Skip to main content

Peter Cox, who is in favour of high-density housing, is renting a one-bedroom condo in Fairview, B.C., for a reasonable $1,400.

Rafal Gerszak

Peter Cox wants to vote for people in the Vancouver civic election who will tackle housing for people like him: a renter.

The 41-year-old, who runs his own recycling business, is renting a one-bedroom condo in Fairview for a reasonable $1,400 but worries about how precarious it is for renters in the city, with most of their options squeezed into the small spaces allowed for apartments in the city.

Like many voters in this election, Mr. Cox is paying the most attention during this campaign to how candidates are proposing to tackle Vancouver’s sky-high prices for both renters and owners. Poll after poll shows housing is the top issue.

Story continues below advertisement

Real estate prices have flattened, but it’s still nearly impossible to find a house for less than $1-million even in the cheapest part of town and the rental-vacancy rate remains near zero while rents continue to go up.

As a result, parties and candidates are pitching multiple solutions, leaving voters to sort out a mass of sometimes contradictory, sometimes overlapping, ideas.

Most contestants say they will donate city land for housing, presumably more than the 20 sites already dedicated to that in the past few years, and that they’ll finally sort out the logjam in the permitting department.

And everyone is talking about more housing of some kind.

THE PROMISES

Independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart is promising to double the city’s current plan for building homes for lower-income earners, with 25,000 new homes in the next 10 years that would be affordable units managed by non-profits.

The Non-Partisan Association’s mayoral candidate Ken Sim has talked about allowing two basement suites in every house as a short-term fix that could provide 40,000 new homes, with a promise to conduct a citywide planning process that would establish where new development can go.

Independent Shauna Sylvester talks about creating special housing authorities that will focus on developing housing for certain sectors of employees the city needs.

Story continues below advertisement

Hector Bremner of Yes Vancouver has come up with the most aggressive building plan of the bunch, promising that by prezoning areas throughout the city for more density and by speeding up the permit process, 20,000 new homes a year − half of them rental − could be built.

And the Green Party – a group of four council candidates who polls and political analysts are saying could end up being the dominant voice on council – has come up with a detailed housing plan that is being widely praised by housing experts and other candidates on the left.

The party is promising that half of all housing that Green councillors would approve would be rented at below-market rates and that the party would insist that anything new defined as “affordable” would be rented to people for no more than 30 per cent of their household income. That’s in contrast to current city policy, which gives developers incentives to build rental, but without any requirement that the rental be affordable by that 30-per-cent definition.

Housing experts looking at the jungle of policies and initiatives have tried to simplify things for potential voters by categorizing the approaches.

THE PRINCIPLES

“There are two ways to address affordability: You can try to push down the wrong side of demand [such as foreign investors or Airbnb] or you can create a lot of supply,” says Tom Davidoff, a University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business professor who is a prominent voice in housing analysis.

Prof. Davidoff says parties such as the NPA or Coalition Vancouver, headed by former Conservative MP Wai Young, are essentially saying “do nothing” about either supply or demand.

Story continues below advertisement

The left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors and the new ProVancouver, which is especially focused on targeting foreign investment and Airbnb operators, are “very heavy on pushing down demand,” Prof. Davidoff says.

Yes Vancouver is all about pushing up supply.

And the rest – Ms. Sylvester, Mr. Kennedy, the Greens, OneCity, and many of the prominent independents – have proposals on both the supply and demand sides, he said, although the Greens are “more moderate on supply” than the others.

Those approaches all have some appeal to some sector of voters.

In Vancouver’s west-side Dunbar neighbourhood, Alison Bealy, who rents the top half of a Vancouver Special in the area she’s called home for 32 years, is mostly interested in Mr. Sim and the NPA’s approach.

“Ken Sim said he believes in neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood plans, he believes in consultation,” said Ms. Bealy. Like many in the area, she says Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver were a disaster.

“And Hector Bremner just wants to build everything everywhere. We’ve had 10 years of that and nothing is affordable.”

Back in Fairvew, Mr. Cox has been looking at all of those ideas and pondering as well. He’s not thrilled by the proposal of two basement suites in every house.

“We’ve stuffed enough of our renters in the basement,” he said.

Instead, he’s going to be voting for anyone who will take on the difficult task of introducing denser kinds of housing to the city’s single-family neighbourhoods. That means parties such as OneCity, some independent council candidates who are “urbanists,” and one of the two independent mayoral candidates on the left.

But not the Green Party.

