Judging by the lawn signs in my neighbourhood and casual conversations with, well, just about everyone, it looks like Gregor Robertson and Team Vision are poised to dominate city hall again.
Like many Vancouverites, I’m planning to vote based on issues of housing and affordability on Nov 15; unlike many Vancouverites, I don’t think developer-friendly Vision is the right slate to vote for. Sure, they’ve done good things (LGBTQ advisory committee, Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, bike lanes), but the city’s skyrocketing housing prices are pushing average Vancouverites — including the city’s LGBT communities — out of the city and toward the suburbs, slowly transforming Vancouver into an emptying upscale playground for the ultra-rich.
One major contributing factor to increased housing costs is the trend of foreign investors buying Vancouver properties only to let them sit vacant. In 2013, Andy Yan, with BTAworks (Bing Thom Architects), found that approximately one in four Coal Harbour condos and 15 percent of all downtown condos are unoccupied. The Tumblr blog Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver has highlighted the growing number of houses on Vancouver’s west side (including one that reportedly became inhabited by coyotes) that sit empty and decaying while foreign owners wait for value to build on their investments.
The NPA’s Kirk LaPointe has stated, laughably, that the NPA would enforce the maintenance and upkeep of these properties. LaPointe’s approach does little for me, my friends and my communities who are finding ourselves priced out while investors contribute to escalating real estate and rental prices. Well-maintained empty properties do little for full-time Vancouverities besides giving us something nice to look at as we commute home to the outskirts after working or playing in the city’s core.
What speaks to me, and to others who don’t own property, are candidates like the Green Party’s Pete Fry, whose profile states, “I don’t want to see any more of my friends squeezed out of the city because they can no longer afford to live here.” I hear that — with queer bubbles and communities cropping up along the Kingsway corridor, in South Vancouver, and increasingly in New West and Surrey, I can see that queers are going where rents are cheap.
I’m in favour of a vacant-property tax to be levied on property owners who allow their spaces to sit empty, an idea endorsed by COPE and the Green Party. This tax would motivate owners to open up their spaces to the rental market. This is an idea that reflects the real issues facing Vancouverites and especially the realities faced by the dispersing queer community.
Developer-supported Vision, which presumably raised a chunk of campaign money at “Condo King” Bob Rennie’s $25,000-per-person fundraiser in March, has nothing to say about the vacancy tax idea. Vision may be working to create additional housing (a small portion of which is referred to as “affordable”), but its reluctance to endorse the vacant-property tax implies sympathy for absent investors and a disconnect from the struggle that regular Vancouverites are facing.
The Green Party’s affordability platform comes across as most realistic and with a more cooperative slant. The Green Party proposes a down-to-earth strategy to tackle the city’s affordability crisis that includes adopting the definition of affordability used by provincial and federal governments and basing rents on renters’ incomes; protecting renters from “renovictions”; supporting housing co-ops; examining the “tiny house” movement; and several other realistic, creative and Vancouverite-centric solutions. These are the kinds of fresh, innovative solutions that Vancouver needs, and that’s why this election I’m eagerly giving my vote for city council to Green Party candidates Adriane Carr, Cleta Brown and Pete Fry.