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Full text of Housing MInister Sean Fraser’s letter to Metro Vancouver

October 27th, 2023 · No Comments

Letter from Minister Fraser to Mayor Harvie (1)

Mayor George Harvie Mayor of Delta Chair of the Board of Metro Vancouver via electronic mail [email protected]

October 23, 2023

Dear Mr. Chair, We all know that we need to build more homes, and that we need to do so faster. At this particular moment in Canada, we must all do everything that we can to incentivize the construction of new homes so that we can make housing more affordable, and more attainable for all Canadians.

You and other Metro Vancouver region mayors have been excellent partners, and in fact leaders, in this pursuit to date so, I know that we are aligned in reaching this goal. Increasing Canada’s housing supply is a complicated task, and we all have different levers at our disposal in order to try and facilitate it.

At the federal level, we are first and foremost changing the financial equation for builders. That is why we recently announced a GST rebate, and an increase to the annual limit for Canada Mortgage Bonds to $60 billion, which is enabling access to financing for builders on better terms and incentivizing construction. We are also working together with municipal partners to change the way that homes are built in our communities.

This is the purpose of the federal Housing Accelerator Fund. It is a fund designed to incentivize cities to pursue zoning reform, and to expedite permitting so that more homes can be built in communities across the country, and more affordable homes can be made available to those who need them most.

Given the spirit of the Housing Accelerator Fund, and the work that the federal government is doing to change the financial equation for builders; large increases in development charges are at odds with these goals. I understand that the Metro Vancouver Board is currently considering tripling the development cost charges it levies on new developments, and that a vote on the proposal will take place at the end of this week. Significant increases to development charges have the potential deter development by offsetting the impact of other measures that reduce the cost of building.

When projects do advance, increased charges on development can lead to higher housing costs for renters and homeowners, making it more difficult to find somewhere affordable to live. – 2 – As you know, the development charges levied by Metro Vancouver would apply to all Metro Vancouver member municipalities.

Of these municipalities, several are eligible for funding under the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund and currently have their agreements paused while we consider the impact the increases may have on the target number of units which these cities have committed to under their agreements.

As part of their Housing Accelerator Fund applications, these cities have proposed various initiatives to help get more homes built, more quickly. In fact, some have proposed waiving their own development charges. It is difficult to discern the alignment between the proposals by some of these cities to waive their development charges, while Metro Vancouver is proposing to increase them in the same jurisdictions.

I appreciate that cities need access to funding to build out the infrastructure that the growth we are trying to incentivize will rely on. I am not suggesting that development charges, generally speaking, are unacceptable. While I also appreciate that some hold the perspective that ‘growth pays for growth,’ we will all pay for stagnation as a result of a lower pace of construction. A ‘growth pays for growth’ approach ignores the value that new development, new property tax bases, new businesses, and new neighbours bring to our communities.

I am concerned that at this particular moment in time, a drastic increase in development charges will inhibit our ability to seize the opportunity to incentivize a rapid increase in construction. In the spirit of finding a solution, I would like to collaborate on a resolution that ensures Metro Vancouver can support the infrastructure demands which growth will create, while respecting the spirit of building as many new homes as possible.

I am not insistent on any particular solution, but would expect that a number of options could be considered, including:

• Delaying the enactment of the DCC increase to allow for additional in-stream protection; and

• During the delay of the enactment of the increase, amending Metro Vancouver’s DCC waiver bylaws to facilitate meeting our shared objective of decreasing the cost of rental housing and incentivizing affordable rental housing. o Waiver bylaws could include:

Exempting purpose-built rentals from the waiver increase;

▪ Reducing the mixed-use threshold for which the current waiver applies;

▪ Adopting waivers for private developers who provide the development to a non-profit once complete; and/or

▪ Extending eligibility for DCC waivers to non-market rental units that are delivered by the private sector (i.e. inclusionary units).

The mayors and councils in this region are clearly seized with doing all that they can to build more homes in their communities, and I do not doubt that Metro Vancouver espouses a similar philosophy. In fact, their actions and initiatives toward reducing overall development costs for affordable housing, and the encouragement they offer member cities to implement similar measures are a proof point that they do.

I also recognize that these – 3 – charge increases were underway prior to the GST rebate and HAF agreements, but given the changing circumstances, I think it is wise for us to ensure we remain aligned on a continued basis and to rethink the current approach for a mutual benefit in the longer-term. Metro Vancouver’s success is integral to the success of the country, and I would welcome any alternate solutions you might have.

If any of the suggestions I have proposed seem feasible to you, if you have questions about them, or if you have others that you can consider, please reach out to me via my Chief of Staff (copied) for a discussion at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely, The Honourable Sean Fraser, P.C., M.P. Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities cc. Savannah Dewolfe, Chief of Staff, [email protected] Metro Vancouver Board Members Mayors of Metro Vancouver Municipalities Metro Vancouver Staff

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The Fabula guide on how to vote in the Vancouver civic election. Advance vote Oct. 13, voting day Oct. 15

October 13th, 2022 · No Comments

This is the ninth Vancouver civic election I’ve covered and, I think we can all agree, one of the most confusing ever for voters anxious to do their civic duty and make some informed choices.

