Vancouver candidates from all three of the big BC parties answered our first ever provincial housing questionnaire! Devyani Singh, Kelly Tatham, and Stephanie Hendy of the Green Party answered questions individually, while the NDP and Liberal candidates in Vancouver responded collectively with their colleagues in detailed letters (included in full at the end of this post). A big thank you to all of the candidates who took the time to put together these thoughtful responses on an issue that is still top-of-mind for Vancouverites! Read all four questions and all responses below:
Question 1 - UEL:
Residential areas of the University Endowment Lands are mostly zoned for mansions that are unaffordable to the vast majority of Vancouverites, including the students and staff for whom living in the area would be very convenient. Unlike most residential land, the Province has not delegated land use decisions in the UEL to a municipal council. Within lands under provincial jurisdiction, would you support allowing apartments in amenity-rich areas, e.g. near a major university and large parks, to help address the lack of student and workforce housing? Are there other ways in which you think this land could be better used?
- Devyani Singh (Green, Vancouver-Point Grey): The BC Green Party supports allowing multi-family homes in amenity-rich areas as a broad and basic principle of housing equity. In 2017, the BC Housing 2017/18 - 2019/20 Service Plan committed to developing student housing at universities and colleges. While a step in the right direction, the $450 million allocated to a provincial loan fund for universities and colleges is a short-term measure and does not provide a long-term path forward for responsible densification of the University Endowment Lands. The B.C. Greens are committed to approaching public policy in a more comprehensive, bold, and lasting way. The B.C. Greens support the provincial government reviewing the University Endowment Lands Act through meaningful engagement with post-secondary leaders, students, faculty and staff and other key stakeholders to develop long-term solutions to housing needs. This should include protection for renters living on the UEL who are currently not included in the Residential Tenancy Act, and comprehensive improvements to land use and planning directions on UELs in accordance with regional efforts to support housing affordability and equity emerging through the Metro 2050 and Transport 2050 updates and other work in progress.
-Kelly Tatham (Green, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant): I would certainly support more affordable options on the campus, however, as this land is in the core territory of the Musqueam Indian Band, any decisions about the land's use should ultimately be made by them if they so choose. Indigenous sovereignty is a huge part of land use that is too often left out, and I would look to their guidance when it comes to the UEL usage.
- Stephanie Hendy(Green, Vancouver-Langara): Yes I would support allowing apartments in amenity-rich areas on UEL. These would have to be rentals.
Is there any research into whether there could be funding available through the Community Land Trust to build co-operative housing?
... 3 more questions on schools, rental housing, and provincial land use interventions, after the jump. Plus, overall responses from the NDP and Liberals! ...
Question 2 - Schools in Growing Neighbourhoods:
The VSB, the Province, and perhaps City Council have been at odds for years, and badly-needed local schools for children in Vancouver have not been built, even where land has been set aside for some time. Why do you think these relationships are not working and how would you go about resolving such impasses so that families in growing areas are not left behind? Does the Province need to step in with better regulation of and/or support for forecasting school need, or other planning regulation/support? The Province requires very high capacity utilization of schools; should cities be mandated to approve more “family-sized” apartments near under-utilized schools, or should lower utilization be tolerated?
- Devyani Singh (Green, Vancouver-Point Grey): The B.C. Greens believe in doing politics differently and this includes creating more effective working relationships between different levels of government to support policy alignment and to create more authentic and inclusive models of engagement and collaboration with the public. The B.C. Greens believe that families and children should have access to quality education no matter whether their neighbourhood is growing or not. The challenges facing local schools and school boards will not be fixed solely through housing densification. The toleration of lower utilization rates of schools is a reasonable policy position especially given the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about crowded classrooms. With this in mind, more work could be done to look at the other ways that underutilized schools can generate revenue as community assets while not in use by teachers and students.
- Kelly Tatham (Green, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant): While I am not an expert in school utilization, I have rarely heard of a school operating at below capacity. If this does not meet the threshold for utilization then, yes, lower utilization must be tolerated. In terms of the relationship, the province and teachers are often at odds as between contract negotiations and COVID school returns, the province does not seem particularly interested in the views of the school board, BCTF, or teachers themselves. Improving that working relationship by acknowledging teachers as highly skilled professionals who are the experts in what they need could go a long way in helping address other areas. Building schools is simply a matter of political will, and governments driven by profit are going to be less willing to give up prime real estate land to do so. I believe in people before profit and doing what is necessary to ensure all children have access to high quality education.
- Stephanie Hendy (Green, Vancouver-Langara): think the province needs to be in better communication with Vancouver City Council as to the best way for funds to be allocated to build more schools. I think that developers should be forced to hand over money to the city and/or province to help with school construction. The permit approvals at the city level must be contingent on a percentage of revenue directed to the province for construction of schools (please note, this is my answer, not necessarily the position the BC Greens are taking - for that, I would encourage you to read our website, bcgreens.ca).
