OP/ED: City Hall Failing Residents on Affordability
This op-ed by ICBA President Chris Gardner first appeared in The Province on April 10, 2019.
Why do politicians given the reins of power seem so allergic to common sense?
Time and again, governments pull out of their policy hats, with a conviction that would make the boldest of rats blush, policies that confound and confuse average voters.
Federally, the Trudeau Liberals are about to impose a ban on tankers on only one of our three coasts – the west – with no scientific rationale. In addition, the Liberals sought to punish every entrepreneur and small business with a draconian set of new tax policies that penalized people for taking risk and starting a new business.
Provincially, we have seen the NDP make a ridiculous and expensive attempt to change our electoral system, restrict participation on taxpayer-funded construction projects to their favoured unions, and, with callous disregard for public sentiment, keep ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft from operating in B.C.
Ottawa and Victoria always get plenty of press, but what about local government? Much of what impacts our daily lives comes from city hall, and there are a lot of city halls and a lot to be confounded about.
And it is here where the nexus between housing affordability and families looking to purchase homes at reasonable prices meets with results that do not end well for homebuyers.
In communities across B.C., local councils make decisions every week that makes it more difficult to buy affordable homes. They impose red tape and regulations that make it harder and more costly to build homes. It is a fact that in many communities, it now takes longer to get a project approved and permitted than it does to build it. This is a stunning indictment of the ability of unchecked local councils to make life more unaffordable for homebuyers.
Take North Vancouver District for example. Newly elected Mayor Mike Little and most of his council have decided the way to bring about affordable housing is by rejecting virtually all new housing applications, including, unbelievably, non-profit affordable housing.
Shortly after their election last November, Council shot down an 80-unit affordable housing project by Catalyst Community Developments Society – a non-profit housing group. The project, two years in the making, involved the District contributing land in the form of a parking lot at the former Delbrook Recreation Centre. In return, Catalyst would build the project and offer the 80 units at approximately 20% below market rents.
Mayor Little led a 5-2 vote on Council to defeat the project, even though the proposal won an award for engaging the community.
Next up was the non-profit Hollyburn Family Services project. Hollyburn spent years putting together a 100-unit affordable housing project on district-owned land at Burr Place. The goal? All units would be offered at below market rates to provide desperately needed housing for low income seniors, families and youth.
North Vancouver District Council voted to kill the project during a closed-door meeting, before plans for it could be shared with the public. Again, it was a 5-2 vote, led by Little. In a bizarre comment following the vote, Little said that he campaigned not on creating affordable housing but on social housing!
With successive provincial governments sitting idly on the sidelines, similar stories play out in too many communities across B.C.
Whether it’s a new seniors centre, a townhome complex, high-rise or a new road, as soon as a project is proposed the forces of “no” rally for the status quo and “more consultation.” Traffic, noise, views and quality of life are trotted out at council meeting after council meeting wrapped up in a dystopian narrative that sends local councils running in full retreat.
In the middle of a full-blown housing affordability crisis, one might think city halls would be focused on increasing supply, reducing red tape and making it easier to bring housing stock on the market faster in an effort to reduce the pressure on the prices of homes.
Unfortunately, we see more “Nero fiddling” and buck-passing than city halls acting with the speed, purpose and boldness required to make a real difference in the local housing market. The actions of councils like North Vancouver District demonstrate that for families looking for relief at city hall, the wait will be long indeed.