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Open meeting on how to create affordable housing

April 24th, 2009 · 21 Comments

If you’d like to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon at the cemetery listening to people talk about how to create affordable housing in Vancouver, you can.

The Vision Vancouver council’s latest task force/brainstorming/collective put in place to hone in on an issue — in this case, how to create affordable and rental housing — is going to be meeting at the Celebration Hall at Mountain View Cemetery from 2-5 tomorrow, April 25.

As far as I know, it’s not a public free-for-all but you can listen to the people at the roundtable and their suggestions. Raymond Louie said those invited to the roundtable include people from the development industry, architects, BC Housing staff, CHMC staff, and representatives from tenant groups like the Tenants Rights Action Coalition. A warning, though — there are already 40 people invited to be part of the roundtable, leaving only a few spots in the small room for the general public. 

It’s interesting that this meeting is open, when other task forces (homelessness, greenest city, developers’ group on what the heck to do with the Olympic village) haven’t been. Maybe it’s because this is more about general policy. Maybe because council is realizing that if it’s going to create a task force a month that is giving advice that the city is going to put into action, everyone should get a sense of what the different parties are pitching.

NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton is pretty critical of the way the recent rash of Vision Vancouver task forces have been run — announced without any council approval, some (like the Greenest City one) appropriating money from city departments, held in private. She says that if they’re going to be giving advice to councillors, they should be structured like advisory committees, with public meetings and minutes, so everyone knows what’s going on.

It’s an interesting point, although it seems to me there are more shades of gray than people think at first glance. There are all kinds of meetings that ciy councillors have with various parties on issues that result in motions and votes at council. Former mayor Sam Sullivan had all kinds of meetings with stakeholder groups in the mayor’s office when he was developing his ideas about Project Civil City, the drug-substitution program and EcoDensity. So did Larry Campbell. There have been film task forces and crime coalitions, meetings with the Fair Tax Coalition, input from the arts community, and you name it over the years.

So there’s a question about where you draw the line on what should be open and what shouldn’t be. Should the public be able to sit in on every meeting the mayor has? I think we all agree there’s a logistical problem with that. But should the public be able to understand who is having an influence on an immminent policy decision and what they’re saying? I think most of us would like to know that.

The question is coming up because this Vision council is doing things differently. Staff have always held meetings with stakeholder groups as they develop policies that are eventually brought to council. (See Charles Gauthier’s post in relation to how the city’s Metro Core policy/downtown vision was developed, for an example.) But here, we see the politicians getting more directly involved, by setting up those groups, deciding who the stakeholders are and sitting around the table with them to hear their advice. That’s all part of the Vision view that it should be politicians who drive change, not the staff.

But if they’re going to do that, does it need a new kind of process with new rules? Interested in your comments.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • T W

    All the task forces should have a transparent mandate and process and place their objectives and results of discussions on an accessible web site.

    Anything else might be construed, correctly or incorrectly as lobbying.

    As taxpayers, we have a right to transparency in the city policy development process

  • fbula

    Okay, I get that that’s a relatively easy decision to make. But what about all the other meetings that, perhaps, aren’t called task forces but still involve stakeholders meeting with city staff or politicians on a particular issue.

  • T W

    Fair enough:

    Task forces are created because there is no existing policy and new directions and consultation are needed. But where existing policies are being applied, there is a risk of selectivity. That is why we have committee and council meetings open to the public. But what often happens is that stakeholders prefer to keep their pitches hidden and unless a council has a policy of transparency, the public interest may not be protected.

  • LP

    It’s 2009, not 1989 and VV utilized technology and the web to get elected. Gregor supposedly twitters himself as was discussed in the great Fbula twitter post and discussion awhile back.

    Surely they (mayor/council) have the capability to be as transparent as they want, and as they said they would be.

    They simply are not.

    It stinks of arrogance (Vision Governs, the NPA Blogs), and chicken dung.

  • Michael Phillips

    Presentation matters and so I don’t blame VV for wanting to keep the initial brainstorming sessions of a committee like GCAT private. This is the part of the process where the more wacko of the ideas are proposed and then politely discarded before they make it into the media as potential policies. For instance, Tsakumis recently wrote in 24 about how little sense it made to make the GCAT meetings private and then proceeded to lambast the FOI’d details of the meeting, illustrating the very reason the meeting was held in private in the first place.

