[see ‘Policies On Housing’ – The Positions Of Local Entities On The Challenges Facing Vancouver Housing‘ for an introduction/rationale for this series]
NSV (‘Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver’)
From their website, nsvancouver.ca:
“Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) is an organization made up of individual electors from neighbourhoods across Vancouver, of which many individuals are also part of neighbourhood groups whose views help to inform NSV Principles and Policies. NSV is endorsing candidates on the ballot in the upcoming 2011 civic election.
NSV is offering an alternative to Vision Vancouver and the NPA who are both effectively the same on city planning and development issues since they are heavily funded by the development industry. Regulators of land use policy, such as Vancouver’s City Council, should not be funded by those they regulate. Excessive amounts of money should not be raised or required for local elections.
NSV supports sustainable development in a scale, pace and form that protects heritage buildings, affordable rental housing and neighbourhood character, implemented through genuine grassroots neighbourhood-based planning processes. Affordable and social housing should also be a priority and designed to perform well within the scale and character of each neighbourhood. We want our city to be ecologically, socially, and financially sustainable.”
Here is ‘jesse’ on NSV’s policy on housing [Many thanks, jesse. -ed.]:
“The platform is rather detailed. It can be found here, [and archived here].
I’ll highlight a few policies that stood out to me, of which I have concerns:
“Ensure that planning and development are rooted in neighbourhood-based processes that have established community support and enhance public trust. Such processes should be genuine cooperative efforts between the City and the local community and should demonstrate substantial local support for any outcome”
This statement recurs in other policies throughout their document. Here NSV is talking about existing neighbourhood groups being more actively involved in the planning process, to the point they are given a near veto over land use planning. The issue here is that many city-wide initiatives and burdens could be nixed if such a policy is enacted. Imagine trying to get approval for treatment centres, halfway houses, or other subsidized housing in certain neighbourhoods, or even provide “medium income” housing throughout the city, from east to west. Further, density increases have been slow to materialize in certain west side neighbourhoods despite, based on price signals, a large number of people desiring to live there.
“Strive to end homelessness and poverty, and to address housing affordability more generally.”
A more general approach to housing affordability is good but it’s unclear what this means. Is “affordability” regarding ownership or just renting?
“Estimate future capacity needs based on existing population and realistic transparent projections, with raw data available to the public for ready independent review.”
Sounds good. Projections, though, can become self-fulfilling.
“Minimize rezonings that would divert development from rapid transit serving centres and high growth areas such as the Downtown District”
Uh yeah. Why rezone areas that don’t have transit? I disagree; the concept is to increase transit corridors to react to density increases, not the other way round. JMHO.
“Do not increase zoning capacity beyond what is required to realistically meet anticipated growth, so that development is directed where it should be implemented in the greatest public interest. (If the whole city is upzoned, then profitability rather than transit access may determine development, with increased orientation to automobile transportation.)”
This is a bit confusing; the “greatest public interest” is a weasel phrase. More on that below.
“Reduce/avoid regulatory disincentives to renovation of existing older character buildings to encourage adaptive reuse, which retains the affordability and embodied energy of existing buildings”
Noble, but it’s hard to see how this will align with planned density increases. Density looks to increase in specific areas, and produce larger disparity over time with this policy. Not that this is good or bad, but the conclusions seem obvious to me.
“Engage the public and other levels of government to explore and enact policies to constrain inflation of residential property values due to flipping, money laundering, and excessive foreign investment.”
This will be seen as noble, and populist, but I think vreaa and I agree this is missing the point, that there is a chronic land price bubble that extends beyond flipping, illegal activities, and foreign investors. While policies like these, if ham-fisted enough, may divert some “hot money” away, it misses the broader point, that land prices are woefully disconnected from underlying fundamentals and it’s mostly locals who are supporting valuations. [Agreed. – vreaa]
“I was going to do a technical breakdown of NSV platforms but its policy is detailed enough, people can peruse it for themselves. Instead I thought I’d get on the virtual soapbox and highlight some concerns I have with their platform. I do think it’s good that it is a detailed policy. I’ve concentrated on the specific policies with which I have biggest issue. Other policies of NSV may or may not be good ideas but I support them being debated openly and on that front they seem to be adding to debate, and steering towards discussing broad housing policy as an election issue. I hope other parties and candidates can issue rebuttals to NSV’s policies or state that they agree with them.
Vancouver has a choice to make regarding increasing its density. One way is to concentrate density into areas whose existing residents are more willing to accept these increases — or cannot manage a careful, politically astute, time-heavy, media-savvy, and vocal campaign — but I also know that some neighbourhoods are much less organized than others and planning land use for the overall city “public good” produces entrenched interests that make living close to work more and more difficult as time goes on. Indeed if we look at Vancouver’s history, in certain neighbourhoods like the West End, Kits, Fairview, and more recently Mt. Pleasant, Cambie, and Main St. south of False Creek, we can see density slowly encroaching via a formal rezoning basis. This will start “creeping” outwards with more and more pressure over time.
Other neighbourhoods, mostly on the east side, have increased density through zoning for basement suites, and more recently the allowance of lane way housing city-wide. These efforts have increased dwelling capacity formally, and informally houses are adding suites more than the City wants to admit in terms of enforcement. (It has acknowledged illegal suites’ existence in working reports.) You know that I think that the City practice of “turning a blind eye” to illegal basement suites is a disingenuous way of increasing density in neighbourhoods. These suites have started to pop up on the west side too, though their instigation is more noticeable and prone to neighbours issuing complaints. It is my view this is not a good way of increasing density, producing a bifurcation of neighbourhood incomes and rendering ownership near impossible. By disallowing full-ownership density increases, it may actually increase, not decrease, speculative activity in low-density areas.
So density is coming, adding neighbourhood associations into the mix will make this process more difficult and, based on previous experience, forces density into areas where the populace doesn’t really want to be. Again, look at price signals: a great many people want to live, but are unwilling to buy, on the west side.
The City, as a whole, has the ability to decide whether protecting existing neighbourhood character by keeping density low is in the “public interest” of the city overall. I think keeping low density is going to cause more strains going forward, and increasing into medium-density similar to European or other cosmopolitan locales, as Kits/Fairview/etc. have already embarked on, is only a matter of time. At this point, given stratospheric land values, might as well hit the relief valve sooner rather than later. This is within the bounds of what the city is allowed to do and likely exactly at odds with NSV’s proposals. Increasing density in a sustainable way across the city won’t be popular, sure, but people working in, say, UBC who need to commute for close to an hour or more every working day, would likely welcome such density increases closer to their places of work. Density increases can be had by thoughtful rezonings either into multiplex or row housing (I dismiss this is not possible) of larger lots. Creative architecture can allow proper blending into neighbourhoods.
While I support more comprehensive concentration on housing policy beyond the serious problems in affordability for low-income families, which what NSV’s platform is attempting to do, I do not support the concept that Vancouver can maintain its “character”; rather it can only delay it and this will cause longer-term stresses for affordability, livability, and environmental sustainability of an extremely desirable chunk of rock. Perhaps other contributors can argue the other side, as to why certain NSV policy proposals are a good thing to pursue.”