I have to say, I am finding it hard to know how to give recommendations. So I’m not going to.

Instead, what I’m going to do this time around is come up with the likely way you’ll want to vote given your political persona. (Angus Reid used to do demographics-type analysis like this where they would label people as “the discouraged poor” or “affluent techies” or some such. I’ll try not to be so reductive but there has to be a certain amount of generalizing or I’ll never get anywhere)

With luck, you’ll feel an affinity for one of the descriptions here. I’ve drawn these from various conversations I’ve had privately with friends and with people on Twitter who DM’d me asking for advice, along with the general Twitter/public conversation.

So, given that intro, here goes, kinda going from left to right in the spectrum. Yes, yes, I know, left/right, there is no such thing, terrible simplistic language, blah blah. Whatever. Doing my best, kids.

1. I’m pretty committed to social justice in this city, think there is too much money going to police and not enough to real services for those in terrible need, and do not want to give any kind of full support to a neo-liberal mayor and councillors, no matter how much they claim they are progressives.

This group is voting the COPE slate, plus Sean Orr from VOTE Socialist. Some are adding in the four OneCity candidates.

For mayor, some are leaving it blank. If anyone calls the COPE team for advice, they’re told that “Kennedy Stewart has a good position on safe supply,” i.e. hold your nose and vote for him.

2. I generally vote left-progressive and I really believe the city needs to have way more housing of all kinds — a lot of subsidized housing and co-ops, but even market-rate housing. We’ve gotta make room in the city for young people like me (or like my kids). Can’t go with the COPE slate. That’s too far left for me and, anyway, they can’t win. I want to support people I think have a chance of controlling council. Plus climate change is very important to me and I want to support anyone championing this and not wringing their hands about how it’s all too undoable. 

I see people like this voting

  • Stewart for mayor
  • All four OneCity
  • One or two from Vision Vancouver, with Lesli Boldt at the top
  • Some from the Stewart Forward Together list, with Russill Wvong and Tessica Truong generally at the top, then Dulcy Anderson and maybe Alvin Singh next.
  • Possibly a couple of Greens

This tweet from Charles Montgomery, the author of Happy City and someone who worked with others to develop a co-housing project in Vancouver, is representative of this group.

Charles Montgomery
3. The current council hasn’t been so bad, in the end. Sure, there’s some muddling around with votes, but mostly they’re moving in the right direction and it’s good having those different voices.

This is kinda the direction the firefighters union took, where they endorsed Kennedy Stewart for mayor and all the current councillors who are running, except the NPA’s Melissa De Genova. They added  Iona Bonamis with OneCity, and Devyani Singh, a candidate for the Greens to their list, for a slightly more left-leaning council than the current one.

4. I’m super-pro-housing but I can’t bring myself to vote for a bunch of NDP types. I’m also in favour of generally more progressive, compassionate solutions to the city’s social problems but would don’t dismiss the need to bring more order to the streets.
This group, a lot of professional types in their 30s and 40s, are voting Progress Vancouver, mayoral candidate Mark Marissen and his slate. They’d likely add some OneCity people and maybe a Vision or two to fill out their ballots.

5. I can’t take the chaos at council any more and I didn’t agree with some key votes where the left-progressives got their way, especially on budgets and taxes. I want a coherent team in charge at city hall, but not anything too crazy right-wing or anti-housing, anti-homeless people. I do want a group more concerned with fiscal management, basic city services. Getting more housing of all kinds in the city is important to me. The current councillors have had a few weird votes on housing (Bligh against townhouses on Granville; Bligh against Broadway/Birch tower; Kirby-Yung and social housing 8th and Arbutus; all three against 12-storey social housing with no rezoning) but generally they’ve steered a reasonable course. Also want people to take the public disorder/crime stuff seriously but without promising necessarily immediate sweeps and clear-outs. 

This group, many of them former NPA voters but also some disenchanted Stewart + progressive slate, is voting the ABC slate and then I’m not sure what else. Some might be throwing votes to some or all of the Greens, maybe to OneCity Christine Boyle or COPE Jean Swanson just to show support for a different voice. (Though I suspect largely not. This is a disciplined group that may just vote the ABC slate and leave the rest blank.) Some may add in a bit of TEAM or NPA.

6. I want Vancouver to go back to development the way it used to be: neighbourhoods get to say what they want in the way of added density, a lot more gentle infill, keep most new development confined to the areas that are already zoned for it, NOT SO MANY TOWERS IF ANY AT ALL. I’m a homeowner dismayed by what looks like massive redevelopment of the city or a renter scared by the stories I’ve heard that my building will be torn down tomorrow because of the Broadway Plan. I’m also concerned about what seems like a breakdown in public order in the city and, even though I’m a compassionate person, I think we need a crackdown on it and more scrutiny of what’s really going on in the Downtown Eastside.

This is the group of people supporting TEAM for a Livable Vancouver. It’s a wide-ranging group, including both development-skeptical homeowners on the west side who have been NPA voters in the past and development-skeptical homeowners on the east side, many of whom vote NDP and have voted left for previous city councils. And, as I said above, scared renters. They don’t believe the housing analysts who say that allowing massive new amounts of housing in the city will bring down or moderate prices. They’re particularly concerned about the Broadway Plan, the Vancouver Plan, the Jericho Lands and Senakw developments and the Commercial/Broadway Safeway site project.