    I’m also happy about the shift to politically-formulated rather than staff-formulated policy. The only legitimate representatives of the public will in civic government are our Councillors and Mayor and if we want democratic policy then they are the ones to formulate it. Staff are there to provide information, fill in the details of policy and make it real.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Michael:

    What I wrote in my column was not what you have repeated here.

    I was astounding that they talked open and transparent government on “all issues that matter to people…there will be no secret meetings on anything we do no matter what it is…”

    Word for word from the Mayor’s mouth in November.

    Then they start in with private meetings, or ones that are unaccountable, and begin the process of greening us to death with measures that won’t mean one godamned bit to the environment.

    Bloody hell, Andrea Reimer to0k a 747 jumbo jet to Bogota ON EARTH DAY! That’s five gallons of wasted fuel per mile…ON EARTH DAY!!! David Suzuki, another of the Mayor’s Eco-Justice League, is the greatest, most shameless eco-fraud in Canadian history. He did a country wide tour a few years back, BY BUS! And to promote what? Minimizing our carbon footprint. As soon as the cameras arrived in Victoria, he pulled a mountain bike from the bus and rode the last mile.

    There is no shame in helping the environment. There is only great shame in not living by your words and LYING to et headlines, while being a hypocrite. (Andrea would be exempted from this, but not the dunce Suzuki)

    Your lauding Vision for keeping the more “wacko” ideas private, only serves to confirm what I have said for the last three weeks: This lot is showing itself to be as disingenuous as the last, despite the fact that the new council has better talent.

    We deserve a real plan about real issues: treatment, long-term shelters, housing, efficiencies of economies of scale…

    Instead, we get bottle water boners, green-envy nonsense and chicken wire.

    I don’t mind if you try to repeat what I wrote and get it even partially wrong, but I do mind if you were taking liberties with my words.

    I assume in the spirit of how you offer your usually pithy comments here that it was an innocent misinterpretation.

  • glissando remmy

    “They are meeting where?”
    That’s how David Letterman started his Friday’s 24th, Late Show Top Ten List.
    “Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s tonight’s Top Ten. The category tonight, it’s a good one, Top Ten reasons why the roundtable meeting on the subject of affordable housing in Vancouver is taking place in a…cemetery. Here we go:
    No 10. Affordable housing in Vancouver is becoming more and more THE…underground economy.
    No 9. Because, as they say, affordable housing in Vancouver is already a dead issue .
    No 8. When she booked the venue, the City manager asked her staff to look for a room with a …Vision view.
    No 7. Only place where Madame Cleo the psychic, agreed to join in the discussion via telepathic power. She said there is a real future in affordable housing in Vancouver…and clinical depression.
    No 6. Holy ground! No chicken, no goats, no bee hives.
    No 5. Because Raymond Louie’s favourite movie is “The sixth sense”.
    No 4. Dead people listen well and don’t talk back. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil!
    No 3. Suddenly, potential dead voters are looking better than ever!
    No 2. What happens in Mountain View stays in Mountain View.
    No 1. It’s not about housing; it’s all about the view corridors. Why do dead people always have the best views?

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Michael Phillips

    Hi Alex,

    Perhaps I misinterpreted but I’m not sure how. I’d just like to clarify the comments I was using to come to my conclusion:

    “What happened to the openness and transparency the Mayor promised? This bloody star-chamber meets in secret! Imagine!”

    “…some genius among the two dozen bobble-heads of the Mayor’s secret silo thinks we should entertain thermal imaging of new homes..”

    “Not to be outdone, some other team suggested we eliminate all coffee cups and food containers. Even the Mayor’s chief of Staff has joined in the lunacy by suggesting we become ‘intolerant’ of those non-green amoug us. Wonderful, the city’s top political spin-o-brat is preaching intolerance!”

    24 Hours – 4/23

    At this early brainstorming stage of the process I don’t think the GCAT members, most of whom are not politicians, should be constrained in what they say to the group by wondering “How would this new idea look in a column in the newspaper? Should I even mention it?”. To try to facilitate the expression and discussion of new ideas through privacy at this early stage I don’t find disingenuous.

    Also, the more “wacko” of these embryotic ideas will naturally embarass the process if scrutinized by the media even though they are essential to the early part of the process.

