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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.

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