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Housing Vancouver strategy: I want to believe in miracles

If you suspend your disbelief, fill yourself with nothing but positive intentions, and persuade a Jedi pal to wipe the past 10 years from your memory, you'll find a lot to love in the Housing Vancouver strategy approved by city council this week.

After all, who doesn't want to see 72,000 new homes delivered over the next 10 years, with half of them affordable to households earning less than $80,000? Who doesn't want to see 40 per cent of all new homes suitable for families? I for one look forward to the 12,000 social, supportive and non-profit co-op homes. And I'm certain the 20,000 new secure, long-term market-rental homes will be attractive, especially to young people. Not to mention the increased rental protection that will ensure all existing rental homes will remain affordable after redevelopment. And I'm pretty sure the person camping in the rain beside the Dunsmuir viaduct on-ramp can't wait for the city to provide housing for homeless residents by requesting funding to build 1,200 units of temporary modular housing on city-owned sites throughout Vancouver over the next two years.

I also very much look forward to the new policy that will address speculation, stabilize land value and reduce overinflated values, as well as providing more ownership options available to first-time home buyers.

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After reading the full report, you may, like me, be thinking: "Wow! This mayor and council are great! They're way better than that Vision Vancouver-dominated council who have been running the city for the past decade."

They are of course, one and the same but, with less than 11 months to go until the next civic election, it appears they'd like to you forget that.

While housing prices skyrocketed, speculators ran amok, long-term rentals vanished, and giddy realtors assembled parcels of land for the construction of more out-of-reach luxury condominiums, council has responded with the urgency of the sloth in Zootopia. The city's affordability crisis now barely feels like a crisis at all – it is simply the state of things.

A graph in the report that went to council says it all: between 2001 and 2016 incomes grew 21 per cent while home-ownership costs shot up 350 per cent.

The graph includes the caption: "Though limited available data makes it difficult to quantify investment-capital flows into real estate, there is mounting evidence of strong investor presence in Vancouver's housing market."

Gee, ya think?

And yet it has taken the better part of a decade for the city to do anything about it.

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While the city says it has developed the new housing strategy over the past 14 months, it may have been the fifth-place showing of Vision candidate Diego Cardona in October's byelection that got the Mayor and Vision councillors to take notice.

"Vancouverites are frustrated, particularly around the issue of housing affordability, and they expect more from us," Gregor Robertson said following Mr. Cardona's defeat. "I heard the message loud and clear and our party heard the message loud and clear."

"Loud and clear" you may recall was also Mr. Robertson's message just before the last municipal election in 2014 when he issued an apology during a televised debate for apparently not living up to expectations during his first term.

A big part of that campaign was his Affordability Agenda, in which he promised to make life more affordable for Vancouver families – and yes, housing was a big part of it.

To be fair, conditions weren't exactly winning at the time. The city wasn't getting much help from the confrontational and late-to-the-party provincial government, and it was all but ignored by the Harper Conservatives. With the federal government announcing a national housing strategy recently and the province also in the game, it's hard to imagine better timing.

The new housing strategy has been referred to repeatedly as "bold" and "ambitious." It's both.

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But Gil Kelley, the city's general manager of planning, urban design and sustainability, who has been on the job for a little more than a year, appears to have won the confidence of those around him. He just might be the guy to pull this off.

I desperately want this all to be real. I want it to come true so badly.

I will suspend my disbelief, fill myself with positive intent, befriend a Jedi, and cross my fingers.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

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