The mayoral candidates met on Thursday, October 6 to discuss housing and real estate issues in the city of Vancouver. | Claire Wilson
Vancouver’s mayoral candidates gathered last night for yet another debate, but this one centered on one of the most prominent issues in the city: housing.
The questions asked covered a range of topics from tenant protection to improving conditions in SROs. For the aspiring mayoral candidates, this was an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge on a topic 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, of The Tyee, and Mo Amir, of CHEK News, moderated the discussion. All candidates were present.
The 90-minute debate began with a quick firing round of questions, with the most prominent questions at the end: “If elected mayor, what’s the very first housing motion you’ll file?”
Kennedy Stewart was the first to say that the first housing motion he will file is to change the housing target. He says it’s currently 72,000 over 10 years and we need to move that to 220,000 “of the right kind of housing”.
Mark Marissen came in second and said we need to lift the apartment ban to prevent the move Vancouver would see with Stewart’s plan.
Ken Sim says he will speed up the permitting process so that it takes a year instead of six to 10 years to build a high-rise apartment.
Colleen Hardwick wants to trigger the possibility of holding a referendum on a $500 million loan to borrow and build 2,000 units on the city’s land. She also said she wants to provide cooperatives for a social mix of low, middle and high income housing.
When it came time for Fred Harding, he pointed to Ken Sim and said, “What he said.” He adds that he wants to implement flat-rate community amenities (CACs) across the city.
After the quick round, St. Denis raised a question that’s hotly debated across the city: Should we rearrange single-family homes to accommodate apartment buildings?
In addition to Colleen Hardwick, the candidates indicated that they were in favor of repurposing as a means of realizing more affordable housing.
“We can change anything we want, but we have to sort out the permitting process first,” Ken Sim said in response.
Hardwick pointed to affordability issues related to City Hall’s housing goals. She says these goals are intended to generate revenue from any repurposing that boosts land value.
After the redevelopment, the candidates discussed cooperative housing on the basis of the city.
Candidates all indicated that the need for cooperatives is very great. Stewart, Hardwick and Sim referred to specific plans that the city can look to as blueprints to maximize housing on existing city-owned land. Harding says co-ops are the best choice, but he’ll have to “look in the books” before he can determine what the city is willing to hand over.
Marissen said his platform aims to create a Vancouver Civic Housing Corporation that focuses on co-ops for young families in the city.
Regarding the pressures facing the construction industry, the question that touched it most was posed to incumbent Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
He discussed the hope that inflation would cause a slowdown in industry, leading to more free labour. This led St. Denis to ask where those workers would live, a problem that contributes to the shortage of skilled labor.
“There is the option of having staff housing in vacant sites for builders,” Stewart said. He added that this will lower the cost of living for the workers and help attract them.
The section with the most heat was the period when each candidate could ask the opponent of his choice a question.
While all of the questions were housing-related, the questions that raised the most back and forth centered on things like: whether Colleen Hardwick abstained during her years on the board or voted against all housing proposals, whether developers are in Kennedy Stewart’s back pocket, allegations that candidates did not perform at the level required by Elections BC and if Ken Sim knows the names of the federal and provincial housing ministers.
With regard to SROs, the candidates had variations on similar ideas. Stewart and Hardwick pointed to the distinction between “good and bad” SROs and all candidates seemed to reiterate that a review is needed to improve conditions. Harding, Stewart and Hardwick indicated that Vancouver may have to get rid of it.
Sim had most of the out-of-the-box ideas, such as using city land and “small houses” to solve the problem.
By now, many of the candidate platforms are well developed and the key ideas presented are in line with what they have already said in previous debates and campaign events.
Stewart focused his responses on existing densification projects in the city, such as the Broadway and Cambie Corridor Plan, protecting tenants and increasing housing goals.
Sim has put a lot of effort into discussing the permitting process and how getting more homes will begin by making sure that repurposing doesn’t take several years.
Hardwick took the time to outline the inconsistencies she sees with housing topics such as Stewart’s housing goals and whether housing is keeping up with population growth.
Harding emphasized the need to bring developers into the city and pointed to the private sector as a key component in increasing 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, that will apply to all types of housing,” said Harding.
Finally, Marissen’s main points focused on multi-family housing that would target residents such as young families.
Early voting is currently available throughout Vancouver and the official voting day is October 15. Voters can go online at the City of Vancouver website for information on polling stations and voter registration. For more details on housing candidate positions, the debate livestream is still available online.