    It’s as if your reading public could FOI the earliest drafts of your columns, before you’ve had a chance to apply the usual moderation and polish to them 🙂

  • LP

    Glissando,

    You have out-done yourself with your top ten list.

    I’ve long thought Dave needs some new writers, his lists are dying……pardon the extension of your bit.

    You should apply, that was better than any I’ve heard on Letterman for some time now.

  • The West End Residents (WERA) was invited to the round table on affordable housing and we will enthusiastically participate in the event. Having a public dialogue on this important issue for the CoV is an important first step in the start a new policy direction and we welcome the opportunity to share our input on this issue.

    To view WERA’s submission to the forum check it out at our website: WERA.bc.ca

  • LP

    “”At this early brainstorming stage of the process I don’t think the GCAT members, most of whom are not politicians, should be constrained in what they say to the group by wondering “How would this new idea look in a column in the newspaper? Should I even mention it?”. To try to facilitate the expression and discussion of new ideas through privacy at this early stage I don’t find disingenuous.

    Also, the more “wacko” of these embryotic ideas will naturally embarass the process if scrutinized by the media even though they are essential to the early part of the process. “”

    Michael,

    I’m sorry but I must jump into your discussion with AGT.

    As someone who’s been part of many “brainstorming” sessions, what disgusts me, the average voter, about these “embriotic ideas” is that it shows the depth of ignorance by the people chosen for the panel. Whomever chairs these meetings should be ashamed of themselves for allowing such nonsense to be tabled for discussion.

    If this is the level of their ideas at the “embriotic” stage, they could all be replaced by Grade 5 students at the bottom-rung of the schools rated by the Fraser Institute.

    Frankly any Grade 5 students would come up with much better ideas than this group of buffoons and the public would be more apt to give their ideas a chance.

    As for whether or not these non-politicians should be worried about how their ideas would be received in the media, that’s complete horse manure. If anyone believes their idea is not worthy of the critique by the media and the public they shouldn’t be sitting on a committee recommending change to elected leaders, or even bringing up their nonsense for discussion.

    Again I bring up the big boy potty. If you haven’t graduated then don’t bother jumping into the pool by sitting on a committee like Gregor has established.

    READ: If critique stifles anyone’s “expression and discussion” they shouldn’t be on such a panel – period.

    Unless you’re channeling Doug Hall, next time you’re in a “brainstorming” session and people start bringing up nonsensical concepts as part of the discussion, turn to the chair and have them POLITELY move the dialogue along. Your sessions will become much more productive and conducive to coming up with real solutions which are suitable to larger groups, and not just the special interest ones.

  • Don Buchanan

    Some here need a reminder of what the term brainstorm means – no editing, critiquing, name calling, credential contesting comments.

    Didn’t someone like Foucoult say that the middle is defined by the two extremes?

    Anyway, I do have to echo that the lack of public dialogue on these fundamental issues is a bit disconcerting. Greenest City – how about just going back to CityPlan and the original Transportation plan and see what hasn’t been done? Most of the hard things were ignored by previous administrations.

    A key component of a solid planning process is that it is transparent, stakeholders know how their input will affect the process, and regular reporting keeps people in the loop.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    I agree, at least in principle, with you Michael.

    But I must fully agree with LP. Anyone who brainfarts, er, excuse me, brainstorms thermal imaging or “intolerance” and is synchronously idiot enough to put it on the website, is only asking for the rebuke they received–period.

    What happened to the responsible govt they promised?

    What’s been the biggest story out of Vision’s bailiwick over the last few months?

    The Mayor falling just short of spit-swapping with a compassionless, arrogant fool, the Premier.

    Vision should start holding all their meetings in a graveyard, because if they keep this up…

    …I’m just simply going to sharpen the end of my shovel.

  • LP

    For Don and anyone else who may not know who Doug Hall is, he is a marketing whiz who is retained by companies to assist them develop new products and line extensions for their companies.

    His brainstorming sessions are all over the map, which in essence is to spur creativity. Sometimes they play video games, other times they beat each other silly with nerf toys. However, for the most part his clients are private companies and their goals are consumer related.

    The committees Gregor has set up are to engage and suggest change in public policy. They need to be run/managed in a higher regard than Mr. Hall runs his. That includes the ideas that are generated and discussed.

