The mayoral candidates gathered on Thursday Oct. 6th to discuss housing and real estate issues in the city of Vancouver. | Claire Wilson
The Vancouver mayoral candidates gathered yesterday evening for yet another debate, but this one tackled one of the most prominent issues in the city: housing.
Questions asked covered a range of topics from renter protection to how to improve the conditions in SROs. For the aspiring mayoral candidates, this was the chance to show their knowledge on an issue that has been at the heart of many debates.
The debate was hosted at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver by the UBC Sauder School of Business. Journalists Jen St. Denis, from The Tyee, and Mo Amir, from CHEK News, moderated the discussion. All candidates were in attendance.
The 90 minute debate started off with a rapid fire round of questions, with the most prominent questions at the end: “If elected mayor, what is the very first housing motion that you will put forward?”
Kennedy Stewart went first saying that the first housing motion he will put forward is to change the housing target. He says it is currently at 72,000 over 10 years and we have to move that to 220,000 “of the right kind of housing.”
Mark Marissen was second, saying that we need to lift the apartment ban in order to prevent the displacement that Vancouver would see with Stewarts plan.
Ken Sim says that he will speed up the permitting process so that it takes a year rather than six to 10 years in order to build a high-rise apartment building.
Colleen Hardwick wants to set in motion the ability to do a referendum for a 500 million dollar loan to borrow and build 2000 units on city owned land. She also said she wants to provide co-ops for a social mix of low, medium and high income housing.
When it came time for Fred Harding, he pointed to Ken Sim and said: “What he said.” Adding that he wants to implement flat rate community amenity contributions (CACs) across the city.
Following the rapid round, St. Denis asked a question that is being hotly debated across the city: do we need to rezone single-family home neighbourhoods to allow for apartment buildings?
Besides Colleen Hardwick, the candidates indicated that they were in favour of rezoning as a means to provide more affordable housing.
“We can rezone all we want but we have to fix the permitting process first,” said Ken Sim in response.
Hardwick pointed to issues of affordability related to City Hall housing targets. She says that these targets are meant to extract revenue from every rezoning which inflates the land value.
Following rezoning, co-op housing on city owned land was debated amongst the candidates.
Candidates all indicated that the need for co-ops is very strong. Stewart, Hardwick and Sim referenced specific plans that the city can look towards as blueprints in order to maximize housing on existing city owned land. Harding says that co-ops are the way to go but that he needs to “look at the books” before he can determine what the city is prepared to hand over.
Marissen said that his platform wants to create a Vancouver Civic Housing Corporation that will target co-ops for young families in the city.
In regards to the pressures faced by the construction industry, the question that touched on this most was posed to incumbent Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
He discussed the hope that inflation would cause a slowdown in the industry, leading to more free labour. This prompted St. Denis to ask where those workers would live, an issue that is contributing to the skilled labour shortage.
“There is the possibility of having workforce housing on vacant sites for builders,” Stewart said. He added that this will lower the living costs of the workers and help to attract them.
The section with the most heat was the period where each candidate could ask the opponent of their choice a question.
Though all questions were housing related, those that created the most back and forth touched on issues such as: whether or not Colleen Hardwick abstained or voted against all housing proposals throughout her years on council, if developers are in Kennedy Stewarts backpocket, accusations that candidates were not performing at the level that Elections BC requires and if Ken Sim knows the names of the federal and provincial housing ministers.
With regards to SRO’s the candidates had variations of similar ideas. Stewart and Hardwick pointed to the distinction between “good and bad” SROs and all candidates seemed to echo that an overhaul is needed to improve conditions. Harding, Stewart and Hardwick indicated that Vancouver may need to get rid of some.
Sim had the most outside of the box ideas such as using city land and “tiny homes” to help with the issue.
By now, many of the candidates’ platforms are well-developed and the main ideas presented echo what they have already said at previous debates and campaign events.
Stewart focused his responses on existing densification projects across the city like the Broadway and Cambie Corridor Plan, renter protection, and increasing the housing targets.
Sim focused a lot of energy on discussing the permitting process and how getting more housing will start with ensuring that rezoning does not take multiple years to push through.
Hardwick took the time to outline the inconsistencies she sees with topics in housing like Stewarts housing targets and whether or not housing is keeping pace with population growth.
Harding emphasized the need to bring developers into the city and pointed to the private sector as a key piece to getting more housing supply.
“We want to make sure that those developers who have left the city come back by creating a level playing field. And yes, it will be for all types of housing,” said Harding.
Lastly, Marissen’s main points focused on multi-family housing that would be targeted at residents like young families.
Early voting is currently open across Vancouver and official voting day is Oct. 15th. Voters can go online at the City of Vancouver website for information regarding polling stations and voter registration. For more details on candidate positions on housing, the livestream of the debate is still available to watch online.