Housing Policies – An Easy Guide
The Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) is generally considered to be the home of the far left in Vancouver. Their housing platform places an admirable emphasis on the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society. However, that focus leaves a platform that does not address the concerns of middle class Vancouverites looking to buy their first home, find an affordable apartment to rent or who are worried their children or grandparents will not be able to find a place to live as they enter the next phase of their life.
The market phobia that pervades the party has made COPE reluctant to support the legalization of diverse housing in Vancouver. COPE candidates have spoken out in opposition to the recent legalization of duplexes in Vancouver.
COPE’s signature rental market proposal is outside of the jurisdiction of the city. While strong rent control would help some incumbent renters, it would cripple the feasibility of building new rental buildings. The vacancy rate would remain low and homes would be scarce, creating two classes of renters: Those who had secure housing when the policy was introduced; and young people and new immigrants who would be shut out of the prized rental controlled units and relegated to second class of renter.
Kennedy Stewart’s housing plan represents a modest tweak to the status quo. Stewart has no plan to reform the exclusionary zoning at the heart of Vancouver’s 90-year-old plan. He grudgingly accepted the recent duplex legalization, but has otherwise avoided discussing where the new homes he is promising should go. In the Burnaby riding he represented, hundreds¹ were displaced as affordable rental homes were torn down to make way for towers, while nearby areas without large swaths of affordable rentals were untouched. Stewart’s silence on the issue raises concerns about where his proposed new homes would be built. Housing targets without a rezoning plan is a recipe for demoviction and displacement.
Stewart would raise the rental building targets by about 500 additional units per year, which does move things in the right direction, but is insufficient to raise the vacancy rate high enough to push down rents. He is also promising to raise the non-market and condo building targets.
To address speculation he leans into the foreign menace trope and has a baffling promise to protect “one-third to one-half of all new homes from foreign speculation” without explaining how that would be possible, why that fraction was selected, or how to decide which half of homes would be open to foreign speculation.
Vision Vancouver has run the city for the last decade. The Let’s Fix Housing Action Plan details their legacy on pages 12-14. They were slow to recognize and respond to the housing crisis. They have tinkered around the edges without getting to the core of the cause of the housing crisis: the ban on diverse housing across most of the city. In the final days of the current Vision Council they voted to allow duplexes in most of the city — a small, incremental step towards legalizing housing.
To incentivize rentals they created the Rental 100 program. The program had some success in raising the rate of rental construction, but restrictive zoning and a lengthy, byzantine permitting system undercut the effectiveness of the Rental 100 program.
Vision recently released their housing platform, which included raising their housing targets from 72,000 over 10 years to 88,000 over the same period. Why they felt their own targets were insufficient and required revision is not entirely clear. They also propose using 20 city owned sites to build 16,000 social housing units, which implies they are proposing to create ultra-high density social housing projects with 800 units per lot–double the density of recent downtown towers.
Shauna Sylvester is the second most urbanist mayoral candidate. Her platform calls for a new city plan, but is more tepid when it comes to legalizing housing. She supports medium density zoning for co-ops but does not indicate support for diverse housing with diverse ownership models. It is at best a quasi-housing decriminalization.
She would incentivize rental construction and fast-track permits, and wants to raise the vacancy rate to 3%, all of which score high marks from us. Her social housing goals, while admirable, do rely on senior levels of government which can often be uncertain.
To clean up the development process Sylvester proposes to fast track permits for rental housing and affordable housing.
OneCity has a strong housing and urbanist platform. Of all the other parties, they are the closest to YES. They are the only other party to support housing legalization, promising to allow by right development of duplexes, fourplexes and small apartment buildings city wide.
Their rental policy offers incentives to construct purpose built rental buildings. However, there is the concern that the effectiveness of these incentives could be undermined by their support of tying rent stabilization to the unit rather than the tenant.
To minimize speculation they propose a land value tax, which would encourage highest best use of land but impacts speculators and homeowners alike.
Additionally, they are one of the few parties to support the rehumanization of neighbhourhoods with their vibrant city proposal and rejection of granting NIMBY’s a veto.
The Green Party is an interesting blend of progressive packaging around a “preserve the status quo” core. While their housing platform speaks of allowing the missing middle, their actions speak louder than words; they voted against legalizing duplexes and have consistently sided with NIMBY’s over those in need of housing.
Their housing platform has one concrete proposal to build more rental homes, by adding a secondary suites in character homes. Character home conversions can not scale up to meet the demand for rental housing in Vancouver. Additionally, they propose saddling new multi-family, but not single family, buildings with a completely impractical 50% non-market housing requirement. The result of which would be to destroy the economic viability of building multi-family buildings leading to no new market or non-market housing.
The Green Party does have a good plan to use city-owned land to build non-market housing. Additionally, they propose fast tracking non-market housing.
The NPA plan for housing is to empower NIMBY’s to veto homes. Ken Sim is very clear that the desires of current residents are more important to the needs of those looking for affordable housing. The NPA proposes to accommodate demand for rental homes by allowing homeowners to split their basement suites into two separate suites. They claim this can accommodate 40,000 renter households, but whether all 40,000 eligible properties will participate in this program is little more than pie-in-the-sky speculation.
The NPA does propose to establish a displaced tenant policy, but whether this will supplement or replace the city’s existing policies is unclear. As long as new rental buildings are forced into areas with existing rental buildings, the effectiveness of anti-displacement policies will be limited.
Where the NPA does well is their promise to improve the city’s permitting process and review all the bylaws and policies that contribute to the multi-year delays in the city issuing building permits.
Vancouver 1st wants to create a new city wide plan, yet is firmly committed to keeping diverse housing illegal in most of the city. They want to use city land for affordable rentals and potentially waive community amenity contributions for purpose built rental buildings.
ProVancouver is a new party which is convinced that nefarious foreign demand is at the root of the housing crisis. They have multiple anti-housing activists running on their slate. They strongly opposed legalizing duplexes, even going so far as to attempt to delay the Council vote by filibustering.
They would like to see 50% of new development be purpose built-rentals. It is unlikely that even with the new rental-only zoning powers granted by the province that zoning would be able to mandate slip zoning on a single lot.
Wai Young’s Coalition Vancouver opposed the duplex rezoning and supports the NIMBY veto. Their platform is almost entirely devoted to removing bike lanes and making commuting harder for cyclists. Where they do discuss housing, they would follow the NPA’s lead and let people split their basement suites in two, to cram more renters in. However, they also propose building rentals in and around transit hubs.