Red tape reduction commissioner good first step to making housing affordable

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Anton wants to reduce red tape and get housing projects approved faster

I'm told by sources within both the NPA and Vision camps that affordable housing and homelessness are some of the top issues of concern for Vancouverites. However, you'd never know that based on the media coverage coming out of NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton's news conference yesterday. She used the opportunity to reveal a big portion of her party's housing and homelessness strategy.

If an announcement is released in the forest and nobody was there to report on it, did it really have an impact? Based on the lack of headlines it would appear not - at least so far.

Before I get into the details of Anton's announcement I want to be clear about one point. Any politician who tells you they have a plan to make Vancouver affordable is selling you snake oil. The harsh reality is the best city hall can do is tinker around the edges as the free market is much more powerful than most mayors (and hopefuls) will let on.

As we all know, the biggest tool civic politicians have to keep any city affordable is to increase the overall supply of housing on the market. Here is my version of Housing Affordability Economics 101:

  • High Demand + Low Supply = City unaffordable
  • High Demand + High Supply = City more affordable
  • Low Demand + High Supply = Very affordable

Regardless of the obvious challenges politicians face, I applaud them for doing what they can to help increase affordability. In the case of the NPA, they announced a series of measures including:

Within the first 90 days on their administration, Anton will appoint a Red Tape Commissioner that will report to City Council and have a mandate to:

  • reduce unreasonable development permit times - with a goal to cut them in half over the first half of the NPA’s term
  • ensure development permit fees are applied in a more open and consistent manner
  • establish a one-stop service office at City Hall

The NPA will also introduce direct measures they claim will increase housing supply, improve affordability and speed projects up. These measures will focus on:

  • increased pre-zoning of land
  • development along transit corridors
  • reduced parking requirements on new developments, and
  • expand use of certified professionals in the development approval process

They want to emphasize a need to diversify the housing supply. The NPA says they will:

  • ensure major developments include a supply of 2-, 3- and 4- bedroom units
  • allow more town home opportunities for downsizing households
  • encourage development of purpose built rental housing buildings, and
  • accelerate seniors housing opportunities to meet demand of an aging society

I do like the general direction of the housing platform put forward by Anton as it should help reform the way developments are processed. In particular, her willingness to use external contractors is a breath of fresh air - although it may be met with some resistance from the planning department.

One thing missing from Anton's announcement was any discussion about reforming the antiquated public hearing process. It would have been nice if the NPA (or any party for that matter) were bold enough to tackle the thorny issue of how city hall obtains public feedback. I realize that delving into this issue would require legislative changes at the provincial level, but somebody should get the ball rolling.

The lack of media at the platform announcement didn't dampen Anton's enthusiasm for the subject matter. Here is an excerpt of her speech:

Vancouver residents and business leaders have told me the cost to live in Vancouver is one of the most significant threats to our city’s prosperity.

People know there is something wrong when hard-working low and middle income families are facing the reality of leaving a City they love just to find an affordable place to live.

And the problem is getting worse – not better. Nobody thinks Vancouver is more affordable today that it was three years ago. Even Vision Vancouver has admitted they have failed to produce a solution to our housing crisis.

Instead of increasing housing supply to meet demand, Gregor Robertson has made the situation worse. Taxes and fees are going up. Services are declining. Contractors are reporting record wait times at City Hall. And Vancouver’s neighbourhood consultation process is broken.

If you want to read more about Anton's announcement, you can click here.

Speaking of housing, COPE's Ellen Woodsworth said this week that if she's re-elected, her party will impose a moratorium on new condos in the Downtown Eastside.

We have yet to hear whether COPE's coalition partner Vision Vancouver agrees with this policy. Therefore we ask...do Vision Vancouver politicians agree with COPE that the DTES should be a no-go zone for developers? I'll be curious to see if anyone in the MSM asks the Mayor this question.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on on Twitter @CityCaucus or you can "like" us on Facebook at facebook.com/citycaucus.

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