In an up­com­ing by-elec­tion for a coun­cil seat va­cated by Ge­off Meggs, three can­di­dates’ plat­forms point to the mar­ket as be­ing the source of, rather than the so­lu­tion to, Van­cou­ver’s hous­ing cri­sis.


The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY CHAR­LIE SMITH

For years, Con­stance Barnes was a loyal mem­ber of Vi­sion Van­cou­ver. She was twice elected to the Van­cou­ver park board on the party’s slate, earn­ing more votes than any other com­mis­sioner in 2008 and 2011.

But this elec­tion, the daugh­ter of Emery Barnes, former NDP speaker of the leg­is­la­ture, is not en­dors­ing Vi­sion Van­cou­ver’s can­di­date, 21-year-old po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte Diego Car­dona, in the October 14 city­coun­cil by-elec­tion. In­stead, Barnes has thrown her whole­hearted sup­port be­hind Judy Graves, the city’s former ten­ant-as­sis­tance co­or­di­na­tor, who is mak­ing her first run for coun­cil with Onecity Van­cou­ver.

“The thing about Judy is she’s no-bullshit,” Barnes told the Ge­or­gia Straight by phone. “She doesn’t have to pound her fists on the desk. She doesn’t have to yell and scream. She doesn’t have to rant and rave. She has this abil­ity to bring peo­ple to­gether with this calm, col­lected voice of rea­son.”

This re­laxed de­meanour served Graves well as she went out in the mid­dle of the night as a long-time city em­ployee look­ing for home­less peo­ple and then help­ing them find shel­ter. Graves spear­headed the city’s first home­less count and was op­ti­mistic that Mayor Gre­gor Robert­son would se­ri­ously ad­dress this prob­lem when he be­came mayor in 2008.

But nearly 10 years later, home­less­ness has con­tin­ued in­creas­ing as Robert­son’s Vi­sion Van­cou­ver has largely pur­sued mar­ket-based so­lu­tions to sky-high hous­ing prices and a se­ri­ous short­age of rental ac­com­mo­da­tion. Onecity points out the city’s zon­ing by­laws out­law build­ing new pur­pose-built rental hous­ing in about 80 per­cent of the city.

Barnes ac­knowl­edged that her sup­port for Graves might “piss off” some in Vi­sion Van­cou­ver. “Judy has in­cred­i­ble re­spect across all po­lit­i­cal lines,” she said. “And I think she could play a very, very pow­er­ful role in the city.”

Graves has also been en­dorsed by the Van­cou­ver and District Labour Coun­cil. It’s the first time since Vi­sion Van­cou­ver got elected that its coun­cil can­di­date has not re­ceived its bless­ing. Onecity’s left-wing cre­den­tials are bur­nished by its call for a lux­ury-prop­erty sur­tax, from 0.5 per­cent to 1.5 per­cent on the wealth­i­est five per­cent of res­i­den­tial-prop­erty own­ers, as well as its pro­posed flip­ping levy— rang­ing from 35 per­cent to 50 per­cent of the prof­its—on all homes sold within three years of pur­chase.

“Onecity be­lieves those who have pas­sively made enor­mous wealth off of the hous­ing bub­ble should pay their fair share to help fix it,” the party de­clares on its web­site. “We’ll re­quire real es­tate spec­u­la­tors and the wealth­i­est landown­ers to start giv­ing back through fair sur­taxes and other rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing poli­cies.”

But Onecity’s Graves isn’t the only can­di­date in the race who is mak­ing the case that the mar­ket is the cause of—and not the so­lu­tion to—van­cou­ver’s hous­ing cri­sis. And a crowded field of cred­i­ble left-wing can­di­dates could en­able Car­dona, the NPA’S Hec­tor Brem­ner, or even Sen­si­ble Van­cou­ver’ s mar­i­juana-dis­pen­saryad­vo­cat­ing Mary Jean Duns don to win the by-elec­tion in a tight race.

Green coun­cil can­di­date Pete Fry has a long his­tory as a Van­cou­ver anti gen­tri­fi­ca­tion neigh­bour­hood ac­tivist and he was deeply in­volved in the cam­paign to block a con­tro­ver­sial high-rise at 105 Keefer Street in Chi­na­town. In a re­cent video on his Face­book page, Fry points out that mar­ket rents for one-bed­room apart­ments ex­ceed $2,000 per month in Van­cou­ver, with record-low va­cancy rates. One of his big­gest con­cerns is that af­ford­able hous­ing stock is be­ing re­placed by un­af­ford­able units.

“Con­sider this: al­most 30 per­cent of our pri­vately owned rental stock are in con­do­mini­ums, so that’s an in­cred­i­bly frag­ile source of hous­ing stock,” Fry said. “We can’t just build our way out of this cri­sis and we can’t just ex­pect the mar­ket to build the kind of hous­ing we need.”

He’s call­ing for a renter’s of­fice at City Hall. Fry also wants the city to de­fine af­ford­abil­ity in terms of av­er­age in­comes in the city and not by mar­ket-rental rates. He’s propos­ing a one-year mora­to­rium on the de­mo­li­tion of pur­pose-built rental hous­ing, as well as pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives to en­cour­age more sec­ondary suites in or­der to pre­serve char­ac­ter homes.

“We need to pro­tect our ex­ist­ing af­ford­able hous­ing and we need to make sure that we’re in­clud­ing af­ford­able hous­ing in all new con­struc­tion,” Fry em­pha­sized. “We need to en­cour­age the kind of den­sity that builds com­mu­nity, not de­stroys neigh­bour­hoods.”

Then there’s in­de­pen­dent can­di­date Jean Swan­son, a well-re­garded an­tipoverty ac­tivist whose two main planks are a rent freeze and a man­sion tax. Both would re­quire changes to pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to her cal­cu­la­tions, the city could col­lect $174 mil­lion per year by slap­ping sur­taxes on homes val­ued at more than $5 mil­lion. That would pay for mod­u­lar homes for ev­ery home­less per­son in the city.

“Let’s tax the rich to house the rest of us,” Swan­son said in a fiery speech last month out­side the $75-mil­lion man­sion owned by Point Grey bil­lion­aire Chip Wil­son

Swan­son has the back­ing of some in­flu­en­tial fig­ures on the left, in­clud­ing former Van­cou­ver East NDP MP Libby Davies, East Van au­thor and so­cial ac­tivist Matt Hern, and ad­dic­tion ex­pert and au­thor Dr. Ga­bor Maté. It has given her grass­roots cam­paign sig­nif­i­cant mo­men­tum.

“For decades Jean Swan­son has been an ad­mirable, tire­less ad­vo­cate and or­ga­nizer for a fair and just so­ci­ety,” Maté said in a state­ment. “I am glad she is run­ning for of­fice; her can­di­dacy has my en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port.”

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