Builders, developers join debate on affordable housing

Mayor Gregor Robertson’s push to tackle the problem of housing affordability, a key plank in his victorious re-election campaign, is stirring strong reactions in the construction and development industries, which naturally believe the city itself is mostly to blame for the problem.

Two commentators pursue this argument in today’s real estate section of the Vancouver Sun, where columnist Bob Ransford points to “hidden taxes” in the form of community amenity charges as a key cost driver. But when the public creates value in the form of a rezoning, shouldn’t the public get most of the benefit?

Ransford is feeling the pain of developers who pay top dollar during land assembly only to find that the amenity charges levied by the city push their final selling price too high. Should the public guarantee profits by reducing its take? Would that help reduce prices?

(Ransford’s column includes some incisive commentary along another line from UBC commerce professor Michael Goldberg, who has long argued Vancouver’s densities are far too low to support cheaper housing. This is an issue that I agree needs to be confronted. Current community expectations are so restrictive, if public hearings are any indication, that most future major housing development will be built outside Vancouver.)

Not to be outdone, Peter Simpson, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, takes the space right above Ransford to finger red tape for high housing costs. Of course, approvals should be timely and fees should be limited to cost recovery. But surely we’re not talking about cutting quality and safety standards, are we?

Ransford and Simpson like one thing the mayor has done: his appointment of Olga Ilich to co-chair his task force on housing affordability. (For some reason, the Sun identifies her as “multimillionaire developer Olga Ilich,” presumably to signal her trustworthiness to Sun readers still stinging from Robertson’s victory.)

Ilich’s qualifications for the post, including her work on social housing, were outlined in more detail by the Courier‘s Allen Garr, but the folks over at The Mainlander aren’t fooled: Ilich is not only a multimillionaire, she’s a leader of the city’s “real estate oligopoly.”

Clearly, this task force project will not be dull.