HOUS­ING NPA’S Sim backs secondary suites

The Georgia Straight - - Housing - By

Char­lie Smith

he Van­cou­ver Non-par­ti­san As­so­ci­a­tion has elected 11 may­ors in the past eight decades. Its pro-busi­ness poli­cies kept the con­fi­dence of vot­ers from the Se­cond World War to the dawn of the 21st cen­tury, with the only hia­tus oc­cur­ring from the 1970s un­til the mid1980s. Fa­mous may­ors like Gor­don Camp­bell, Philip Owen, and Gerry Mcgeer proudly pro­claimed them­selves to be act­ing in the pub­lic in­ter­est rather than on the side of ide­o­logues. But ev­ery­one knew what their pri­mary pur­pose was: to keep so­cial­ists out of power.

In 2018, the party’s stan­dard-bearer, Ken Sim, likes to think of him­self as be­ing a man not driven by ide­ol­ogy. But his party has fallen on hard times. It hasn’t won con­trol over the city since the 2005 elec­tion. Now there are signs that the old NPA coali­tion of an­ti­so­cial­ist forces has frag­mented into sev­eral par­ties, in­clud­ing Coali­tion Van­cou­ver, Yes Van­cou­ver, and Van­cou­ver 1st.

Sim, the co­founder of Nurse Next Door and Rose­mary Rock­salt, knows that he has to win the pub­lic de­bate over hous­ing if he’s go­ing to be the next mayor of Van­cou­ver. To that end, his party has pro­posed a con­cise, three-page plan that’s an­chored on al­low­ing two secondary suites in de­tached homes.

Sim be­lieves this of­fers two advantages: it will bring more rental units onto the mar­ket and of­fer debt­bur­dened home­own­ers a new way to pay down their mort­gages.

The NPA is also calling for fast­track­ing hous­ing for low-in­come Van­cou­verites—a cause of­ten ad­vanced in the past by NPA coun­cil­lor Melissa De Gen­ova, who is seek­ing re­elec­tion. In ad­di­tion, the party has promised to re­duce taxes, fees, and charges for laneway homes and new secondary suites for long-term ten­ants.

An­other pil­lar in the NPA plat­form is to cre­ate “at­tain­able rental ac­com­mo­da­tion” on city-owned land. About half of the in­dus­trial-zoned area bounded by Clark Drive, Main Street, Ven­ables Street, and Great North­ern Way is owned by the city, cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for any­one who takes power to do this.

An is­sue close to Sim and the party is the process by which build­ing projects in neigh­bour­hoods are ap­proved in Van­cou­ver. The NPA plat­form calls for an end to “city plan­ning based on de­vel­oper cash con­tri­bu­tions”. The city has be­come re­liant on these so­called com­mu­nity-amenity con­tri­bu­tions—which are given in re­turn for den­sity—to fund cap­i­tal projects such as im­prove­ments to parks, li­braries, and cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture.

In an in­ter­view last sum­mer out­side Rose­mary Rock­salt on Com­mer­cial Drive, Sim told the Straight that peo­ple are not be­ing heard un­der the cur­rent pro­cesses. “So that’s why they’re protest­ing,” he said. “They’re go­ing to these coun­cil meet­ings and they’re hav­ing bat­tles.”

Ac­cord­ing to Sim, the pub­lic feels that projects are be­ing rub­ber-stamped re­gard­less of how res­i­dents might feel about them.

“I be­lieve we bring peo­ple in on the front end of things,” he said. “We have con­sul­ta­tion pe­ri­ods and we build ac­cord­ingly.”

He ac­knowl­edged that some are telling him, “Ken, you’re go­ing to have a bunch of NIMBYS ev­ery­where.”

Crit­ics, in­clud­ing his op­po­nents in Yes Van­cou­ver, have claimed that the NPA wants young peo­ple to live in base­ment suites rather than in pur­pose-built projects in the 70 per­cent of Van­cou­ver that’s zoned for sin­gle­fam­ily hous­ing.

Sim, how­ever, said there must be a change in the civic gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ac­tions with the pub­lic.

“I’d like to take this neigh­bour­hood, for ex­am­ple,” he said, point­ing to build­ings on Com­mer­cial Drive around Rose­mary Rock­salt. “I’m the last per­son who be­lieves there needs to be a 40-storey tower here. This is the Drive, man. This is cool. This is why we’re here.”

When asked about a pro­posed project down the street from his busi­ness—which in­cluded the re­de­vel­op­ment of the non­profit Ket­tle So­ci­ety build­ing at Ven­ables Street and Com­mer­cial Drive—sim re­sponded that this is a “com­pli­cated is­sue”. Boffo Prop­er­ties was go­ing to de­velop a mixed-use project with 30 units of sup­port­ive hous­ing, 200 homes that would be put up for sale, and 18,000 square feet of ground-floor com­mer­cial space.

Many neigh­bours were op­posed, and ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Boffo and the city broke down over com­mu­nitya­menity con­tri­bu­tions. Af­ter speak­ing gen­er­ally about the need to ad­dress men­tal ill­ness in the com­mu­nity, Sim said that the Ket­tle project “can be ap­proved and there should be cer­tainty”. So should it go ahead?

“I be­lieve the project had a lot of sup­port from the com­mu­nity,” Sim replied. “All the stake­hold­ers—ev­ery­one—agreed. When you have the vast ma­jor­ity agree­ing, I think it’s good for the city. If that’s what the city wants and the res­i­dents want—and they sup­port it—do it. Why not?”

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