West End could have used that $4.7 million bucks, says Anton

Post by Suzanne Anton in


vancouver aqua centre.jpg
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



You just put in words what's been troubling me since the STIR project at Davie and Bidwell got the go-ahead by Gregor and the vision council.

STIR will be a blight on this city as it carves up existing neighbourhood plans to accommodate arbitrary rezoning for bulky uninspired living boxes. The flaw is that it creates a tax incentive per apartment unit, motivating the developer to shoe-horn squeeze as many apartment rental units as they can get into a building and requires the owner holding the bag on these shanty-scrapers to not sell them until after 60 years.

The Davie and Bidwell project will see 39 of the 49 units as market rental studio apartments. They will be some of the smallest and most expensive, which essentially guarantees high tenancy turnover and came at a cost to taxpayers; yet no one in the city can explain what taxpayers get for it.

Last Wednesday I went for a swim at the packed and highly chlorinated Vancouver Aquatic Centre. To give you a sense of how packed the waters were with bodies (thus the high chlorine), I witnessed an altercation of all things, between swimmers in the medium speed lane!

Had I the patience, I would have had to wait in line to take a shower in the quaint tiny men's change room under one of the three shower heads following the swim. Instead I only had to wait in line to get to my locker while the space around it was occupied by several others changing clothes.

I could've waited that all out by going to the sauna, but it was a sardine can with barely any standing room left, and with the amount of traffic that modest hot tub sees, I'd sooner pass on that.

Suzanne, I'm a recent first time home buyer in the West End. This is the first time I'm having to pay property taxes and as a renter prior, I didn't pay any attention to city politics. That is until now.

I imagine there are others like me who are also first time buyers who took advantage of the low interest rates to step into the market and are now also paying active attention to the politics at city hall.

I see a lot of Vision finger pointing at NPA. The problem for Vision is that new voters like me who now pay property taxes and are now paying attention to what's going on at city hall, have no recollection of what took place before. There's no political baggage for us, we weren't interested or involved.

But now we are because of what's happening now. The Vision will be wearing the consequences of their arrogance, and their finger pointing, with what is now a year's distance since taking office, won't help them, just like the Republican's finger pointing at Democrats and Clinton didn't help Bush.

I read a rather bitchy piece about Suzanne Anton's article on this site's evil twin, CivicScene.ca.

Apparently the hope is for STIR to produce between 400 and 1,700 units. At $96K per unit that would cost the city $38,400,000 to $163,200,000. Of course, if Ms Anton is correct about 40% of privately owned condos returning to the rental market, the real cost is about $160,000 per additional rental unit.

I would quite like to live downtown. I don't, however, expect the taxpayers in the rest of the city to subsidize my wish with expenditure that, focussed elsewhere, would go a long way toward solving the housing problem. Of course I'm not so naive as to imagine that this is anything other than a diversion of public money to real estate speculators, like the community garden scam.

Returning to the Visionary CivicScene.ca I tried posting a pretty bland comment there a while ago. That really was naive. It's still "awaiting moderation", so to anyone who might think discussion of alternate viewpoints is welcome there, think again.

My impression is that CivicScene.ca is great when you want the Baghdad Bob authoritarian view of things from Visionland.

Jonathan takes that tone of, 'you're going to do like Vision tells you to and you're going to like it because we say so!'

It's rather off-putting - opposition parties should be thankful he's assumed the de facto voice on behalf of Vision in the blogosphere.

Beyond that, I just assumed with 0 comments from post to post that it's just crickets over there and nobody went there for a compelling read.

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