The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - Real Es­tate Char­lie Smith

One of the 20th cen­tury’s great ur­ban plan­ners, Har­land Bartholomew, left a last­ing mark on Van­cou­ver. He pre­pared the city’s first com­pre­hen­sive town plan in the late 1920s, mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions for the streetscape, parks, schools, and zon­ing. His plan also in­cor­po­rated Point Grey and South Van­cou­ver into the ur­ban frame­work, set­ting the stage for the growth of these sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bour­hoods.

It’s a blue­print that served Van­cou­ver well in the 20th cen­tury, but now one of the city’s may­oral can­di­dates says it’s time for a rad­i­cal re­think to pre­pare res­i­dents for “the next 70 years”. Ac­cord­ing to Yes Van­cou­ver’s Hector Brem­ner, the re­luc­tance of pre­vi­ous coun­cils to se­ri­ously amend Bartholomew’s plan is at the root of the city’s hous­ing-af­ford­abil­ity prob­lem. The Yes Van­cou­ver stan­dard-bearer likens it to driv­ing around in the 21st cen­tury in a Model T, be­cause the type of hous­ing does not suit the needs of the pub­lic.

“It’s un­equiv­o­cal that we’re build­ing less hous­ing today than at any time in the last 40 years,” Brem­ner tells the Straight dur­ing an in­ter­view in the Gallery Café. “And our pop­u­la­tion has been in­creas­ing steadily the whole time.

“Eco­nomic pros­per­ity has also been in­creas­ing the whole time,” he adds. “That means that a higher num­ber of peo­ple have had more buy­ing power. Yet we’ve had less hous­ing choice. That’s di­rectly led to this hous­ing cri­sis.”

Brem­ner has pre­pared a de­tailed plan to re­spond, one that is rooted in sharply in­creas­ing the sup­ply of homes in Van­cou­ver. He thinks city politi­cians must think boldly about how to in­te­grate ser­vices, jobs, recre­ation, and af­ford­able hous­ing into neigh­bour­hoods. He em­pha­sized that this isn’t go­ing to be ac­com­plished by sim­ply adding more du­plexes, though he sug­gests that’s a step in the right di­rec­tion.

“We need to be look­ing at a model that looks more like Paris than Saska­toon,” Brem­ner says.

Paris is home to more than 21,000 res­i­dents per square kilo­me­tre, mak­ing it one of the dens­est big cities in the world. But it main­tains spec­tac­u­lar liv­abil­ity, due in part to its ex­tra­or­di­nary pub­lic­trans­porta­tion sys­tem and its thin streets, which leave more land avail­able for hous­ing. As a re­sult, the city isn’t filled with sky­scrapers, yet the streets are bustling with com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity.

Brem­ner is call­ing for 50,000 to 75,000 hous­ing units to be ap­proved within the first three years af­ter he’s elected mayor. This, he adds, would in­clude a non­profit com­po­nent in ev­ery build­ing. On False Creek Flats and else­where, city-owned land would be leased for 99-year terms with no stratati­tle own­er­ship. He thinks more small busi­nesses can be en­cour­aged if the city can per­suade the prov­ince to al­low split as­sess­ments, which would value com­mer­cial spa­ces at lower rates than con­dos for the pur­pose of tax­a­tion.

More­over, he wants to name a se­nior bu­reau­crat who can work across de­part­ments to en­sure that so­cial-hous­ing projects get through the sys­tem with a min­i­mum of fuss and no fees.

“We’ve been told I’m at­tack­ing the char­ac­ter of neigh­bour­hoods,” Brem­ner vol­un­teers. “Char­ac­ter is not the spin­dle of a porch or the slope of a roof. It’s de­fined by the peo­ple who live there.”

To him, char­ac­ter is build­ing hous­ing to ac­com­mo­date se­niors close to their fam­i­lies rather than forc­ing them to move to a sub­urb. But he in­sists that this isn’t hap­pen­ing. “We force you out of the city you’ve known and built your en­tire life,” he says. “And I think that af­fects our char­ac­ter. We need to be think­ing about how we keep grand­par­ents closer to their grand­chil­dren.”

To ac­com­plish all of this, Brem­ner’s hous­ing plan is an­chored in the idea of “four storeys and a cor­ner store in ev­ery neigh­bour­hood”. By four storeys and a cor­ner store, he’s talk­ing about look­ing through pre­vi­ous plans and ex­am­in­ing where it’s pos­si­ble to add den­sity “in a rea­son­able way”. Then, he hopes, coun­cil will pass a zon­ing plan for the en­tire city based on this re­search.

When asked if that means four­storey build­ings on all streets, he de­murs, say­ing this would be de­ter­mined af­ter pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.

Ul­ti­mately, he hopes to end spot re­zon­ings, in which de­vel­op­ers ne­go­ti­ate den­sity in re­turn for com­mu­nity-amenity con­tri­bu­tions (CACS). In­stead, they would know the rules in ad­vance and would build ac­cord­ingly.

Brem­ner ac­knowl­edges that this could present fi­nan­cial chal­lenges for the city, which has be­come heav­ily re­liant on CACS to fund op­er­a­tions.

“We’ve got a prac­ti­cal prob­lem and an eth­i­cal prob­lem,” he says of CACS. “A prac­ti­cal prob­lem is onethird of our bud­get is CACS. But we have an eth­i­cal prob­lem in that we are do­ing this il­le­gally.”

That’s be­cause, ac­cord­ing to Brem­ner, tax­a­tion can­not be a sub­ject of ne­go­ti­a­tion, which is what’s tak­ing place now be­tween de­vel­op­ers and the city in re­turn for ad­di­tional den­sity.

“What we need to make sure is that the flat-rate CAC is put into place that ac­cu­rately projects and is reg­u­larly re­viewed, based on our needs,” he says. “It gen­er­ates the rev­enue and cap­tures the land lift to a point that’s fair.”

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