Vancouver mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart says he would push for denser forms of housing in all city neighbourhoods, and would ensure any reluctant residents understood why the city must move ahead with the plan anyway.
Mr. Stewart, who is running as an Independent, has pledged he would go beyond the limits the city is now setting in order to get affordable apartments.
He maintained he would not be as aggressive in rezoning single-family neighbourhoods as at least one of his competitors has suggested. But he said he would not accept the status quo and his administration would negotiate with communities to get them to see the benefits of density.
“It is a crisis, right, and you can’t just keep doing the same thing,” said Mr. Stewart, a former NDP MP who is reported to be a front-runner because of a series of polls. He was speaking with Globe and Mail reporters at a round-table discussion.
He admitted it’s unlikely that even a lengthy conversation with some neighbourhoods will make residents there willing to accept change.
“It isn’t going to make everybody happy. But, often, there’s a huge controversy and, once something is in place, it’s not so bad.”
But that kind of approach makes some residents nervous, saying that it sounds like the kind of ram-things-through style they believe Mayor Gregor Robertson and his party, Vision Vancouver, used the past 10 years.
“We are prepared to embrace change but we don’t want it forced on us,” said Colleen McGuinness, the president of the Dunbar Residents Association. “It would be nice to engage in a conversation rather than have someone say ‘We’re in a crisis and this is what we’re going to do.’”
She said people in the neighbourhood have talked about assembling property to allow for some kind of denser development, as well as other solutions, but they don’t want any more “paternalistic” approaches by the city telling them what to do.
Mr. Stewart said he believes that west-side neighbourhoods, which have been resistant to even modest forms of density such as townhouses on side streets or six-storey apartment buildings, are ready to accept more.
“Communities are essentially hollowing out there. Some neighbourhoods are saying, ‘We want this,’” Mr. Stewart said. “Some coffee shops on the west side are now closing a couple of days a week [because they can’t get servers who can afford to live nearby].”
He noted that even business improvement associations, which aren’t always huge supporters of the NDP or social housing, have talked to him about how much their communities need affordable housing for service workers.
As well, he stressed that denser housing needs to be spread out over the city, instead of being concentrated in just a few areas.
Mr. Stewart said the city itself sometimes blocks higher density, even when no one is objecting. There’s a proposal to build a new social-housing building near the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre in east Vancouver. The proponents want to build 12 storeys, but city planners are advising them to reduce it to eight. “I said ‘Why?'’’ Mr. Stewart said.
His housing plan includes an aggressive measure to encourage the construction of 25,000 apartments in the next 10 years that will be rented at below-market rates to the city’s lower-income residents.
He said he’ll do that by using city land to build some apartments that will be rented at higher rates in order to subsidize other buildings where renters will pay less than what it takes to break even.
He did not think some of the current challenges in rental-building development – high construction costs, the province’s decision to reduce the allowed rent increase for next year and the city’s demand for developer contributions on rental projects – would slow down that plan.