On Friday the news was exceedingly positive about Vision Vancouver/COPE's decision to ram through a late distribution report and choose a housing operator for the non-market/market housing at the Olympic Village. Google News says that about ten stories were reported on the council decision, and only one (ours) was critical.
Yet, for some reason Globe & Mail/Vancouver Magazine journalist and fellow blogger Frances Bula decided to focus on our critical point of view in this blog post. She makes good points, but perhaps overlooks the point of what I wrote. She starts by saying:
... can people please stop screaming hysterically about the abuse of process and decisions being rammed through and contempt for the public.
I recognize that humour is being used here, but I've seen no one, not even our commenters or hers being shrill in their concern about process. The fact is Vision Vancouver now have a well-earned reputation for being dismissive about process. With regards the decisions being made specifically about the social housing at the Olympic Village, now in both occasions where the City Manager has tabled staff's recommendations she has posted the report as Late Distribution.
Posting late distribution reports is sometimes as a result of just bad timing. But in other occasions such as this it is meant to deliberately manipulate and stifle public process. City Manager Ballem had the original report which decided Vision's "50-50" non-market/market split of the 20% of the Olympic Village for six months before deciding to release it as a late distribution report.
And so it went on Thursday. Geoff Meggs in an interview with a mainstream reporter said that his council did not plan to accept any speakers on the late distribution report. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out how they planned, and the VAN-ACT representatives decided it was more important to stay up past their bedtimes than to let this pass without comment.
Housing protesters, who don’t really understand the financial implications or the political impossibility of anything they are asking for, would still have showed up to disrupt the meeting. (And very amusing to me that NPA types, who have zero in common with the radical housing activists and in fact would never in a million years agree with a single thing they are proposing, are portraying them as put-upon members of the public who have had their democratic rights trampled.)
This remark by Frances first of all assumes that VAN-ACT are a continuation of the nonsense propagated in recent years by DTES agitators. What I saw from those who attended was not anarchism, but a highly respectful expression of concern that people were being left out of the process. I still believe that it was Coun. Raymond Louie's flatulent & absurd rhetoric that sent them out of the stands and into the middle of council chambers.
Suggesting that "the NPA types" (I presume she means me) have "zero in common" with VAN-ACT's position on social housing is not exactly true. Yes, we don't agree on the percentages. VAN-ACT subscribes to the two-thirds non-market housing goals proposed by COPE/Vision in 2005. I, on the other hand, supported the 20% target which all similar projects for the past two decades have achieved.
And remember, Vision have only committed to 11% social housing in this project.
Furthermore, the NPA's excellent record on getting commitments for social and supportive housing in Vancouver is one of the reasons I think they would govern the city better. During the term of 2006-2008, the NPA majority government partnered with the Provincial government to commit to over 3800 units of social and supportive housing in a dozen sites around the city.
Vision Vancouver have a net loss of new social housing because they forced the reduction of scope of several of these projects, including the one at Broadway and Fraser. By our calculations Vision Vancouver are minus 120 units of social/supportive housing so far during their term. That's negative, folks. Not new, not over and above what the two previous councils achieved (Larry Campbell's council got commitments for over 500 units of social/supportive housing).
The NPA's track record on social housing is the height of progressive politics, and one they will no doubt campaign on next year.
As for having any other accord with VAN-ACT, I think we're both in agreement that when you post $46 million council decisions as late distribution reports and ram them through after midnight, you deserve to get a little heat.
On the matter of the conduct of councillors in the chamber, Frances says:
Sure Raymond Louie sounds insufferably lecturing at times and Andrea Reimer makes it clear that it’s hard to be a 10 in a world of 3s. But they don’t sound all that different from many of the lecturing, snotty politicians I have had to sit and listen to over the years. And at least they listen, as opposed to reading their email or studying their foreign-language dictionaries or taking cellphone calls.
"At least they listen". Well, not always. "Listening" suggests that you actually hear what people are saying. After 14 hours in council chambers, how many in the room (except for the clerk, who is the real hero of these deliberations) are actually still sharp and paying attention? Vision are using late night meetings and late distribution to ram through a checklist before they have to start campaiging again. This is hardly democracy at its finest.
Frances goes on to say that Vision were not about to step back from any of their earlier decisions or public statements. We know there are many signs that the City and Millennium are not seeing eye to eye, and that Vancouver is increasingly drowning in financial commitments related to the SEFC project. It should be the job of media and critics alike to continue to report this.
Just because Vision said they were going to do this a month ago, doesn't mean we shouldn't discuss it when they actually hold the vote.
Where we entirely agree (and had I not been so overly loquacious in my Friday post I would have mentioned this) is the matter of how the City will get the $25 million they seem to have swept under the rug in their Friday morning vote. Bula explains it well here:
What I’m wondering about is what happens re the money. The city was supposed to get $46 million up front from the social-housing operators for the leases on the three buildings. They’ll get $21 million from the federation for one building, Building 2, which is going to be mostly market rentals.
But what about the other $25 million that the city was desperately hoping to get — that’s why they structured these deals in such a weird way, with the operators being asked to put all the money up front and take out a mortgage, to be paid off with the rents over the next 60 years.
That’s $25 million in instant cash that the city now won’t have. They’re getting the federation to run the buildings for a couple of years, and I presume there’s no cash up front to do that. What does that mean for budgets, tax increases, or whatever?
Thank you, Frances, for stating this so clearly.
Whither that $25 million, Mayor Gregor? Your report suggests that it will somehow be made up by market rents on the remaining 168 units. But right now your housing is among the most expensive rental in the city. It's estimated that households will need to be earning between $90,000 - $110,000 in order to cover the cost of these rents.
How many police, firefighters and teachers want to drain their bank accounts to cover rents down at the Olympic Village? I guess we'll see that in the months ahead.
- post by Mike