I’m not sure who else this group is supporting. If they are very concerned about crime issues, they might be throwing some of their non-TEAM slate votes to the NPA. If they’re more left and more concerned about the development issue, they might be giving those extra votes to COPE, even though COPE is diametrically opposed to TEAM positions when it comes to how to deal with the drug poisoning/public disorder/crime issues that are tangled together in people’s minds.

7. The city is a total mess. There’s out-of-control crime everywhere. The grass isn’t cut. Taxes are too high. The current council is too woke for words. Everything is falling apart. People are leaving the city. We need big change.

This group is essentially the city’s Conservative or most conservative voters, and they are sticking with the NPA, even though it has transformed itself from the much broader-spectrum party it was in the 1990s to something closer to the Conservative Party of Vancouver.

I can see people from this group also voting for some TEAM candidates.

Greens: I’m not sure what to say about the Greens to help anyone make a decision there. They tend to get elected through people committed to very different other slates giving them votes. Left-progressive types have typically supported them for their climate-change positions. More development-skeptical, more-right voters have supported them for their past opposition to housing projects that resident groups have opposed.

Still always very solid on climate-change policies. Generally supportive of more left-social-justice positions on e.g. drug poisoning. Supported the overdose-prevention site in Yaletown.

Some pundits think the Greens will be wiped out this time because they’ll lose both those constituencies. (YIMBYs are mad about housing projects they opposed; development-skeptics are made about housing projects they supported.)

After four years of watching, I feel like I still can’t understand which way they will go and am routinely startled by which ones veer which way on different housing issues. There’s always a surprise.

Adriane Carr has voted against so many housing projects in the past, but has been shifting to more support lately . She also supported the Broadway Plan and Vancouver Plan. Michael Wiebe cast a controversial and deciding vote in favour of the Broadway/Birch rental tower but then against the Broadway Plan.

Pete Fry has supported many contested housing projects and has been trying to convince Strathcona residents that having new rental built on Prior is a better option than having no new rental and seeing the existing housing stock get gentrified. But then he voted against Christine Boyle’s motion to allow non-profit housing at 12 stories everywhere with no rezoning required, saying that it could entice other charitable groups to come in and build housing in order to take the profits from it and use it for their other charity work. (Every housing advocate I know was utterly baffled by this one. Take the profits from non-profit housing that can barely break even??)

Some voters may actually like those shifting positions. Others, on both sides, may not. We’ll see on Saturday night.

Indigenous candidates: Some people are specifically trying to support Indigenous  candidates. Those include Tiyaltelut Kristen Rivers (OneCity) at park board, Chris Livingstone (COPE) at park board, Cinnamon Bhayani (NPA) at council, Breen Ouellette and Tanya Webking (COPE) at council, Matthew Norris (OneCity) at council, Jonah Gonzales for Progress Vancouver in Electoral Area A, Scott Jensen (ABC) for park board, and Leona Brown, independent, for mayor. (If I am missing anyone, please let me know ASAP.)


These seem like easier choices for everyone. I’d like to give more specific, individual recommendations but I just don’t feel that I know people well enough.

People on the left are either voting 1. COPE plus some OneCity and Vision, if they are more left 2. All Vision and OneCity with some COPE and Greens if they are more centre-left. There seems to be general agreement that Steve Cardwell, the former Vancouver school board superintendent now running for Vision, is an excellent choice.

People on the right are voting a combo of ABC, NPA, TEAM on school board, more ABC if they are more centrist.

Same for park board.




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How are people figuring out their Vancouver council vote in this complicated 2022 election. I asked. Got lots of answers

October 4th, 2022 · No Comments

This is an election that is making people worker harder than ever at trying to figure out 1. Who aligns with their values 2. Who to vote for from the entire council slate in order to support what they value 3. What strategic voting is.

I asked on Twitter how people were working through the calculations. Got a fascinating raft of responses in my Twitter DMs. Please, this is not a reliable survey or very comprehensive and I am in no way claiming it is. I’m sharing those, with the writers’ permissions, plus some of the public comments.

Obviously, those on the left/green/progressive side struggling much more because that side did not come to an agreement on how to limit their slates (or, in one case, formation of new parties) in order to provide voters with a coherent list to vote for. I got a lot fewer answers from people voting for ABC, TEAM, NPA because, I think, they don’t feel like they have so many difficult choices to make. They are voting for their mayoral choice and their slate, with a few other votes thrown in (or maybe none, because they’re being trained to “short slate” or “plump,” as it’s called.

Here we go

Massive fish out of water over here in Dunbar where there is a sea of TEAM and Sim signs. Strongly feel that folks who were lucky enough to be able to purchase in this neighbourhood (due to generation (me) or wealth) should not get to decide who also gets to live here. We need density! Also feel climate, reconciliation should be top priorities. So I will support OneCity and Vision.

