Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart likes letting voters know that he's a tenant.
It's part of his political brand.
He often says that he came to the city 30 years ago as a young man with a hundred bucks in his pocket.
He worked hard, rented apartments, went to school, and made something of himself.
You know, he's just like the 51 percent of renters in the city.
That's his political base. These voters enabled him to barely win the 2018 election.
And that's why Stewart emphasizes that he puts tenants' interests first. It's because he couldn't afford a home himself in the past. Or so the story goes.
Stewart played the tenant card again last week when claimed that he couldn't pay for a $1.5-million duplex.
That's because this would require—in his words—an income over $300,000, as well as a down payment of $300,000.
That's how he justified voting in favour of a market-rental project on Fraser Street.
His comment about needing an income "over $300,000" was very convenient from a political standpoint. I'll get to that later.
Give credit to the mayor for expending some political capital on developing more rental housing.
Every time he does this, he risks alienating homeowners who are resistant to change.
Stewart is correct when he states that rentals like the ones on Fraser Street "ease pressure on existing stock".
But let's get real.
Stewart is a voluntary renter in a city teeming with people who will never be able to buy a home.
And if he continues to suggest that buying a home is somehow beyond his reach, he'll eventually shred his credibility.
Stewart's salary augmented with per diems
Here are some facts to consider:
* Stewart earns a $174,258 annual salary as mayor, which he'll collect until 2022. He also receives an annual supplement of $3,048.
* He collects $575 per meeting as a member of the TransLink Mayors' Council. There are 10 meetings scheduled this year, which means $5,750 in additional income in 2019.
* There are three TransLink Mayors' Council committees. Its members receive another $575 for each of its meetings. Assume he's on one of those committees (the mayors' council website doesn't divulge their membership), that could add up to another $5K in his pocket.
* According to Metro Vancouver's remuneration bylaw, Stewart receives $397 per meeting that lasts less than four hours. He receives $794 per meeting for those lasting more than four hours. This applies to the monthly board meetings, as well as committee meetings.
* Stewart is on the Metro Vancouver board. He also sits on the Metro Vancouver mayors committee, George Massey Crossing Task Force, and CAO/Commissioner recruitment selection committee. It's reasonable to assume that Stewart will pocket around $5K through all of this work.
Keep in mind that this is what local politicians do. Stewart isn't unique in this regard.
They read countless reports, attend meetings, vote on staff recommendations, and collect compensation from a variety of sources, all funded by the taxpayer.
The perks of being an MP
But there's more to this story.
* As a member of Parliament from 2011 to 2018, Stewart was awarded annual pay hikes.
* Nowadays, an MP's base salary is $178,900. Back in 2014-15, it was $163,700.
* For the sake of argument, let's say Stewart averaged $165,000 per year as a parliamentarian. That would have added up to more than $1.2 million for holding down this job for 7 years and four months.
* Stewart announced his candidacy for mayor of Vancouver on May 10, 2018. He remained sitting as an MP until September 14. That ensured he collected nearly $60,000 in federal pay and boosted his pensionable service by four months while campaigning for civic office.
* An MP has to serve six years to qualify for a pension. This can be taken as early as when they're 55 years old. Stewart is 52.
* An MP's pension pays out three percent per year of service for the highest average annual earnings over a five-year period. A former parliamentarian would lose one percent of that pension for each year it's taken before the age of 65.
* If Stewart waits until he's 65 to collect it, he will receive around $35,000 per year. But he could start pocketing MP pension cheques in just three years if he's willing to absorb the penalty.
* Stewart has job security. He's on leave as an associate professor in the SFU school of public policy.
* The academic filling his position, Josh Gordon, was paid $84,381 in the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2018, according to SFU's financial statements.
* So even if Stewart loses the 2022 election, he can slide back into a well-paying job as an academic if he doesn't quit this position before then.
* Stewart's wife, Jeannette Ashe, earned $94,260.29 as a Douglas College professor in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018, according to the institution's financial statements.
* SFU faculty are members of the SFU Academic Staff Pension Plan. Douglas College faculty are members of the College Pension Plan. So Stewart and his wife can count on these plans to help tide them over in old age. That's in addition to the Canada Pension Plan, which all workers receive upon retirement.
* Stewart has no children, so he and his wife won't face costly payouts for their education.
Can the mayor afford a home?
Keep in mind that Stewart and his wife each earned a PhD. This probably came with some hefty student loans. They used to be poor students.
It's conceivable that even with a combined annual family gross income in the neighbourhood of $280,000, they couldn't afford a $1.5-million mortgage over 15 years, at a five-year fixed rate of 4.5 percent interest.
It would require monthly payments of $11,443.02, with no down payment and with no cheaper floating-rate mortgage.
That's a whopping $137,316 per year—far beyond the spending power of most tenants in the city.
But this duplex might be within reach of a debt-free couple with a family income of $280,000 and no children—without a down payment. And Stewart has declared that he has no liabilities on his financial-disclosure form.
Even if Stewart and Ashe can't afford a home like this on Fraser Street, they could likely finance a modest condo in Vancouver.
There are plenty selling not far from Vancouver City Hall in the Mount Pleasant area for less than $500,000.
This "renting" mayor of Vancouver is a clever man. But in politics, it's possible for him to be too clever by half.
This is the case when it comes to yammering about being a renter and inserting his personal housing choice into discussions about the city's housing-affordability crisis.
Vancouver's mayor is in the top five percent of income earners, according to the most recent data available from Statistics Canada.
If Stewart keeps prattling on about how he can't afford to buy a duplex on the East Side, some councillors and reporters—who are paid a lot less than him—might want to start placing barf bags under their seats in the chamber.
That's because if this continues over the next three years, they may become sick to their stomach having to listen to this tale of woe every time a rental-housing project is approved.