In­de­pen­dent may­oral can­di­date Kennedy Ste­wart has sug­gested that the city as­sem­ble and re­zone land, then des­ig­nate it for af­ford­able rental hous­ing.

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - By Char­lie Smith

In­de­pen­dent may­oral can­di­date Kennedy Ste­wart often says that if he’s elected on Oc­to­ber 20, hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity will be his top pri­or­ity. And in a re­cent in­ter­view at the

Ge­or­gia Straight of­fice, the for­mer NDP MP em­pha­sized that he didn’t want to “over­promise” in his plat­form.

“[May­oral can­di­date] Hec­tor Brem­ner’s 70,000 units in three years is clearly never go­ing to hap­pen,” Ste­wart said. “But my plan is 85,000 units over a decade.”

Of those, 25,000 would be “af­ford­able” rental units de­vel­oped on city land and op­er­ated by non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Ste­wart, they would be mainly tar­geted at fam­i­lies with house­hold in­comes of $80,000 or less.

He said that al­low­ing for a higher in­come thresh­old will gen­er­ate more money, which can help fi­nance sin­gle-room-oc­cu­pancy units and so­cial hous­ing.

The next 25,000 units would be mar­ket rentals, with the other 35,000 units be­ing homes that would go on the mar­ket.

He also promised to re­new leases for co-ops on city-owned land and look for op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­pand this type of hous­ing be­yond the 6,000 units that ex­ist in the city to­day.

“But if you think about it in the over­all scheme of things, there’s 6,000 co-op units and 300,000 homes,” Ste­wart said. “It is only two per­cent of our hous­ing stock. To fo­cus on that is a bit too bou­tique-y for me.

“I think that they need to be saved,” he con­tin­ued. “We have to re­in­force that. But, re­ally, we’ve got to move out into the non­mar­ket rental or else we’re not go­ing to re­ally ad­dress our prob­lem here.”

Ste­wart em­pha­sized that the next mayor is also go­ing to have to know how to work with power bro­kers in Ot­tawa to at­tract more fed­eral money for non­profit hous­ing. He would also like some­body on his team who un­der­stands how the power struc­ture works in Ot­tawa, to in­crease the like­li­hood of more money com­ing to Van­cou­ver.

Re­cently, the B.C. govern­ment passed leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments to cre­ate rental-only zones. Ste­wart said that if he be­comes mayor, he’ll “ab­so­lutely” use this power be­cause if real-es­tate flip­pers can’t see any op­por­tu­ni­ties for quick prof­its, it can pro­tect land from be­ing the sub­ject of spec­u­la­tion.

“One thing I’m re­ally think­ing about is the city as­sem­bling land on its own,” Ste­wart said. “Why not buy sin­gle-fam­ily-home lots or a du­plex now and then, as­sem­ble that our­selves, and then re­zone?…then we can have rental-only that we as­sem­ble and we could turn it over to a non­profit.”

In the early 1990s, Ste­wart worked on Ci­ty­plan, which was a doc­u­ment out­lin­ing a city­wide vi­sion for Van­cou­ver. Only in re­cent years has that been fol­lowed up with neigh­bour­hood area plans for the West End, Down­town East­side, Mar­pole, and Grand­view-wood­land.

Ste­wart said his pri­or­ity is to “get the hous­ing sta­bi­lized and then look at long-term plan­ning”. And he has no in­ten­tion of re­vers­ing a re­cent coun­cil vote al­low­ing du­plexes in al­most all of the city that’s zoned for sin­gle-fam­ily homes, say­ing he doesn’t want to cre­ate un­cer­tainty for peo­ple who are af­fected by the de­ci­sion.

“I was hop­ing it was go­ing to be kicked back to the next coun­cil,” he ac­knowl­edged. “I did think there were some good points to the plan, which I in­cor­po­rated into my own plat­form.”

One of the last coun­cil’s more un­ex­pected moves in land-use plan­ning came when it de­clared First Shaugh­nessy a her­itage-con­ser­va­tion dis­trict to pre­vent the de­mo­li­tion of homes built be­fore 1940. It was pop­u­lar with her­itage ad­vo­cates but en­raged many lo­cal res­i­dents, who saw their prop­erty val­ues fall sharply.

Ste­wart said he’s “not so keen” on her­itage-con­ser­va­tion dis­tricts, not­ing that he prefers it when cities pre­serve in­di­vid­ual prop­er­ties. As for the city’s large prop­erty hold­ings in False Creek Flats, Ste­wart’s pri­or­ity is for mixed-use rental hous­ing, par­tic­u­larly for house­holds with in­comes of $80,000 or less.

“I don’t want to do strata on city­owned land,” he de­clared. “I look at that area in the Olympic Vil­lage. There’s a lot of strata down there now. I re­ally want mixed neigh­bour­hoods.”

The in­de­pen­dent may­oral can­di­date is also con­cerned about grow­ing spec­u­la­tion in com­mer­cial land, which is driv­ing up prop­erty taxes for lo­cal busi­nesses. He said that de­mand-re­duc­ing mea­sures on res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties—such as the school tax on homes val­ued at more than $3 mil­lion and the for­eign-buy­ers’ tax—have led in­vestors to pur­sue other types of land.

“I think we def­i­nitely need to look at that and take some mea­sures, per­haps, to slow that down,” Ste­wart re­vealed. “A busi­ness is there for a long time and all of a sud­den, boom, a mas­sive [tax] in­crease and they’re done. Their busi­ness no longer works at that lo­ca­tion.”

I look at that area in the Olympic Vil­lage. There’s a lot of strata down there now. I re­ally want mixed neigh­bour­hoods. – Kennedy Ste­wart

If he’s elected mayor, Kennedy Ste­wart hopes to sharply in­crease the num­ber of rental units.

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