Com­pro­mise likely key for new Van­cou­ver coun­cil

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - BRITISH COLUMBIA - FRANCES BULA

Pro­posal to re­scind du­plex-hous­ing rules is ex­pected to be an early test of Stew­art’s abil­ity to find a con­sen­sus

Van­cou­ver is fac­ing a dra­matic shift as a frag­mented rookie coun­cil tack­les the af­ford­able hous­ing cri­sis when it meets for the first time Tues­day and con­sid­ers mo­tions in­clud­ing one aimed at un­do­ing a zon­ing change al­low­ing du­plexes in any sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bour­hood.

Of the 10 coun­cil­lors elected last month, eight are new. Since 2011, Van­cou­ver’s mayor has en­joyed the sup­port of a ma­jor­ity of coun­cil­lors who also be­longed to his own party. No more.

Mayor Kennedy Stew­art was elected as an in­de­pen­dent, partly on a prom­ise to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the sup­ply of low-cost hous­ing. One of the strate­gies for do­ing that is al­low­ing more den­sity in neigh­bour­hoods that haven’t tra­di­tion­ally had it, even if res­i­dents there ob­ject.

But af­ter win­ning the mayor’s chair by the thinnest of mar­gins, he has also worked to cul­ti­vate con­sen­sus. That hope­ful­ness on coun­cil will be tested this week − five of the 10 coun­cil­lors be­long to the right-lean­ing Non-Par­ti­san As­so­ci­a­tion and three are Green Party mem­bers. The ap­proach of both par­ties to hous­ing doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily cleave to Mr. Stew­art’s vi­sion.

The new mo­tions could show the pub­lic ex­actly which side the coun­cil­lors are on as they de­cide on a wide range of is­sues.

“I’m a bit wor­ried about some of th­ese very di­vi­sive ones com­ing up so closely,” Green Party Coun­cil­lor Michael Wiebe said.

Mr. Wiebe is hop­ing that the coun­cil meet­ing Tues­day will demon­strate that this very dif­fer­ent Van­cou­ver coun­cil can dis­play an abil­ity to find con­sen­sus. Be­cause past coun­cils have been dom­i­nated by one party, there was no need for com­pro­mise.

“It will help to show­case that we’re try­ing to do things dif­fer­ently,” said Mr. Wiebe, fresh from his term as a com­mis­sioner on the park board, where there was also no ma­jor­ity party. “But we could end up bat­tling and di­vi­sive­ness makes me ner­vous.”

The ini­tia­tive most likely to set off a coun­cil and city­wide fight is the one from new Non-Par­ti­san As­so­ci­a­tion Coun­cil­lor Colleen Hard­wick, who has put for­ward a mo­tion to re­scind the pre­vi­ous coun­cil’s du­plex de­ci­sion.

Ms. Hard­wick says in her mo­tion that there was “no mean­ing­ful pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion” prior to the de­ci­sion – some­thing that hous­ing ad­vo­cates who sup­ported the vote say is un­true − as well as sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic op­po­si­tion.

Re­scind­ing the re­cent coun­cil pol­icy would re­quire an­other pub­lic hear­ing and a new vote, a process that one for­mer longserv­ing coun­cil­lor says could be po­lit­i­cally dis­as­trous, es­pe­cially for the Green Party if it sides with the cen­tre-right NPA.

Green Party Coun­cil­lor Adri­ane Carr voted against the du­plex de­ci­sion when it first came to coun­cil, though the Greens have not in­di­cated what they’ll do this time.

“This vote is go­ing to be re­veal­ing,” said for­mer coun­cil­lor Gor­don Price, now af­fil­i­ated with the Si­mon Fraser Uni­ver­sity Cen­tre for Di­a­logue. “It’s go­ing to be the first in­di­ca­tion whether the Greens and NPA are go­ing to be the ma­jor­ity. And the Greens run the risk of align­ing them­selves with the NPA NIMBYs on this.”

