Development in our cities:
If the poor of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside got a dollar for every lofty phrase uttered in their name, they could each own one of the city’s new overpriced condos.
“Increasing housing supply benefits the poor,” we are told, as trees are felled to erect high rises in North Vancouver, and as towers multiply in Vancouver, Burnaby, and the rest of the Lower Mainland.
The truth is that the poor do not benefit from the resulting development.
Building in Vancouver has been growing at a rate far greater than population growth. Yet the price of housing continues to be outrageously high, and the poor have gained nothing. The gains have been made by developers, land speculators, and the wealthy who use real estate as investment holdings.
Our municipal governments tear down our forests, tear down older houses, weaken regulations, upset communities, and hurt individual businesses and residents -not to increase social justice- but to enrich the already wealthy. This is unfettered capitalism.
In Vancouver, the poor were overlooked by the NPA, then by Vision, and now they are overlooked by a multi-party council. Gone are the campaign slogans to cut ties to big money and make the city more affordable. Gone are the pledges to build a livable and caring city. Gone is the commitment to social justice and participatory democracy, to transparency and fair regulation.
Vancouver City Council’s social housing numbers are pitiful despite the fact that what they call “social housing” is not affordable for low-income people. No low-rise green spacious co-op and social housing is being built. It seems that low-income people are now to be satisfied by the churning out of 300 square foot box-type structures called Temporary Modular Housing.
The homeless, who took centre stage at election time, have gone back to line up for beds at shelters; and if lucky, to use one of the two or three washrooms shelters usually have for around 60 people.
Developers, on the other hand, are being very well served.
Council has not even started putting together the promised city-wide plan, but spot rezoning continues in full force and upzoning continues to cause the exodus of businesses and residents.
Furthermore, all Vancouver City councillors -except, notably, Colleen Hardwick and Jean Swanson- have voted to approve, with no public consultation, the enormously costly ten-year construction of a subway along Broadway. This project, which is upsetting entire communities, is to be financed by upzoning the area for high rises and taxing residents and small businesses out of their homes and places of work. The alternative, the two-year construction of surface rail (fast and frequent and at about a third of the cost of the subway), has not been properly considered. And Council is not bothering to find out which one of the alternatives Vancouver residents favour.
Building safety has been compromised by the weakening of city regulations, such as the recent change in law to allow the use of wood, instead of steel and concrete, in the construction of 12 storey buildings, turning these into veritable fire traps.
It seems that the faces of those who sit on Council might change, but the game doesn’t. Big capital continues to call the shots.
And this is happening despite Canadian federal policy.
The federal Liberals affirmed Canada’s commitment to the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Furthermore, the Nov 2017 National Housing Strategy (NHS) declares that housing rights are human rights, and that governments have the duty to act to provide housing for all.
City councils must remember that they were elected to protect and enhance the city’s quality of life. This means to rezone only if required by a city plan that reflects the needs and wishes of the community. It means also that an area should not be densified unless it is with neighbourhood approval and if the necessary infrastructure, parks, parking, and services are in place.
City councils must remember that they were elected to stamp out the kind of land speculation that has been hurting Vancouver and Burnaby. This means to stop approving rezoning or construction applications unless these respond to the needs of the city plan. It means that if a high rise is erected it is with express neighbourhood assent and at least 30% of it houses low income people.
City councils must partner with the federal and provincial governments to repair and build spacious, low rise, green truly-affordable housing. They must also immediately improve and expand our shelters -- highly needed and used by individuals who need a special support network around them to survive.
In Vancouver, all spot rezoning and upzoning must cease until a democratically discussed and approved city plan is in place.
Council’s majority decision to build a subway along Broadway should be put on hold, and Vancouver residents should be allowed to discuss and vote to determine whether it is a subway or surface rail that should be built along Broadway. The goal is not to create more opportunities for developers, but to implement what is best for the community.
We call on city councilors to look back at their campaign promises -- to back their lofty phrases with action -- to humanize capitalism.