By Mark Marissen
Healthy cities require a strong middle class. Unfortunately for us, Vancouver is well on its way to becoming a city for the very rich and the very poor.
If, like me, you want Vancouver to be a home for middle-class families, it’s past the time for us to take urgent action.
Most younger Vancouver families can only hope to own a home if they have asset-rich parents. And, when looking for a place to rent, they’ve got very few options that provide them with any kind of long-term security.
They’re not the only ones who feel defeated.
Most of our essential workers—our nurses, firefighters, paramedics, police officers, our kids’ teachers—have given up on the dream of owning or renting a home in our city, and are moving further and further away from the people they support, in search of affordability.
So many of the people who were once the heart and soul of our neighbourhoods are now stuck in their cars, driving in from the suburbs, with no choice but to pollute everyone’s air, forcing us to build longer and longer highways that all of us have to pay for, challenging everyone’s quality of life.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Before we talk about solutions, it’s important for all of us to acknowledge the fact that single-detached houses in Vancouver will most likely never be available again for middle-class families who don’t have access to a large inheritance.
If we want Vancouver to be a city for middle-class families, we need to be building homes they can afford. Homes that are closer to school and to work, and with more opportunities for recreation and a healthy lifestyle. Homes that involve less time commuting and more time for living. We also need homes for seniors that can be found in the same neighbourhoods where they grew up.
We need these homes, near schools and transit, and we need them now.
We also need to create a regulatory environment that supports creating more co-ops and nonprofit housing.
Our housing shortage is affecting everyone in this city.
This is because, regardless of Vancouver’s central role in the region, on most of the residential land in the city, it’s still illegal to build the types of housing we need. And in the few spots where it’s allowed, homeowners are dragged for years through a Kafkaesque maze, even for some of the most routine approvals.
This persistent housing shortage is due, in part, to our Vancouver City Hall’s slowness—or unwillingness—to act.
It’s time for courage and leadership.
As mayor, I will work relentlessly to reform our outdated land use policies and urgently clean up our byzantine permitting processes so that we can build the homes we need.
A few family-friendly housing policies we are working on include:
Utilizing as much city-owned (non-park) land as possible to deliver mixed income and affordable family-oriented housing, through a new agency called the Vancouver Civic Housing Corporation. I will be talking to people at the front lines of the housing shortage crisis over the coming months to further define this public corporation’s mandate and how this housing will be most effectively delivered. But one thing is for certain: this cannot be just another layer of bureaucracy—it must deliver results, moving at the speed of the private sector. Vancouver’s unique challenges require our own dedicated approach, guided by pragmatism, not ideology.
Going further than the city’s recent decision to allow for family-friendly housing along and near arterials, by increasing availability of family-friendly housing around public schools.
We also need to make Vancouver a world leader in co-op and co-housing by offering new incentives and a regulatory environment to build more types of housing currently not allowed.
These are just a few ideas. There will be lots more to be discussed in the coming months, and we will be sharing them for feedback while we develop our platform, which will be announced closer to the October election.
I believe Vancouver’s best days are still ahead of us if we make the right decisions today. Too much time has already been wasted.
If we choose progress—i.e., electing people who will work together with open minds and open hearts—we can actually get things done, ensuring that families from every background can contribute to Vancouver’s future for decades to come.