If COPE agrees with need for housing authority to tackle affordability, why oppose Heather Place?

The Coalition of Progressive Electors’ new housing discussion paper, released this week with all possible fanfare, calls  for a city housing authority, similar in many respects to a key recommendation of Gregor Robertson’s 2012 Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability.

COPE’s plan has some dramatic, controversial elements: funded by property tax, able to expropriate land, directly building 1,000 units a year and building slab towers at great heights and densities, if the illustrations are any guide.

But other elements sound very much like Metro Vancouver Housing Corp’s plan for renewal of Heather Place, which COPE opposed. The 230-unit Heather Place project was approved by council the same day COPE released its policy.

Since the task force report, the city has recruited Mukhtar Latif to serve as Chief Housing Officer. Latif’s proposals to create, in the task’s forces words, “a new City-owned entity to deliver affordable rental and social housing by using City lands . . . [and] through community land trusts and alternative financing models” should come before council in the next few months.

But in the meantime, why would COPE oppose Heather Place, as several COPE leaders did at the public hearing, given the similarities of the project to many of COPE’s ideas?

(Seven out of eight Heather Place tenants at the public hearing spoke passionately in the favour of the project and several wrote to council in a similar vein.)

Metro Vancouver Housing Corp. is a public, non-profit corporation, much like the proposed housing authority. Its land remains in public hands. The project is phased to minimize dislocation of tenants. Subsidized tenants will remain subsidized and those who would qualify for a subsidy as a result of rent increases would also be protected.

Most significantly, perhaps, the remainder of the project would be market rental, to generate additional revenue in the absence of provincial and federal support, which sounds very much like COPE’s idea that an authority “build some market housing to raise revenues.”

How a new city entity or authority could contribute to housing affordability is an important debate. But when COPE had a chance to support such an initiative, as urged by most of the tenants, its leaders said no.