Question 3 - Lack of Rental Housing:
Previously when home values have reached certain levels the Province has responded by increasing the threshold for the Homeowners’ Grant. Given the current crisis of critically low apartment vacancy (availability) rates and rising rents, what policies would you favour to meaningfully address the lack of available apartments? Would you support provincial minimum zoning mandates for urban residential land, perhaps similar to recent efforts in Oregon and California to legalize multi-family housing near transit and 4-plexes in cities?
- Devyani Singh (Green, Vancouver-Point Grey): The question of minimum zoning mandates and intensification of land use continues to be looked at closely and considered by municipalities, regional districts and other regional government bodies with responsibility for different aspects of land use and planning. Stronger alignment between transportation planning and housing densification is needed in particular and the BC Greens supported the provincial government incentivizing changes to allow for more diverse forms of affordable housing in close proximity to transit and other important amenities. At this time we understand that these issues are being examined by Translink, Metro Vancouver and municipalities in the Lower Mainland. The B.C. Greens will examine this work closely, once approved, before committing to use the powers of the provincial government to influence specific local and regional planning directions. The BC Green Party fully supports local governments finding ways to enable a more diverse supply of affordable housing through their zoning powers.
- Kelly Tatham (Green, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant): The BC Greens have released the campaign promised of "homes for all" by 2030. This means that in this province, everyone will have adequate, dignified housing that meets their needs. This will require massive investments in affordable, social, and co-op housing to raise housing stock levels. This investment in the kinds of affordable housing will massively increase the amount of housing available, while also keeping down prices as the units can be retained by the province and non-profit providers. In terms of re-zoning, these efforts will need to be collaborative between the province and cities, and I certainly welcome evidence-based solutions and innovative ideas.
- Stephanie Hendy (Green, Vancouver-Langara): I don't know enough about that initiative to comment on it. What I can say is that I would want to allocate more money to the Community Land Trust so that they could buy out existing rental corporations to convert those buildings into co-ops. The construction of new co-ops will always be more expensive for rent because they will be new buildings. However, if current buildings can be re-designated, then the rents could be better controlled. (again, this is my personal desire, not necessarily that of the BC Greens)
Question 4 - Provincial Land-Use Interventions:
In the 1970s, the Province overruled local land use control and created the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve), which subsequent governments have maintained. Do you believe any present public policy issues would be ameliorated by similar land use interventions? Issues you might think require a policy response include:
a. The largest portion of Metro Vancouver growth is still happening in car-oriented suburbs, threatening our climate goals, and increasing commuting times and the overall cost of transportation and service infrastructure,
b. Apartments are still illegal near multi-billion dollar transit investments like SkyTrain, sometimes even decades after stations opened, and despite a vacancy rate perpetually below the 3% needed for stable rents.
c. Neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver with easy access to hundreds of thousands of jobs are becoming increasingly exclusive, with some even losing population over years or decades,
d. Vancouver has recently had by far the highest job vacancy rate in Canada, indicating that an inability to attract workers is holding back economic growth,
e. Municipal councils have obstructed subsidized housing, exacerbating the housing crisis and wasting Provincial tax dollars.
- Devyani Singh (Green, Vancouver-Point Grey): The BC Greens believe that more innovative and comprehensive tools need to be put to use in communities to address the profound housing affordability crisis still facing British Columbians. Green MLAs will work hard to promote the expansion of Community Land Trusts, revitalize co-op housing, and after considering the updates to Metro 2050 and Transport 2050, Green MLAs will determine how the provincial government can help local governments in the Lower Mainland increase the supply of diverse affordable housing options, which we strongly support.
The BC Greens have also committed to the launch of a new Rental Support Program which would allocate $500 million to support low and moderate income earners to close the gap between the moving target of “affordable rent” and what renters in markets like Vancouver are actually paying. This would be available to anyone subjected to paying more than 30% of their income on rent - not leaving “affordable” to be a distinction with no baseline.
Without infringing on the processes of regional and local governments underway, the B.C. Greens believe the province can do more on speculation and vacancies and continue to create protections against speculation and flipping. In addition to traditional measures such as these, the B.C. Greens have been the first and the most vocal voices on the creation of measures such as a guaranteed livable income for British Columbians.
- Kelly Tatham (Green, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant): The idea of land use interventions is an interesting one, and the idea that problems can be solved by simply designating something as a certain zone is highly appealing. On the other hand, the ALR has had its own issues with not being used as it is meant to be through exemptions or workarounds. This is certainly something I would like to see explored, however, would like to learn more about possibilities from those who can provide clear research and options before committing to a proposal.
- Stephanie Hendy (Green, Vancouver-Langara): These are all very valid points that I saw more as a funding allocation issue rather than a legislation issue. Certainly, it can be both.
