Tim Louis: Sharing the gold gleaned from real estate development

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      Last week, Mayor Kennedy Stewart called a special city council meeting regarding a motion he was introducing to address Vancouver's homelessness crisis, especially the 300 or so unsheltered people now living in Strathcona Park.

      I'm pleased to see that at September 14 council meeting, councillors directed staff to look into and report back on the mayor's three options:

      • leasing or purchasing housing units such as hotels and SROs (single-room occupancy residences);
      • establishing a temporary emergency relief encampment on vacant public or private land;
      • temporarily converting city-owned buildings into emergency housing or shelters.

      Council also directed staff to look into tiny-house villages and securing space for people living in RVs parked on city streets.

      While these new proposals are steps in the right direction, they fail to hold property developers accountable for Vancouver's lack of affordable housing.

      I've blogged about it before, and I'll say it again: what Vancouver needs is a bylaw that would require all developers proposing new residential buildings more than three storeys high to set aside 20 percent of the units as rentals, where the rent is one third, or less, of the renter's income.

      I was part of the COPE majority on Vancouver city council from 2002 to 2005. I still regret the fact that during this time such a bylaw was never even proposed, never mind passed. I can't tell you exactly why it wasn't, but since hindsight is always 20/20, I now clearly see why this concept of designating 20 percent of new development for affordable rentals is the only viable solution.

      The city simply does not have the financial resources at its disposal to build large amounts of affordable housing.

      Recently, the province worked with the city to get 450 units of affordable housing built by 2021. That's also a good step, but not nearly enough.

      From what we've seen overall from the provincial and federal governments during the past 20 years, they're not stepping up to the plate. Note what NDP MP Jenny Kwan just dug out—the feds have only spent half a percent—that's 0.05 percent—of their total CMHC budget for affordable housing in B.C. over the past two years! Ontario has gotten the lion's share.

      Real estate developers make enormous amounts of money. As former COPE city councillor, Harry Rankin, was fond of saying, when city council rezones property at the request of a developer, dirt is turned into gold!

      Setting aside 20 percent of new residential units at affordable rental rates shares just a tiny portion of that gold.

      Daily atmospheric CO2 [Courtesy of CO2.Earth]

      Latest daily total (Sept. 16, 2020): 411.66 ppm

      One year ago (Sept. 16, 2019): 408.64 ppm

      Tim Louis is a Vancouver lawyer and former city councillor and park commissioner. This article first appeared on his blog, which lists the daily carbon dioxide count in parts per million in the atmosphere at the end of every post. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.