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Vancouver’s main mayoral candidates are pushing for increased housing density to a degree that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, when neighbourhoods were still in an uproar over allowing basement suites.

While all are in favour of donating city land to build apartment buildings for rental at below-market rates, their proposed approaches to housing density differ sharply.

Whoever gets elected, Vancouver neighbourhoods will change in the coming years as the city grapples with a housing crisis and the leading candidates pledge to open up development in areas that have been enclaves for single-family homes.

Independent Kennedy Stewart, who has been endorsed by the local labour council along with a slate of candidates from the four centre- and far-left parties in the city, has the most aggressive plan of the three, promising that his administration would work to see 8,500 homes built a year in the city.

While he said that the density initiative likely won’t make everyone happy, Vancouver is in a housing crisis and has to do something drastic.

“Often, there’s a huge controversy and, once something is in place, it’s not so bad.”

Mr. Stewart appears to be leading among voters in a crowded field, with a recent poll pegging him at 34-per-cent support among decided voters. Ken Sim, running for the right-of-centre Non Partisan Association, was at 23 per cent and Independent Shauna Sylvester, who was once closely associated with Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver party, is running third at 19 per cent.

Among the three front-runners, Mr. Sim’s platform is the most cautious. Although one of his proposals is to allow everyone in the city to build two basement suites instead of the currently allowed one, he’s more wary about increasing density in more visible ways – and about the need for it.

“I don’t believe we have to massively densify,” Mr. Sim told The Globe and Mail. “There are only 6,000 people a year coming in to the city. That’s two- or three-hundred per neighbourhood.”

He said he doesn’t trust the city’s current housing plan, Making Room, which envisions mobilizing the bureaucracy to help get 7,200 new homes built every year, 15 per cent of them for households making less than $50,000 a year.

Mr. Sim also said that his party would consult extensively with neighbourhoods, unlike the current Vision Vancouver council. “If the majority don’t want it, I do not want to ram things down people’s throats.” But he added: “We are not going to let 50 to 100 vocal people in any neighbourhood stop us.”

Ms. Sylvester, who says she is getting support from a wide range of voters including people from Mr. Sim’s NPA and from the left-wing OneCity, has not pitched any building targets.

But she said this week she would like to see higher density, including the ability for any single-family lot to be transformed into five, potentially stratified units of housing in order to create more opportunities for people to rent or buy homes at a reasonable price.

That would be a step up from the current allowed three suites on a lot in Vancouver, with a main house, secondary suite and laneway. It’s also more than the recently approved option of four homes per lot, under new duplex zoning for the city that allows duplexes, each with a secondary suite, in almost any residential area.

Ms. Sylvester also said she would want to see homeowners who develop pay a kind of community-amenity contribution, like big condo developers do, so that the city gets some benefit from their increase in land value. That required contribution might be eliminated if the owner agreed that one or more of the units were made available at a below-market price, she said.

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