It’s one in a raft of pol­icy res­o­lu­tions that take an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ap­proach than for­mer mayor Gre­gor Robert­son’s ad­min­is­tra­tion did. Those mo­tions range from a move to set up an opi­oid task force to a re­quest for mil­lions more from the city for a Down­town East­side so­cial-hous­ing project.

On top of that, city plan­ners have put for­ward three projects that re­quire re­zon­ing for the new coun­cil to de­cide on. Two of the pro­pos­als made un­der the city’s cur­rent Rental 100 pro­gram give de­vel­op­ers in­cen­tives to build rental.

It’s a pro­gram that the par­ties now dom­i­nat­ing coun­cil have fre­quently crit­i­cized for not pro­vid­ing truly af­ford­able hous­ing, since max­i­mum rents have been set at around $1,600 for a stu­dio and go­ing up from there for larger units.

New Green Party Coun­cil­lor Pete Fry said the party’s coun­cil­lors will be meet­ing this week­end to dis­cuss what to do about the du­plex mo­tion.

Mr. Fry had said be­fore the elec­tion that the mat­ter wasn’t a pri­or­ity for re­ver­sal and he re­peated again this week that he’s more con­cerned about any over­all losses in af­ford­able hous­ing.

Only three ap­pli­ca­tions have come to the city in the two months since du­plex zon­ing was voted on and there are no signs that there is about to be a del­uge of other ap­pli­ca­tions in com­ing months.

But, for some new coun­cil­lors, the pol­icy is an im­por­tant sym­bol.

“It was one of those is­sues where peo­ple didn’t feel heard, and I’m not sure du­plexes across the city im­proves any­thing,” said the NPA’s Sarah Kirby-Yung, an­other new coun­cil­lor who has grad­u­ated from the park board.

And just-elected NPAer Lisa Dom­i­nato also said that, although she sup­ports the in­tro­duc­tion of more den­sity and du­plexes to the city, “what I heard was con­cern about the process – that’s cer­tainly top of mind.”

Among the other par­ties, OneCity’s Chris­tine Boyle said that, while she doesn’t think du­plexes will solve any hous­ing-af­ford­abil­ity prob­lems, they’re also not a prob­lem. But Jean Swan­son, from the Coali­tion of Pro­gres­sive Elec­tors, said she is not in favour of the re­cent coun­cil change be­cause it doesn’t pro­tect ten­ants or have any mech­a­nism to cap­ture the prof­its made by landown­ers con­vert­ing to du­plexes.

That’s not the only de­ci­sion likely to di­vide coun­cil­lors.

Ms. Swan­son wants the city to com­mit enough money to a pro­posed so­cial-hous­ing project on East Hast­ings Street so that all units in the build­ing can be rented at sub­si­dized rates.

How­ever, NPA Coun­cil­lor Melisssa De Gen­ova said she’d be con­cerned about mak­ing changes af­ter coun­cil al­ready ap­proved the re­zon­ing for the build­ing, based on a com­mit­ment from BC Hous­ing and the Van­cou­ver Chi­na­town Foun­da­tion to pro­vide sub­stan­tial sub­si­dies.

“I’m go­ing to find it dif­fi­cult to sup­port some­thing if we risk los­ing fund­ing,” said Ms. De Gen­ova, now chair of the fi­nance com­mit­tee.

Also up for de­bate next week: Mr. Fry and Ms. Boyle’s mo­tion to cre­ate a renter’s of­fice at the city; Ms. Kirby-Yung’s mo­tion to as­sess vot­ing prob­lems from the past elec­tion and come up with new ideas to fix them; and Ms. De Gen­ova’s mo­tion to speed up build­ing per­mits and re­duce fees for them.

As well, the coun­cil­lors will be vot­ing on whether to send the three new de­vel­op­ment projects that re­quire re­zon­ing to pub­lic hear­ings. There’s al­ready been some con­cerned dis­cus­sion about at least one of them.

“I think a lot of us have a lot of home­work to do this week­end,” Mr. Wiebe said.

RAFAL GERSZAK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Pete Fry of the Greens, left, and NPA’s Sarah Kirby-Yung are seen at Van­cou­ver City Hall on Fri­day. The new coun­cil starts sit­ting on Tues­day.

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