Rejection of 105 Keefer opened the door to new future for Chinatown, but will anyone walk through?

Yesterday’s 8-3 council vote to reject Beedie Group’s proposal to build a 12-story project at 105 Keefer ended the longest public hearing in a decade, a process that turned into a debate on the future of Chinatown.

I voted with the majority in that vote and wrote down my comments — something I never do — to be sure I said what I had on my mind. Here’s what I said:

“This hearing has been the longest and most intense in my time on council. Sadly, it reflected how one of the city’s most important communities — Chinatown, a neighbourhood most consider part of the soul of our city — has become deeply divided over the best way to sustain the community while preparing to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“Despite the anxiety, fear and frustration expressed by many, everyone who participated in this debate is deeply and passionately committed to Chinatown’s future.

“The reality is that neither option available to council today — approval or rejection — can assure that future. That will take leadership, and most importantly, require unity and collaboration.

“The decision before council has  been defined by speakers on both sides as a turning point,, a watershed, vital for Chinatown’s revitalization, a defining moment in the life of the city as critical as the decision to defeat freeway development. Read More

Guichon, Clark and Reid, eminent women at centre of BC’s political crisis, play a striking role at Grace McCarthy’s funeral

Grace McCarthy

With her sudden gasp, her struggle for composure and her faltering opening , BC Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon made it clear today that her contribution at Grace McCarthy’s state funeral was deeply personal.

McCarthy, who died May 24 at 89, was one of the most important politicians of her generation, a life long Social Credit activist who left a dramatic mark on the province. In the critical years after Expo 86, she triggered the construction of the first convention centre, drove the sale of the Expo lands to Li-Ka Shing and created the Supernatural BC campaign that drove a boom in tourism.

Guichon left no doubt about her own feelings at today’s requiem eucharist.

Hailing McCarthy as “the first lady of Social Credit, the Amazing Grace,” Guichon recalled McCarthy’s famous membership drive in 1973 and 1974 that brought the shattered Social Credit party back from the dead after its historic 1972 defeat at the hands of Dave Bennett’s NDP.

It was a striking choice of memories for a woman charged with helping the Legislature navigate through unprecedented partisan challenges to establish a new government.

When the huge congregation had settled into the pews at Christ Church Cathedral, it was clear the service would be a unique gathering of many of the personalities who had effectively governed BC for half a century.

Three eminent women of BC politics  — Guichon, BC Liberal leader Christy Clark and current house speaker Linda Reid — were in the front row, across the aisle from McCarthy’s family.

Thanks to Clark’s decision to deny a speaker to the New Democrats and the Greens, longtime speaker Linda Reid is out of a job and Guichon is soon to confront unique constitutional dilemmas.

You could almost hear the pages of history turning, with leading players in today’s political crisis on one side of the cathedral, while surviving veterans of McCarthy’s era, including one-time Socred cabinet minister Pat McGeer and businessman Jimmy Pattison, sat on the other.

Scattered among them were several of Clark’s recently fallen cabinet ministers — Suzanne Anton, Peter Fassbender — and lucky survivors like Mike De Jong and Sam Sullivan, as well as Carole Taylor, former finance minister for Gordon Campbell.

Clark spoke briefly, declaring McCarthy one of the women leaders who inspired her with the knowledge that “women cannot only lead but can help bring change.” Read More

Affordable housing? Not if Elizabeth Murphy can help it

 

Vancouver proposes to make all new housing serve affordability goals.

According to community activist and former planner Elizabeth Murphy, anyone hoping for action to produce affordable housing in Vancouver should forget it.

Murphy’s weekend op-ed in the Vancouver Sun condemns Vancouver’s Housing Re:set as more of the same old status quo. But when you get right down to it, the status quo is her preferred option.

We can’t solve the problem with supply, she declares, but how she proposes to house a growing population without more supply remains a mystery. (Neither I or my Vision colleagues has ever suggested supply could solve the problem on its own, but without new supply, nothing will change.)

Introduce a very successful rental housing program producing more than 1,000 units a year? Vancouver has one, now producing more than half the rental housing in the entire region,  but Murphy acts like it doesn’t exist. Set firm targets for social housing, as Vancouver does? Not on her radar.

Create an interim rezoning program to encourage extra units, if affordable, along arterials? Vancouver is doing it, but Murphy doesn’t like it.

Open up the discussion about more townhomes and rowhouses in single family neighbourhoods? Vancouver is doing just that, but the effort is futile, she says, because the new homes won’t be affordable. Yet the purpose of the Housing Re:set it to ensure that they are.

Most real solutions are beyond the city’s power, Murphy claims, even though Vancouver’s actions to curb short-term rentals and tax empty homes are now being studied by cities across Canada.

Vancouver’s Housing Re:set is far from “more of the same,” as Murphy claims. It will define hard targets, for the first time, to link new construction to particular income groups not being served by the current programs or the private market.

When you get right down to it, Murphy likes the status quo, where low-density, single-family neighbourhoods are kept out of the housing affordability debate.

Auditor General pinpoints concerns about BC Housing’s Non-Profit Asset Transfer Program

BC Housing’s Non-Profit Asset Transfer Program may not provide long-term protection for social housing stock, says BC’s Auditor General, and could cost taxpayers more than it generates in benefits.

The Lux, a BC Housing project on the Downtown Eastside.

Last month’s report by Carol Bellringer has confirmed many of the fears expressed by housing advocates — including elected officials — since it was unveiled two years ago.

The program is strongly supported by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and was stoutly defended by BCNPHA director Kishone Roy in an interview this week.

Indeed, many leading non-profit housing organizations have been itching to be free of provincial constraints, take control of their own destinies and expand their housing stock.

The new program allows that by effectively selling non-profits the land on which their housing sits. The cash they pay to BC Housing is used to trigger new construction, particularly through partnerships possible with new federal funding. So far, BC Housing has generated $250 million in cash for new investments.

But Bellringer confirms many of the worries I have heard expressed by elected officials, particularly those who were briefed on the program at the Metro Vancouver Housing Committee last year.

They include:

  • the likely loss of “rent geared to income” units, the most affordable of all, in new housing projects;
  • the increased reliance on rental supplements, which help families find housing in the private market, but provide no control over the quality of the housing;
  • the possible loss of land, now in public ownership, as the new non-profit owners go out of business or sell;
  • the lack of capacity in smaller non-profits to undertake the complex and risky business of redevelopment, which could result in their collapse.

To make the whole scheme work, BC Housing must subsidize non-profits to pay for the mortgages they require to buy the land. Over time, this creates a $1 billion long-term cost commitment for the province.

Bellringer concluded, after reviewing BC Housing’s numbers, that “the transfer of assets could result in a financial cost, rather than a financial benefit.”

When every dollar counts, that’s bad news.