  • Vision governs, the NPA blogs

    On Don’s point about public input, the whole process has been clear from Day 1 – an advisory group of top experts was recruited to provide two reports: a quick starts report, and a 10 year plan. The public input comes when the reports are released – otherwise, why would you have the advisory group of experts? why not just have one big open dragged out process that gets muddled down in months of needless community “open houses” (EcoDensity anyone) to create ideas that everyone knows are out there?

    This is a classic example of you can’t please everyone. If Gregor had called for a year-long process to come up with the best enviro ideas from the public, he’d be lambasted for more “talks” and not taking action. Anything in a shorter time frame, it’s being rammed down the public’s throat.

    And speaking of not being able to please everyone, LP, you certainly take the cake with your dissatisfaction of how a brainstorming session is run based on minutes from the first meeting. I actually think you don’t go far enough: there should not be any thinking out loud, until all thoughts meet your threshold of “a higher regard.”

  • LP

    Vision Blunders,

    I always wondered what arrogance sounded like, apparently now we know. Keep it up and you’ll be the one blogging in 30 months or so.

    All of you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    The arrogance, bullying tactics, and lack of inclusiveness in thoughts, are not qualities of any brainstorming session that someone should be defending, regardless of what stage of the process they are at.

    Apparently some of you have bought into the belief that brainstorming sessions should be wide open free-for-alls so that “creativity” and those who generate ideas are not stifled.

    Perhaps you have even posted a sign on the door that encourages “unlimited brain-farts”. This is the absolute worst way to run a brainstorming session and results in lost time, lost productivity, and extra expense. But apparently thats okay with you, Vision Blunders.

    To mock my disdain and suggest I haven’t been extreme enough in my comments, just exemplifies the problem with VV from the start.
    Somewhere you folks have forgotten that you were elected to serve all of the people and not just a select few that agree with your point of view.

    Your moniker suggests just that, and I promise that as you continue to post your VV bile, under what you think is an “oh so clever blogger persona”, that you will do more harm than good to your party for the next election.

    As for your “panel of experts”, I’d take a panel of Grade 5 students over your experts regarding the environment any day.

    Their ideas would be more genuine, they wouldn’t be intolerant or bullying in nature, and they likely would be far more realistic.

  • So I attended the session, and am pleased to offer the following initial personal observations. I have also posted some of the ideas that I took to the session on my blog at http://www.gellersworldtravel.blogspot.com:

    1. The session was generally worthwhile. There was a good cross section of interests present…developers, architects, government officials, housing activists, and Wendy Pedersen.

    2. The session began with a presentation of the mayor’s goals…that can be summarized as follows:
    1. Expand the supply
    2. Take unilateral action, using city resources to kick start
    3. Provide leadership in difficult economic times
    4. Encourage 100% new multi residential in perpetuity
    5. Balance community visions with the need to accommodate new rental housing, focused in local shopping areas and near transit
    6. Adhere to rate of change regulations
    7. Maintain urban design quality
    8. Apply programs city wide
    9. Encourage rental housing in association with transit
    10. Seek value for money (supply relative to incentives)

    3. The session started with a presentation by city staff that focused on how to close the financial gap between economic rent (what it costs to build and operate) and market rent. While opinions varied, the point was made that even with free land, rental housing development is not always profitable. The ideas presented by staff included reduced parking requirements, reduced DCC’s, reduced development and building fees, extra density through rezonings, etc.

    4. There followed a brief discussion on general concerns. It quickly began to distinguish between the provision of rental housing, and the provision of AFFORDABLE rental housing. While there is clearly a need for the latter, I’m not sure everyone agreed there is a need to spend significant city funds just to create additions to the rental housing stock.
    In this regard, there was a discussion re: the current vacancy rate. Staff reported that CMHC says it’s 0.3 %; however this does not include basement suites, or condo’s that are rented. I reported that at a recent UDI workshop, the consensus was that the vacancy rate is more like 5 to 6 %.

    5. The participants then broke out into small groups to present their solutions. These were then briefly reported back by city staff who served as the ‘presenters’, which in my opinion was a mistake. (I was told that the organizers thought staff would be more concise than participants!)

