Vancouver mayor's housing ownership affordability plan hamstrung by city council

Sep 30 2020, 11:15 am

The much-touted “Making Home” plan by Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart was indefinitely delayed, if not rejected, by city council on Tuesday evening.

Two weeks ago, Stewart announced a proposal for a pilot project that would enable up to six homes on a standard size lot, including four sellable market homes, as long as up to two additional homes are permanently set aside for affordable to middle-income, working households earning $80,000 annually.

If it had been approved, the pilot project would allow up to 100 individual pilot projects across single-family neighbourhoods, with the guidelines established by city staff for city council’s consideration in the second quarter of 2021 and the pilot’s launch in the following quarter.

However, city council voted 7-2 to send the motion, which had gone through layers of amendments, to city staff to determine its feasibility and include concepts in the complete neighbourhoods public consultation scheduled Fall 2020 as part of the Vancouver Plan.

Non-Partisan Association (NPA) and Green Party councillors, as well as independent councillor Rebecca Bligh, voted in support of the referral to staff. Stewart and OneCity councillor Christine Boyle voted against the referral, while NPA councillor Melissa De Genova and COPE councillor Jean Swanson abstained.

“If the Vancouver Plan is just an excuse not to do anything, then I’ll begin to really question its merits. We really need relief in this city for folks living below the poverty line, vulnerable populations, renters, and those who aspire to buy a home in this city… I’m flabbergasted that we would delay this,” said Stewart.

“If we can’t even get a pilot project off the ground, how can anyone have any faith we’re going to do anything to help those that are not afforded the opportunity?”

Stewart’s housing plan was layered on as an amendment to a “missing middle” housing pilot project motion first proposed by NPA councillor Lisa Dominato. The referral was introduced after more than three hours of debate and proposed amendments, as well as amendments on the amendments.

This includes a defeated amendment by Swanson to have the two additional below-market strata units be designated as permanently affordable for incomes of $50,000 and under instead of middle-income households, with councillors arguing it went against the intent of the program and it could create feasibility and uptake issues on the pilot project if it is too prescriptive.

Green Party councillor Pete Fry took issue with the lack of public consultation and the overall process that created what he termed as a “Frankenstein” motion. Fry also wanted to explore if it will affect rental housing in East Vancouver, while NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick brought up her concerns on how such a program could affect land values.

But Stewart countered by highlighting the pilot project would only be limited to 100 single-family lots in a city with 68,000 single-family lots, with 57% of Vancouver’s land zoned for single-detached homes.

“I really see voting for this referral as a defining moment for this council. I don’t want to be overdramatic, but if we send staff a confusing message… the residents who are desperate in this city,” said Stewart.

Boyle added her support: “This council is earning a reputation for spending a lot of time getting very little done… This proposal in front of us is a very modest pilot project to test out some ideas. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I think that we should try something.”

The Green Party’s Adrianne Carr and NPA’s Sarah Kirby-Yung asserted further work needs to be done to determine the feasibility and potential interest from homeowners and homebuyers, given the city staff resources the program’s implementation will require, and that the Vancouver Plan process with public consultation should not be circumvented for expediency.

“What’s more important I think is about bringing forward solutions that we know that we put limited resources that are going to be effective in tackling the significant challenges around affordability, because people are looking for that relief. From a timing perspective, this does connect to the Vancouver Plan, but it has a very specific timeline. We want to do something that is really going to matter,” said Kirby-Yung.

“I think it’s really important to balance enough momentum and urgency with taking people along with us, and I think the process that has unfolded… we need people behind our sail if this is going to have the impact we are truly aiming for it to have.”