Hi Frances! To answer your question about voting, I would consider myself a socialist, and my voting plans are Kennedy Stewart for mayor (this is a strategic decision, though I honestly don’t mind his policies), and across council, park board, and school board I’ll be voting OneCity, COPE, and Vote Socialist, and where there aren’t enough choices from each I’ll vote Forward Together. It was kind of difficult to make these choices given I’d prefer more left-wing options, but with what’s available these choices eventually felt obvious to me.

I appreciate your question and as an informed voter, concerned citizen, longtime resident, homeowner, parent, want to share my process: I read thru the various candidates platforms on the city website and created a color-coded list. Ended up choosing 6-7 each for Team, One City, ABC with 1-2 each for Vision, NPA, Progress  I want change for our city and considered safety, ethics, experience, housing, advocacy, diversity in making my choices. My method was to choose by person, not party. Will be interesting to see the results of election!


Cont… Morgane Oger – affordable housing, drug crisis, past PAC LGBTQ School Board (9) Kirsta Sigurdson – Van DPAC, UBC prof, DTES Kyla Epstein – VPL, PAC Rory Brown – Van teacher, BCTF, BCIT Steve Cardwell – educator, superintendent Josh Zhang – safe schools, inclusivity Gavin Somers – Out In Schools, neighbourhood schools LGBTQ Victoria Jung – seismic safe schools, inclusivity Preeti Faridkot – safety, inclusivity, IT Richmond Schools Aaron Leung – mental health, public land, youth and family advisory Park Board (7) Serena Jackson – Pacific Community Resource Society, at risk youth, LGBTQ Tiyaltelut Kristen Rivers – Councillor Squamish Nation, Van City, UNDRIP Kathleen Larsen – community planning, heritage Scott Jensen – teacher/EA in DTES Marie-Claire Howard – athlete, team manager, art space advocate

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An analysis of the recent BC Housing review ordered by the province

August 2nd, 2022 · No Comments

The province ordered a review of BC Housing last year to see whether how it was managing as the size and complexity of its mission had been expanded considerably under the NDP.

That review came out and has been universally viewed as a sign that something is seriously wrong at the agency, which has a budget of about $2 billion a year.

But a former Vancouver planner who was in charge of the city’s efforts on social housing, Cameron Gray, thinks there is a lot of missing information in the report. Here’s his take

Ernst & Young: Finance and Operation Review of BC Housing July 28, 2022

I was in charge of the City of Vancouver’s affordable housing initiatives from 1990 to 2010 during which time the City partnered with BC Housing on a wide range of social and supportive housing projects. These were by and large successful partnerships that produced several thousand units of social and supportive housing that provide safe, secure and affordable homes for families and individuals who otherwise would be paying unaffordable rents, be at risk of homelessness or actually homeless. I was surprised by the Ernst Young review of BC Housing as reported in the press.

It contradicted my experience (albeit of a dozen years ago) but also the positive assessment from the Province’s own Auditor General when they reported on BC Housing’s recent purchase of hotels to accommodate the growing numbers of homeless in BC.

I’ve now read the Ernst Young review of BC Housing finances and operations. Twice. It is a travesty and suffers from a major flaw that pervades the report and renders it virtually useless.

The fundamental problem with the report is its failure to describe what BC Housing does and how it operates now. It provides little of the relevant background. As a result it is impossible to know just how serious the issues are that the review identifies; whether there is a big problem, small problem or no problem.

A reader doesn’t know if BC Housing is an unmitigated disaster or only in need of fine tuning – as well as a major investment in IT. In some cases, it’s not clear that there is a problem.

For example, EY recommend that BC Housing’s priorities be aligned with the Province’s, who EY refers to as the shareholder (Ex. Summary and pg. 30/1), but they don’t say what the priorities of each are now and how they are not aligned.

A visit to BC Housing’s website, where BC Housing’s and the Province’s policies and priorities can easily be found in BC Housing’s Service Plans and in the Minister’s mandate letter respectively, and one can see that their priorities are, in fact, well aligned.

Before criticizing BC Housing for not collecting the data needed to monitor their programs, the report should have described the data BC Housing collects now and how it is used. Before recommending that BC Housing improve its documentation, as the EY report does in several places, it would be good to describe what BC Housing documents now and where the gaps are, something the EY report doesn’t do.

This problem pervades the report. To be useful it needs to, but rarely does, contrast what BC Housing does now with what the authors think BC Housing should be doing.

An example: EY recommend BC Housing improve its documentation while noting in the report that BC Housing’s documentation they reviewed for projects (pg. 36) and for selecting operators of non-profit housing providers (pg. 45) was complete and thorough – though this doesn’t appear in EY’s Findings.

Having said that, EY note that there are few sites for supportive and women’s transition housing, and approval of projects under these programs is necessarily opportunistic, but then complain that there isn’t evaluation criteria for them.

However, the programs themselves include the criteria a project needs to satisfy to qualify for funding (BC Housing’s Program Guide on BC Hsg.’s website). Evaluation criteria are required if there is competition for funding which in the case of these programs there isn’t. EY doesn’t describe the programs or how decisions are made, so a reader might think there is no process at all, and we have the story in June 28’s Vancouver Sun on the Kitsilano supportive housing project stating that the BC Housing board was fired because “the agency sometimes handed out multi-million dollar contracts without a rigorous process to ensure the best provider was chosen” when the EY review says no such thing. The report is saturated with generality (a lot of may be this and may be that) and provides few specifics or concrete examples.