THE GREENS FACTOR

Although the Green Party looks poised to see all four of its council candidates elected, and Mr. Cox likes some of them, he is hesitating because of the way Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr has voted against so much new housing in the city during her two terms.

According to statistics put out by the mayor’s chief of staff, Ms. Carr voted against about a third of the 15,000 units of housing that came to council for approval through public hearings in the past three years.

“Carr’s voting record is disappointing,” Mr. Cox said. “She should be looking at climate change as an issue.”

Vancouver’s former head planner, Brent Toderian, also said the Green Party’s track record at council is worrying. “When I hear parties that proclaim to be green opposing smart, strategic density, it concerns me.”

Green candidates say they are hearing that message and they are trying to reassure voters that the Green Party will have a different role going forward.

“When Vision Vancouver had an absolute majority and the ability to push through any legislation, it meant that Adriane’s vote wouldn’t mean that a project would die on the vine. There was a luxury in being able to vote against something on principle,” said Pete Fry, one of the four council candidates.

He said Green Party candidates won’t all vote the same way and they do understand they’ll have a new role. “We need to have a different approach.”

That approach will be key for whichever mayoral candidate wins, as the new leader will likely have to work with a mixed council where the Greens are dominant.

Ms. Sylvester said she believes they, and Ms. Carr, will be a positive force.

“I think [Adriane] will play a very different role.”


The Globe canvassed parties to get their positions on recent affordability initiatives taken by the outgoing Vision Vancouver council - and their big ideas to ease the housing crunch.

COALITION VANCOUVER

Mayoral candidate: Wai Young. Candidates: Seven for council, five for park board, four for school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: No

Duplex zoning (a zoning change also known as Making Room that was passed in September to allow duplexes on almost every single-family lot in the city): No

Temporary modular housing (quickly built housing units that have been popping up, supported by provincial government funding): No

One big pledge: Use zoning and tax policy to encourage rental and affordable housing around transportation hubs

COPE

Candidates: three council, two park board, two school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Yes

Duplex zoning (Making Room): Yes

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Mansion tax (It’s billed as a progressive property tax that would impose an extra 1 per cent in taxes on homes worth more than $5-million and an extra 2 per cent on homes worth more than $10-million, with revenues going to housing and social programs.)

GREEN PARTY OF VANCOUVER

Candidates: four council, three park board, three school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Yes

Duplex zoning (Making Room): Maybe, based on a citywide plan

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Use conditional zoning in all new plans to suppress land speculation and deliver public benefits

IDEA Vancouver

For mayor: Connie Fogal. Candidates: two park board, one school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: No

Duplex zoning (Making Room): No

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Renew co-op leases (Leases for nearly 4,000 co-op units are set to expire over the next decade, raising concerns about future affordability.)

NPA

For mayor: Ken Sim. Candidates: eight council, six park board, five school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Would review

Duplex zoning (Making Room): Possibly, based on consultation

Temporary modular housing: Possibly, based on consultation

One big pledge: Allow two secondary suites in detached homes

OneCity Vancouver

Candidates: two council, three school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Yes

Duplex zoning (Making Room): Yes

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Land-value-capture tax. (Mechanisms differ, but the concept is that cities can tax the windfall gains of land around new infrastructure to help pay for the project or other benefits.)

ProVancouver

Mayoral candidate: David Chen, four council, two park board, one school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Yes

Duplex zoning (Making Room): No, pending a full city plan

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Ban Airbnb until a new agreement is reached

Vancouver 1st

Mayoral candidate: Fred Harding. Candidates: six council, five park board, five school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: No

Duplex zoning (Making Room): No

Temporary modular housing: No

One big pledge: Reduce permit times

Vision Vancouver

Candidates: five council, two park board, three school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Yes

Duplex zoning (Making Room): Yes

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Introduce a real estate speculation tax (would require provincial support)

Yes Vancouver

Mayoral candidate: Hector Bremner. Candidates: five council, one park board, one school board

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Yes, with review

Duplex zoning (Making Room): Yes

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Citywide zoning for duplexes, rowhomes and apartments

Independents:

Kennedy Stewart, for mayor

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Yes

Duplex zoning (Making Room): Yes

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Build 25,000 new non-profit affordable rental homes over the next 10 years

Shauna Sylvester, for mayor

Keep or increase empty-homes tax: Yes

Duplex zoning (Making Room): No, unless modified to protect affordability

Temporary modular housing: Yes

One big pledge: Use the city’s affordable-housing fund to build affordable rental housing on city land

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter