The Vancouver Green Party, which elected three of its candidates to city council Oct. 20 — Adriane Carr, Pete Fry and Michael Wiebe — will be pushing for a citywide plan in coming months.
A citywide plan is a promise the NPA, which elected five councillors, also made.
Carr told the Vancouver Courier it’s among her top priorities and hopes to accomplish it within 18 months. She envisions such a plan would focus on affordable housing, transportation and sustainability and be “co-created” with residents.
It’s also a priority for Fry, who feels a comprehensive plan will kick-start a conversation with residents about what we, as a city, aspire to do.
The affordable housing crisis will be among the most difficult problems for the incoming council to address. Some of the more contentious topics are around the recent 7-4 council decision in favour of allowing duplexes in most single-family zones, how to maintain and create purpose-built rental buildings, and whether to increase the empty homes tax.
The duplex question
In September, Carr was among councillors who voted against the duplex motion, citing concerns about consultation. The motion was a “quick-start” action in the city’s Making Room program.
City staff are now working on a report, expected sometime next year, on the possibility of allowing other forms of housing such as triplexes, quadraplexes and small apartment buildings in single-family zones.
Carr said she didn’t feeling there was “good” consultation and that the duplex proposal arose out of a “vague question” during public consultation for the city’s housing program.
“I don’t think you can make that kind of city-wide change and not have done really good consultation. That’s why I think that whole notion of duplexes or triplexes or quadraplexes should all be wrapped into a citywide plan where people actually get to sit down, at the neighbourhood level and citywide, and have that robust discussion,” she said.
“You can accommodate an awful lot of density in ways that actually fit well in historic neighbourhoods that doesn’t alter, and actually even enhances, neighbourhood character. I believe people in this city would be really excited about doing that. Instead of having people divided on the issue of adding in a duplex or triplex, we’d have a city that’s united around these varied options.”
Fry agrees process was the problem.
“It’s not to say that I think neighbourhoods should have a veto per se but I do think we can get better results when we frontload the planning process with good consultation and good co-creation so that we’re working together and coming up with things together and we’re saying this is how we want it to look… It’s not a matter if you get this kind of new density, it’s a matter of how.”
Fry said he was also concerned that the mass rezoning for duplexes didn’t include rate-of-change controls or measures to make sure affordable housing isn’t displaced. He expects duplexes would more likely wind up on the eastside rather than more pricey areas on the West Side and potentially lead to the demolition of existing more affordable homes or suites.
“My concern is we are not doing a good enough job preserving homes for people who actually live and work in our city and we don’t want to exacerbate it further – driving up land prices in the interest of making money in flipping and speculation and that kind of thing,” he said.
The purpose-built rental question
Last July, Carr proposed a moratorium on the demolition of purpose-built rental buildings, which LandlordBC argued would have “huge unintended consequences,” especially since existing stock is ageing and in need of repair or replacement. The proposal was referred to the city’s Renters Advisory Committee.
Carr said her objective for the moratorium was to allow the time to find alternative and varied sources of funding to repair buildings that are repairable through energy retrofits.
She’s concerned knocking rental buildings down means existing affordable units will be lost.
“Landlords, as well as the Urban Development Institute, or people within it, have told me a good idea is to really push the federal government into reinstating the tax incentives that they used to offer for the building of purpose-built rental,” she said. “And I’ve been told by many people in the development industry that it would great to expand the tax benefits not only for building but for retrofits, repair and for maintenance. I would really want to see a push for that.”
Carr expects a response on the moratorium proposal from the Renters Advisory Committee within the next few months.
The empty homes tax question
While it wasn’t part of the party’s election platform, Carr said the party would consider increasing the empty homes tax depending on the outcome of a staff report on the effectiveness of the program.
“What we want to see, and what I want to see, is how is it working? Are there any gaps in that program — are we sure that the rules are fair and really transparent. There’s been some confusion around how do you get exceptions, what is an exception, etc. Let’s get that information. I like to ground decisions on real data, so I’d like to get that real data before saying, yes, I think we need to increase it [to] three per cent or whatever.”
Whether the Greens can accomplish some of their goals on a divided council remains to be seen, but Fry is optimistic.
He believes the party can work collaboratively with all other members of council, which include five from the NPA, one from COPE and one from OneCity, as well as independent mayor Kennedy Stewart.
“I do think, as Greens, we have a position where we can be the glue that helps to bind this council together. Obviously, with Adriane and I getting a significant amount of votes, I think it’s clear we pull support from across the spectrum,” he said.
Fry added that he spoken to incoming councillors since Saturday’s vote.
“We’re all eager to shake off some of the old baggage of how city council used to work. I think with no one majority, we will have to have a different style of doing things.”