For example, on the question of outcomes, which EY contrasts to outputs, units for BC Housing, it recommends BC Housing re-introduce measures of success it once used but doesn’t 2 say what those measures were (pg. 30).

The implication is that EY is recommending that BC Housing’s outcomes should include things that can’t be measured, like improving access to affordable housing, or measures BC Housing can’t control, like reducing homelessness; if society manufactures homelessness faster than BC Housing can provide shelters and supportive housing, homelessness will increase through no fault of BC Housing!

Actually the outcome that matters, and which BC Housing does control, is that every social and supportive housing unit BC Housing subsidizes be occupied by a person or family who would otherwise be paying too much for housing, be inadequately housed, or be homeless.

This data BC Housing does collect and, through its processes (stringent as non-profit providers can attest), is an outcome that BC Housing measures and monitors closely.

The provision of safe, secure and affordable homes (as opposed to units) is the outcome that matters, and needs to be and is BC Housing’s primary focus.

I could go on, but will try not to. But just a couple more examples. EY notes that in one case a subsidy payment was made before the operating agreement was signed, and on that basis recommends controls be put in place to ensure it never happens again (Recommendation 5-11).

But they don’t say why it happened; was it an oversight or was it because of some urgent circumstance, such as having to move homeless into a building before documents could be finalized? If the latter, then what would the proposed control do? Leave a building empty for a month or two?

The facts matter and EY doesn’t provide them.

Another example is EY’s recommendation that BC Housing conduct variance analysis, in particular as regards inflation, as they question whether the 3% estimate used in 2021 is still appropriate.

What they don’t do is describe is how BC Housing already deals with variances and, in particular, inflation. To imply that BC Housing doesn’t now is a cheap shot.

BC Housing is in contact with contractors daily and reviews non-profit operator budgets continually. It has better information than most as to inflation pressures. It doesn’t need EY to tell them to do the obvious.

And a last one: EY criticizes BC Housing for not reviewing it’s policies every 3 – 5 years but don’t tell us what the current review process is. Are its policies never reviewed, how often, how many fail the 3-5 year test? Is it a big or small problem or what? A minor example, but typical.

In short, the EY review is not the devastating critique that some think it is. The problems it identifies are largely the result of BC Housing’s rapid growth (BC Housing’s work and budget more than doubling in the past 5 years in response to the affordable housing crisis), and the consequences of the Covid pandemic, in particular on BC Housing’s capacity to do its work due to staffing shortfalls.

The most serious need EY identifies is upgrading the IT systems. Will Treasury Board fund that? It won’t be cheap. Much of the rest is ‘i’ dotting and ’t’ crossing.

So why the EY review and why what appears to be the Minister’s overreaction to it? Supposedly the review was motivated by the Little Mountain fiasco.

But the review doesn’t discuss Little Mountain, and its recommendations do not address how to avoid similar decisions being made in the future. This isn’t surprising, since the Little Mtn. deal was politically driven – get as big a price as possible to boost operating revenue in an election year, so the government of the day could claim a balanced budget, even if it meant leaving the site vacant for a decade or two.

What other reason then? Well, the fact that implementation of 19 of the 44 recommendations are to be led by the Chief Financial Officer, and only 5 by Development Services and 2 by Operations, the divisions that actually deliver and provide affordable housing, is a clue.

EY recommends that the role of Finance be “elevated” and that Finance should be embedded in all the departments where it should “take ownership for and actively manage the financial drivers of value” (Fig. 4) whatever that means – might give us another clue.

Even the IT recommendations are to be led by the CFO, which doesn’t make much sense given that EY recommends the CIO report directly to the CEO.

And it is interesting that Finance is 3 seen by EY as representing the shareholder’s (the Province’s) interests within BC Housing, see Recommendation 2-4, when surely that is one of the Board’s key roles.

It’s hard not to think that the review is the result of accountants hiring accountants to recommend more power to accountants!

And so it is not surprising the new board consists of 5 finance focused current and former senior bureaucrats and 2 indigenous business leaders. And I suppose also not surprising, though it should be, that it doesn’t include anyone with real experience in housing development, either from the for-profit or non-profit sector, or a tenant, or anyone with experience in operating housing, either from the for- profit or non-profit sector, or anyone from the services sector.

What I suspect is happening is that the keepers of the purse in Victoria (Treasury Board and Finance) want to rein in BC Housing, and the Province’s investment in housing in general, as they are concerned that the cost may double again over the next 5 years.

This is, in fact, a valid concern. Even if the land and construction costs are paid for, supportive housing for high need populations (homeless, substance users, mentally ill) requires on-going annual subsidies so every new building requires an increase in BC Housing’s annual operating budgets.

It’s not as if the Province doesn’t have a lot on its plate: rebuilding Lytton, the Coquihalla, the debt hangover from Covid, health care capacity, reconciliation, etc. That said, housing affordability and homelessness remain a crisis in BC.

