Dan Fumano: Citizens, city staff and experts weigh in on Broadway plan

More than 200 members of the public have registered to address Vancouver council about the Broadway plan.

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On Wednesday at Vancouver City Hall, council began the multi-day process of hearing arguments on one of the most important, most-watched, and most-discussed decisions of their term: the Broadway Plan. .

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City staff presented the mayor and council with the proposed 30-year plan for nearly 500 blocks along the Broadway subway line currently under construction, stretching from Clark Drive west to Vine Street, from 16th Ave North to 1st. The plan includes significant density increases in Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant and Fairview, and has drawn both support and fierce opposition.

More than 200 people registered to speak to the council about the Broadway plan, one of the highest totals in recent years for a single element of the council. Names on the list of speakers included representatives of city tenants, seniors and transportation advisory committees, labor unions, prominent local architects and developers, municipal political party board members, artistic and cultural groups and candidates for the October municipal elections.

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A key priority of the plan is to add market and below-market rental housing to address the housing shortage in the city. But, given that the area already includes one in five of all renter households in the city, the fate of the area’s current tenants was repeatedly raised as a concern by council members and the public on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, the Vancouver Tenants Union held an event at City Hall to protest what they called the “transit-oriented shift” proposed by the Broadway plan.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart, at a press conference the previous week, acknowledged that such large-scale plans in the past had led to a massive displacement of tenants. But the mayor promised this time it would be different: if council approves the tougher tenant protection measures he plans to introduce, he says, no tenant will be forced out of their neighborhood or see their rent increase. When the rental properties are eventually redeveloped, Stewart said his proposal would allow existing tenants to return to a unit in the new building at the same rent they previously paid.

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Experts polled by Postmedia News expressed mixed opinions on whether Stewart’s proposal could work.

Duncan Maclennan, professor of urban economics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told Postmedia that Stewart’s proposal may be popular with existing tenants today, but such policies may have unintended consequences. reducing rental construction and making things worse in the long run. -term.

“Often politicians, faced with an existing affordability crisis for tenants, and particularly low-income tenants, will propose market interventions that are short-term palliatives for some, but mean more hardship for future tenants,” Maclennan said. “Short-term measures will generally dampen future supply… The mayor’s proposal is well-intentioned, but risks shrinking the sector.”

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Steve Pomeroy, a Canadian housing expert and senior fellow at Carleton University in Ottawa, said he previously had a similar view to Maclennan on the effects of such strict rent control, but his view This view has changed as older Canadian apartment buildings have become an increasingly popular asset for large institutional capital, eroding the stock of relatively affordable housing. Making existing apartment buildings a less attractive investment – through measures such as tighter rent controls – could help “slow this erosion”, he said.

“Developers are pushing this back a lot because it’s a big haircut on their potential revenue,” Pomeroy said. “But this kind of approach can work. Developers will do their math… What the industry doesn’t like is unpredictability and uncertainty, if they know there’s a very prescriptive rule they have to follow, they’ll figure out how the respect… and it will essentially become a cost of doing business.”

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Theresa O'Donnell, Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver, answers questions from city councilors during the debate on the Broadway plan, at Vancouver City Hall May 18.  More than 200,000 speakers were expected before council votes on the future of the Broadway Corridor.
Theresa O’Donnell, Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver, answers questions from city councilors during the debate on the Broadway plan, at Vancouver City Hall May 18. More than 200,000 speakers were expected before council votes on the future of the Broadway Corridor. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

But while private-sector property developers have raised concerns that the mayor’s proposed protections for tenants are hampering rental supply, leaders from the nonprofit housing sector have voiced support and said that they were willing and able to build more housing in the Broadway area.

Jill Atkey, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, and Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, said they support the mayor’s proposed tenant protections for the Broadway area and that they would support the extension of the same protections. Through the city.

“Tenants are being moved everywhere, so why would it matter if you live along the Broadway corridor?” Armstrong said in an emailed statement.

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“There are approximately 4,000 homes in the community housing sector in the plan area and with this plan we will be able to expand it significantly without needing to acquire more land,” Armstrong said. “Obviously we need new housing if we are to accommodate future population growth, but growth cannot come at the expense of affordable housing that people already own.

Both Armstrong and Atkey signed up to address the council about the plan. Wednesday afternoons, Atkey shared on Twitter that she was No. 190 on the speakers list, joking, “I look forward to speaking to the board about the Broadway plan in July.”

By Wednesday’s deadline, the meeting was expected to continue overnight and then resume next week.

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Melissa C. Keyes