"It’s easier to elect a pope than to approve a small apartment building in the city of Vancouver"
Vancouver city council is making a critical decision next Tuesday November 2: deciding whether to approve or reject a proposed Streamlining Rental policy, which would make it easier to build more rental housing and alleviate our musical-chairs problem. You can submit comments online (subject: Streamlining Rental), or sign up to speak at the public hearing by phone.
When you submit comments online, council gets a copy of everyone's comments, along with a count of those supporting the change and those opposed. It'd be helpful for them to know that lots of people are paying attention. Background info:
Lack of housing in Greater Vancouver, especially rental housing, is driving up housing costs and making us poorer. We've got a huge mismatch between jobs and housing: basically we're adding jobs faster than we're adding housing. It's like musical chairs, with lower-income renters getting pushed out, or worse, into poverty and homelessness.
High housing costs make us poorer, by lowering our real incomes. I can't count the number of people who say that they have a six-figure income, but in Vancouver they still feel poor. Everyone feels stretched to the limit. There's no way they can pay for higher property tax or a parking permit. Even long-time homeowners feel like they're being pushed out: the only way they're going to benefit from their massive gains on paper is if they sell and move elsewhere.
When rents are high, people want to build more rental housing. Right now the bottleneck is that each and every rental project requires a rezoning, which means time-consuming closed-door negotiations with city staff, followed by a public hearing with vocal opposition from people worried about neighbourhood impacts, and ratification by city council.
A majority on city council almost always votes yes in the end, but the whole process takes a very long time.
The proposed change would make six-storey rental buildings legal on certain major streets close to local shopping areas, without requiring a rezoning. The affected streets are shown on this map, in pink. This would save a huge amount of everyone's time.
Public support for more rental buildings is surprisingly high: according to a 2019 poll, 70% of Vancouverites support four- and six-storey rental buildings in residential neighbourhoods. I don't want to dismiss the concerns of people who are worried about over-crowding and public services being overwhelmed, but using high housing costs to keep newcomers out is a double-edged sword: over time, all your neighbours are going to be replaced with rich people, because they're the only ones who can afford it. A better approach is to build up public services to accommodate the larger population in the neighbourhood.
City council is divided, with four consistent Yes votes in favour of more housing (Kennedy Stewart, Christine Boyle, Lisa Dominato, Melissa De Genova), three consistent No votes (Jean Swanson, Adriane Carr, Colleen Hardwick), and four Maybes (Sarah Kirby-Yung, Michael Wiebe, Rebecca Bligh, Pete Fry). Last time this came up for a vote, in July 2020, council voted to postpone it by a 6-5 vote, with three of the four Maybes (Wiebe, Bligh, and Fry) voting to postpone. On Tuesday we'll see if at least two of the Maybes are willing to vote yes.
The headline quote is by Ginger Gosnell-Myers.