My guess is that the affordable housing commitments the government has made will take a lot longer to fulfill than originally promised and may shrink. It is not surprising that the Minister has said that his housing priority as Premier will be affordable housing for the middle class, which costs a lot less/unit than housing for the homeless and other high need populations. It seems the government doesn’t want to come out and admit that the cost of meeting its affordable housing commitments (see the Minister’s mandate letter) is more than a challenge, and may exceed the Province’s capacity or willingness to pay, so have used this review as cover, hoping or pretending that by implementing its recommendations “to gain efficiencies and creating more capacity” (Executive Summary) aka ‘doing more with less’ which, unfortunately, usually means doing less, and often with more – more reviews, more monitoring, more reports, and more delay.

So even if the EY review is not the condemnation of BC Housing as some think, commentators may be right in thinking the Province is about to declare, not just housing supply, but even housing affordability and homelessness, to be problems caused by and therefore to be solved by municipalities at their expense.



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Why the difference in public reactions to upzoning for two big projects: Heather Lands and Jericho Lands

April 12th, 2022 · No Comments

Too long to do this as a screenshot, but here’s an interesting email someone (identifying as initials “PC”) sent me on this recent Twitter question.

You mentioned the difference in reactions between the Jericho and Heather Lands, wondering why one project is facing an organised NIMBY revolt and the other is basically being ignored:
“So it’s actually further along than Jericho and yet, as far as I can tell, there has been little or no public commentary. (Probably something out there but nothing like the current Jericho debate.) Why is that? Same FSR, similar concepts, also some towers.”
I’m not a social scientist, but using Jens’ excellent census mapper, I’d suggest a good portion of the reason for this difference in reaction lies with the racial/ethnic make-up of the two neighbourhoods. There’s a pretty clear difference in visible minority between the neighbourhoods surrounding the Heather Lands, and those surrounding Jericho:
In the census block immediately to the East of the Heather Lands, visible minorities make up over 80% of the population. In the census blocks surrounding Jericho, visible minorities make up 15-30%.
You can also look at the difference in how different neighbourhoods reacted to the Cambie Corridor rezoning of the last decade. I took part in the Douglas Park workshops organized by the City in 2015-2016. I was the only one at the table who argued in favour of even modest density in that neighbourhood (and the City had already taken the decision prior to the workshops of only allowing density along the Cambie and King Ed arterials). At most, the others at my table were ok with townhouses along King Ed.
I don’t know if you remember it, but here’s a prime example of how vociferous Douglas Park’s NIMBY’s are:
In sharp contrast, I don’t recall even a hint of controversy last year when this 19 storey rental tower was proposed for Columbia Park, also part of the Cambie Corridor, but about 15 blocks South, in the neighbourhood East of Oakridge and South of 41st:
Visible Minority of Columbia Park: 78%
Visible Minority of Douglas Park: 25-40%
I can only imagine how Douglas Park would implode at the thought of a 19-storey tower anywhere in this neighbourhood, especially based on how they’re reacting to the idea of a couple of 4-5 storey condo buildings on the old Balfour Lands:
“It’s often said gentle density proposed under a community plan would be warmly welcomed across #Vancouver. Perhaps some near Douglas Park missed that memo, as they’re vehemently opposed to this mix of strata, market & moderate income rental homes”
That diversion aside, and back to your original question: in terms of the difference between Heather and Jericho, I don’t think it’s a question of age, since the neighbourhoods around Heather tend to skew slightly older than those around Jericho:
I also don’t think it’s a question of income level, since the census areas to the East of Heather have slightly higher incomes than many of the areas around Jericho:

I don’t know if the Canadian Census tracks household wealth (vs just income), but maybe there’s a bit of a difference there between the two.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on this. Happy to read/hear about other possible explanations for this broad difference in NIMBY reactions.


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Damaged Vancouver seawalls will be a massive repair job, prompt re-think of how to deal with shores as tides and sea levels rise

January 11th, 2022 · No Comments

My first story of the new year. I hope it’s not going to be a year of just one disaster after another.

After a severe winter storm that crumbled portions of Stanley Park’s seawall and hurled logs and other debris across area beaches last week, the Vancouver Park Board says it has no idea how much time or money it will take to undertake repairs of long stretches of waterfront.

The damage from the king-tide surge that coincided with high winds last Friday is prompting the city’s park commissioners to consider what to prioritize as they expect a multimillion-dollar repair bill. Those choices include delaying or abandoning a planned restoration of the Jericho Pier on the Kitsilano shore, which had been closed already because of previous storm damage.

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Civic campaign 2022: Ken Sim speech at ABC party dinner Oct. 13

October 29th, 2021 · No Comments


 Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

180 Keefer St, Chinatown

Vancouver, BC V6A 1X4

I want to acknowledge that are on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples and I want to thank them for hosting us.

Thank you Elder Howard Grant for that wonderful welcome.

Floata restaurant for hosting such a wonderful dinner.

As a lot of you know, I am the son of immigrants

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A portrait of Philip Owen from the early years

October 1st, 2021 · No Comments

Former mayor Philip Owen died today. Many, many memories of him. Here’s a very early profile I did of him at the Vancouver Sun in 1996.