Full response to all questions from the Vancouver Liberal candidates:
Thank you for providing us with your survey respecting key interests of Abundant Housing Vancouver. Housing is an issue that remains top of mind for most people, and we appreciate the role that your organization plays in ensuring the robust public discussion of solutions that benefit renters and homeowners.
As you may know, John Horgan and the NDP have broken their promises to ensure affordable housing options for British Columbians. Out of a promised 114,000 more affordable homes, they have only opened 2,963 units. It will take more than 100 years for the NDP to reach their housing target. Meanwhile, house prices, rents and property taxes continue to grow, making housing even less affordable.
Our plan for housing will address the need for increased housing supply through zoning reform. Specifically, we need to address the key issues which stop the building of rental units, including long delays in approvals, different regulations in Metro Vancouver communities, and stringent and outdated zoning rules. The region must also prioritize the building of purpose-built rentals in BC as we did in the 1970s. This includes using provincial and municipal lands to build affordable housing. You can find more details in our platform (p. 20-21).
Furthermore, our unprecedented move to eliminate the PST for a year, then cut it to 3%, will have profound impacts on reducing the cost of housing construction. Eliminating the PST will save $9 per square foot on wood-frame construction and $12 per square foot on concrete construction. These costs would otherwise be passed on to renters and prospective buyers. The CD Howe Foundation found that over $600,000 in cost are added on to Vancouver homes due to the cost of taxes and red tape, so these costs must be addressed.
Once again, we thank you for your interest and advocacy in the cause of increasing the supply of housing.
Full response to all questions from the Vancouver NDP candidates:
Thank you for your interest in what the BC NDP will do to tackle the housing crisis in the Metro Vancouver area. As many of your questions are interrelated, we have worked to address the core elements of all of them below.
More homes that people who live here can afford are needed in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. While the same is true in much of the rest of the province as well, the need is particularly acute in the Lower Mainland. Since introducing our 10-year housing plan in 2018, we have made significant efforts to start to make up for more than a decade of inaction under the BC Liberals. And we have started to see things moving in the right direction - though there is certainly more to do. Our efforts to stimulate the right kind of housing supply have led to a substantial increase in the number of rental units under way, with numbers earlier this year showing that more rental units have been initiated in the first three years of our government than in the entire previous decade. Meanwhile, our new policies to moderate demand, like the Speculation and Vacancy Tax, have started to bend the curve on housing prices and rental costs, and have helped turn more than 11,000 empty condos into new rental homes for people who needed them.
At the same time, we have been working with local governments and the housing sector to take a closer look at the decades-old development approval process, and how we can make it work better, an issue I know your members are concerned about. While others have suggested taking a harder line and simply overruling local governments, our efforts to work with local governments as partners in tackling this challenge have shown that many local governments are themselves interested in improving this system, and we believe that the evidence to date shows that by working together we will accomplish more than by attempting to go it alone. Whether it’s the good ideas developed through the Development Approvals Review Process (DAPR) or the action to deliver thousands of units of modular supportive housing on short timelines in dozens of communities across the province, these partnerships have allowed us to address the needs of communities, working together with their local representatives.
While that spirit of collaboration continues to be important, there is also a key role for provincial leadership on many of these elements. In our platform, we have committed to delivering more affordable transit-oriented housing by eliminating parking minimums in developments near transit, to address the fact that in too many of these new developments as many as half or more of the parking spaces that builders are required to build sit empty, even though they add a cost of up to $60,000 for every space required. Acting to address this issue will help ensure that when we make significant investments in better transit for people, we will also provide more affordable homes in the areas surrounding those stations.
Similar provincial leadership on elements like funding for local governments to streamline local approval processes by testing new ideas identified through our DAPR work, or a new central single-window approach to more quickly and efficiently deliver the provincial permits and approvals that homebuilders need, will also help deliver more new homes, faster. And expanded investments in programs like our successful HousingHub team at BC Housing, which has to date partnered with the private and non-profit sectors to support the development of more than 3,000 new homes for middle-income families, will continue to support the delivery of homes across the entire housing spectrum, including market rental and affordable home-ownership options for middle-income households.
As you identify, these new homes and growing neighbourhoods also need to be provided with the services that the people in them need. Our government is investing at a record level in new and expanded schools - whether in neighbourhoods that were ignored by the previous government, like Olympic Village, or in growing communities that need additional investment, like Surrey, or the Tri-City region. Similarly, our investments in new Urgent and Primary Care Centres, tens of thousands of new child-care spaces, or our record investments in transit expansion across the region all ensure that the services that a growing region needs are there for the people who live there now, and those who will move to the region in the years to come.
Thank you for your continued work to advocate for the housing that people need - we have made important first steps in the last few years, and there is more work still to be done. I hope that we can count on your support to get this important work done, as we move forward together.
Note: Parties are listed in the order their responses were received. Any alphabetical ordering is coincidental.