time. "We have to change that."

      There's a perception in the media that Swanson might prove to be the most difficult councillor for Stewart to work with, given her long history of activism.

      At the same time, however, Swanson has remained close to former NDP MP Libby Davies for decades—and Davies is a mentor and adviser to Stewart.

      And both Stewart and Swanson are tenants.

      It's conceivable that the most pitched battles at the council chamber could turn out to be between those who favour increasing the supply of housing in single-family areas and those who oppose this.

      On this front, Swanson would likely be an ally of Stewart's, particularly if it involved the city buying houses with the view of creating nonprofit rental housing.

      When it comes to any attempt to overturn Making Room, the Greens will hold the swing votes.

      To date, with Carr as their sole representative, the Greens have been most inclined to side with neighbourhood associations opposed to new developments.

      The public and the media like to view Vancouver politics through the lens of whether a party is "progressive"—i.e. Greens, OneCity, and COPE—or "conservative", i.e. the NPA. I'm guilty of doing this myself from time to time.

      The reality is that there are different political schisms with regard to housing.

      The Greens and the NPA have been "preservationist" with regard to single-family neighbourhoods.

      COPE has been "preservationist" about retaining single-room occupancy hotels and development sites for social housing in the Downtown Eastside. 

      And OneCity and Stewart have been more bullish about increasing housing choices in areas zoned for single-family homes.

      COPE would be thrilled to see publicly owned nonprofit, affordable rental housing built in areas like Dunbar and West Point Grey.

      OneCity, Stewart, Swanson, and the Greens are all "preservationist" concerning purpose-built rental housing across the city. 

      Maybe it's time we came up with new labels to describe the ideological dispositions of the various members of Vancouver city council.