It’s close to midnight and, on the third floor at Vancouver city hall, the lighted windows are going dark, one by one. The man walking through the council offices turning out the lights and shutting the windows is Philip Owen. The mayor. Owen has gone through the stack of city reports coming up at next week’s council meeting. On each report, no matter how mundane — a lane closure, a copper tubing contract — there are notes, underlinings, highlighting, question marks.

Later, with the list of addresses of every city site mentioned, he makes a point that week of driving by to take a look at each one: the lane that is going to be closed, the house that is going to be demolished, the downtown block that is going to be rezoned.

Owen is getting ready to do the mayor’s monthly talk show in his office — an hour during which the general public is free to call in and complain about dog poop in the parks, motorcycle noise in the West End, and the city’s stupid new garbage fee. As he waits around in his TV make-up for the program to start, I ask how he likes the television format. He answers with boyish anxiety: “Well, you’ll see how it is. But with you here tonight, maybe someone will call in and I’ll goof.”

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As government money for social housing climbs, communities are in debates as they see proposals for new projects of a type they’ve never had before

May 31st, 2021 · No Comments

My story in the Globe is here and also in text below. I’m also appending below the police statistics I got on calls to addresses of all the supportive-housing projects built since 2010.

B.C. Housing is proposing a 12-storey building with 140 studio apartments geared for very low-income singles at a key intersection next to the new Arbutus SkyTrain station.

It has been 9 years since any social housing was built in Kitsilano, a Vancouver neighbourhood once known for its counterculture leanings that has since become an increasingly high-end enclave of extensively renovated older homes.

The Arbutus Co-op, a multiunit high-rise, and the Alumnae Manor, a seniors’ housing project, went up in 2002 in the last dribble of subsidized housing built in the area. Except for one project from 1991 and another in 2012, the rest of the subsidized housing in the area is mostly mixed-income, low-rise co-ops or seniors’ housing from the 1960s through to the 80s.

So a recent proposal from B.C. Housing comes as a wake-up call for the Kitsilano community – announced in February, the plan calls for a 12-storey building with 140 studio apartments geared for very low-income singles at a key intersection next to the new Arbutus SkyTrain station – the size and type of building that has not been seen in Vancouver beyond the Downtown Eastside.


The lack of details around the proposal has left current residents trying to figure out what the plan means for their neighbourhood – some are concerned, while others welcome it as a solution to the city’s ongoing problems with homelessness and lack of affordable housing.

Such divisions are likely to continue as the federal government, province and municipalities push to tackle these issues after many years where little was done to address the growing housing crisis in much of the country.

Not only is the pace of social-housing funding increasing from all three levels of government, but the flood of new initiatives has resulted in buildings being proposed in neighbourhoods that have not seen low-cost housing projects in decades.

Progress on city’s pledge to build much-needed social housing in Vancouver remains stalled

Vancouver’s affordable housing announcements remain unfulfilled years later

Many of the new proposals are also specifically for supportive housing, not just affordable units. Supportive housing encompasses projects designed to house those with the lowest incomes, with assistance provided for residents on site – ranging from meal programs and housekeeping to mental-health and addiction services.

In addition to the west-end Kitsilano proposal, the February B.C. Housing announcement included another, similar supportive-housing project in east Vancouver at King Edward Avenue and Knight Street.

In Kitsilano, one neighbourhood group, called Parents for Thoughtful City Planning, says their research unearthed some worst-case scenarios, such as a news account of a social-housing resident in Victoria who had guns and machetes in his room; the raft of police calls at the 147-unit Marguerite Ford building in the Olympic Village when it first opened in 2013; and ongoing complaints from nearby condo residents about garbage, drug paraphernalia and low-level crime.

“We’re opposed to more of the same,” group member Charlene Kettlewell said as she relayed the list. She and other group members, many of them connected to the private St. Augustine elementary Catholic school across the street from the proposed housing project, are concerned about adding more buildings to the area that they say will be too big, filled with too many residents and only increase problems in the neighbourhood.

But Lindsey Murphy, who lives a few blocks away from Ms. Kettlewell in a co-op with her children, says the social-housing buildings she’s familiar with are working well – a hopeful sign, she notes.

“I don’t think the Marguerite Ford is an accurate comparison,” she says. “It was built before [B.C. Housing] used a vulnerability-assessment tool to assess what residents need.”

Ms. Murphy points to a different project, the Kettle on Burrard – which provides housing and support services for adult and youth tenants at risk of homelessness – as a successful example resulting from the careful assessment of what residents might require to be fully supported in their new home.

Ms. Murphy and other supporters have formed their own group, Kitsilano for Inclusivity, and say it’s time for the neighbourhood to do its part in housing the city’s poorest residents.

“I understand the hesitancy and the fear,” she says. “A lot of it has to do with the stigmas – we see this every time one of these buildings is proposed. By and large, a lot of things have been proven not to be true.”

Ms. Murphy, who is president of her housing co-op and a member of the Canadian Housing Renewal Association’s tenant leadership group, has a lot of familiarity with the issues. Many other local residents don’t – something that housing operators acknowledge.

“I think it’s challenging in Vancouver right now because supportive-housing buildings are going into neighbourhoods where they haven’t been before,” says Tanya Fader, who oversees the management of hundreds of apartments for the non-profit PHS Community Services Society in 20 buildings throughout the region.

