Vancouver's aging Aquatic Centre could have used part of the $4.7 million dollars Vision gave away to a local developer
The following opinion piece was originally published in the Vancouver Sun today
How much would you, oh grateful taxpayer, like to give up of your city taxes to get a developer to agree to build private rental housing? Anything? How about $10,000 per unit, the amount contributed by the city to renovate provincially owned rooms in the Downtown Eastside? Or $19,000 per unit, such as in a recent case in which city rents were forgiven on a low-income co-op building which was in difficulty?
Well, these numbers are ridiculously low considering that Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision council have just given up $96,000 per suite to get 49 units of market rental housing in the West End -- a staggering total of $4.7 million. Yes, that is money given up. Your tax dollars are being sacrificed to help a private developer build a private project that will be rented at full market rates. The units will not be inexpensive housing for people in need.
Let me hasten to add that none of this should be taken as any criticism of the developer, who is only doing as the mayor has requested.
The project, at Bidwell and Davie, is a 21-storey, 147-unit (49 rental, 98 condo) building recently approved by Vancouver city council under the STIR (short-term incentives for rental) program.
If the building were allowed to go ahead as condominiums without the subsidized rental units, two things would happen. First, the owners would put about 59 of the condos into the rental market (40 per cent of all condos in the city are rented out). Second, the city would have $4.7 million to invest in public projects that would benefit everyone.
Here are some West End projects that could use $4.7 million: The Aquatic Centre is old, serves a very large population and needs significant funds for renewal. It has been on the "wait list" for years. A long-desired gay and lesbian centre has been promised support by the mayor. Why not use this money to get that project started? The West End library and community centre both need capital improvements that sooner or later will be taxpayer funded.
Alternatively, if affordable housing is the goal for Vancouver, why not put the money into publicly owned housing? The city can buy apartment buildings for permanent targeted low-income rentals, forever owned by the city. As another option, the city can help non-profits buy and run social-housing buildings.
The non-profits bring a lot of money to the table and appreciate help from the city.
But Robertson made none of these choices. Instead, his overwhelming desire for new rental housing made him lose all perspective. He chose to sacrifice $4.7 million in order to have 49 private market rental units built. You -- the public -- get absolutely nothing in return.
- post by Suzanne Anton, Non-Partisan Association Vancouver city councillor