    6. Not surprisingly, there was a variety of opinions. Many architects and developers suggested that even with the proposed incentives, the gap between economic and affordable market rent could not be closed. Unfortunately, time did not allow any discussion on the ideas presented.

    7. There was a general consensus that a key initiative should be to speed up the city’s approval process, both for rezonings, but also for development approvals. The highly regarded and experienced architect in my ‘break-out’ group said it currently takes 22 to 24 months to take a rezoning through the system. On this basis, no one is going to seek a rezoning to build rental housing. Others noted that while the politicians seemed keen to act, they worried whether staff could depart from their more lengthy, professional reviews that end up taking much tooooooo lonnnnnnng.

    8. Some people seemed to share my personal view that the city should not be offering reduced DCC’s, reduced permit fees, and property tax holidays, just to encourage the supply of market rental housing. In addition to the question of whether this is money well spent, it raises issues of equity, and management…what do the operating agreements allow, etc.

    9. Some ideas that I thought were worth considering included requiring a payback of any city monetary incentives under certain conditions; encouraging mixed market condo/rental buildings, with permission to subdivide the rental component into ‘chunks’ of units (say on a floor by floor basis) to attract smaller investors (we did this in a rental building at Bayshore), allowing ‘secondary suites within multi-family buildings (as done at SFU’s UniverCity), accelerating the laneway housing, and possibly allowing conversions of existing buildings into affordable rental units.

    10. The session focused on both short term and longer term solutions. While I applaud the city for wanting to take action, I still question whether we should spend limited funds just to encourage some rental apartments over shops along an arterial (that might otherwise have gone condo) or a larger rental building. I think many are ready to build rental anyway. However, I do support parking reductions, reductions to minimum unit sizes, density bonuses and accelerated approvals as a way to encourage some projects to proceed.
    (I would support the city offering tax relief to any landowner who was willing to allow relocatable modular housing that provided affordable rental suites!)
    Limited public funds could then be used to assist lower income individuals and households to get into units they might not otherwise be able to afford.

  • Vision governs, the NPA blogs

    Deep breath, LP. Were you in the green city meeting? I’m assuming you weren’t, as you recommended a panel of Grade 5 students over the current one. Might be a bit awkward explaining that one to Suzuki and Vrooman in the next meeting.

    Frances, why don’t you put this one to bed and ask some of the people who were in the meeting how it was? Perhaps that would be better than passing all-encompassing judgments on the Mayor’s leadership based on point-form minutes posted on a blog.

    LP, I’m happy to debate the various happenings in the city with you, but if a dash of sarcasm from time to time gets under your skin enough to result in blog name-twisting, spare us and save it for public eye.

  • Joe Just Joe

    The truth is we live in a city that only houses ~25% of the regions population. Any changes we make at the end of the day are futile, w/o the rest of the region following in lockstep. Vancouver could increase it’s rental units by 50% over 5years and it wouldn’t make rents any cheaper unless the other municipalities did likewise. Matters like this are better dealt with at the regional level. MG brings up a very good point about vacancy rates being much higher then the .3% (offical rate). The number of single unit rentals that are not counted by CHMC will continue to increase over time and a new measuring stick is needed. I beleive the solution boils down to simple supply/demand. Flooding the market with supply has no option but to bring down prices. There is no incentive though for developers to flood the market, so what needs to be done is create that incentive. This will obviously be met with some backlash and perceived opinions that the city is selling out to developers, but it’s in the common good for the city. At least in my opinion. Cheers.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Maybe an interim solution is akin to the community garden zoning. Allow a developer that isn’t planning on proceeding for a couple of years the option of giving up their land to the stop-gap program for a min of 18months and in exchange their property taxes are waved for that duration, maybe even a token payment by the city and the province. Would be cheaper then having the city buy up land to house the containers, there is a steady supply of vacant lots across the city at any given time.

  • Westender

    Michael Geller (whom I have great respect for) commented that: “Others noted that while the politicians seemed keen to act, they worried whether staff could depart from their more lengthy, professional reviews that end up taking much tooooooo lonnnnnnng.”

    While I don’t disagree, we should all recognize that the development review process is an invention of Council, not of staff….the process arises from a desire to ensure that the public “has its say” and that the City achieves development that meets its own policy objectives. Please don’t hold staff up as a stumbling block – I suspect they are quite happy to implement whatever process changes desired (within reason) by City Council.