Newer developments result in entire neighbourhoods of people trying to understand how social-housing residents are selected, what kinds of supports they receive, how housing operators will connect with the community and many other related questions.

They don’t get always get the answers they’re seeking out, however.

Residents who live near the planned Arbutus project who are concerned about its size say it’s been frustrating that B.C. Housing has compared the project in community meetings with a three-storey building – an example that they say does not seem like what is actually being proposed. As well, early efforts at public engagement didn’t include the St. Augustine school across the street because TransLink mistakenly sent an email regarding the outreach to a school with the same name in Newfoundland.

Residents who have concerns about the project say they don’t know at this point how new residents will be chosen for the building, or any details about the vulnerability assessment tool (VAT) that has been used by B.C. Housing and non-profit housing providers since 2014.

The assessment, which B.C. imported from Seattle, aims to provide a picture for housing providers about what kind of support future residents might need, from basic survival skills to mental-health counselling. That allows building managers to decide how many and what type of staff will be needed, and to help ensure of a mix of residents.

“We do want to achieve a balance. That’s the key to success,” said Damian Murphy, the manager of Kettle on Burrard, one of the housing projects managed by the Kettle Society, which provides community services and advocacy to empower those living with mental illness, addiction, poverty and homelessness (the organization is not being considered as an operator for the Arbutus project).

The Kettle building is one of 14 supportive-housing projects constructed during a big push from the previous B.C. Liberal government, which came along with a memorandum of agreement that included two formulas about who should get one of the 1,400 apartments that were created.

One formula outlined that 50 per cent of people offered such housing should be those truly living on the street, 30 per cent should be those who were precariously housed (sleeping on a sofa at a friend’s, for example) and 20 per cent should be people at risk of losing their housing through situations such as renovictions or rent increases.

The second formula also spelled out that 50 per cent of the future residents in a social-housing building should be low-needs, 40 per cent medium-needs and only 10 per cent high-needs.

“Definitely the size of the building does play a role, but it depends on how it is managed,” Mr. Murphy said. “Some operators get bids because their budget is low – they only have two staff altogether. That’s not enough.”

At the Kettle on Burrard, there are 11 permanent staff and nine relief workers, plus a maintenance team. Because it’s a 24/7 operation, that means there are typically two people on shift at a time, with visiting specialists coming in for specific activities and services at various points.

Ms. Fader said PHS uses the same approach and has similar staffing levels.

“I review every referral that comes through and discuss with the managers, ‘Where is this person going to be the most set up for success?’ We’re always trying to figure out the balance.”

Too many high-needs residents can overwhelm staff. People who are prone to starting fires or to hoarding need to be in concrete buildings, Ms. Fader explained. Some people need to be near the mental-health team they’re already connected to.

But nervous resident groups sometimes default to the bits of data occasionally provided by police about the number of police calls to the most high-profile buildings.

Vancouver police records requested by The Globe and Mail show that the range of calls to the city’s 14 supportive-housing buildings ranged in 2020 from a low of four calls at the Broadway Youth Resources tower at Fraser and Broadway Streets, to 789 calls at the Alexander Street community housing tower at 111 Princess St., managed by PHS. The Kettle on Burrard had 90 calls, the McLaren Housing Society building on Howe Street had 95, while The Budzy, also on Princess Street, had 305.

Among the city’s temporary modular housing projects, which typically have around 40 units, the police calls in 2020 ranged from 333 to the project near the Olympic Village station to eight at a cluster on Heather Street in the Marpole area.

But as housing advocates point out, such statistics are not an accurate measure, since the call volume can stem from anything such as irate neighbours phoning in, a resident who is obsessively calling 911 or issues on the street nearby.

Meanwhile, there is no available data on non-profit agencies’ track record in managing such housing projects. Nor is there precise information on how calls to police might be a reflection of an agency’s willingness – or not – to take on difficult residents who may have been kicked out of other places. Some PHS buildings will have more challenging residents, Ms. Fader said, because the organization does not evict people who are likely to end up on the street.

Residents who live near existing supportive or transitional housing say they find it difficult to assess what issues might be connected to already existing problems in their neighbourhoods, and what might be related to the realities of those with high needs living in social housing.

Non-profit housing managers emphasize that neighbourhood concerns often go down when residents are able to connect with the group that will be running the building. So far, B.C. Housing has not announced which non-profit organizations will manage the two new proposed supportive-housing towers. When that information is made public and the project progresses, residents will have an opportunity to engage with those organizations, Ms. Fader explained.

“When we were opening places in False Creek, there were a lot of concerned seniors,” Ms. Fader recalled. “Once we told them how involved our staff were, you could see the weight roll off their shoulders.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the last social housing was built 19 years ago. It was nine years ago. Also, it was TransLink that sent an email to the wrong neighbourhood school, not the city.

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Many social-housing announcements and approvals in Vancouver, not so much getting built

May 28th, 2021 · No Comments

I got an email from someone back in January with a list of social-housing projects that had been announced going back a few years, asking what had happened. At first, I thought it might be a problem with BC Housing funding and rules. That probably plays a part, but the bigger issue turned out to be the city’s increasingly slow planning and permitting processes, as I found when I started compiling all the statistics.



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