Housing crisis

Mayoral candidates agree on housing crisis, dispute best way to solve it in Sauder debate

Five frontrunners in Vancouver’s mayoral race challenged each other’s plans to tackle Vancouver’s housing supply and affordability issues during a debate Thursday night.

The debate – hosted by the Sauder School of Business Center for Urban Economics and Real Estate – featured Kennedy Stewart of Forward Together Vancouver, Fred Harding of the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), Ken Sim of A Better City (ABC), Mark Marissen of Progress Vancouver and current City Councilor Colleen Hardwick of TEAM for a Livable Vancouver.

All candidates agreed that the current housing situation has reached a crisis point, reflecting a recent poll that showed Vancouver citizens cite housing as the most pressing issue in this election.

However, the candidates disagreed, often vehemently, on how best to solve the problem. When asked what their first motion on housing would be if elected, the responses varied.

Stewart proposed increasing housing targets to approve 220,000 new homes over the next ten years. Marissen said he would lift the apartment ban , which would allow the construction of higher density residential buildings in single-family neighborhoods. Hardwick proposed using city-owned land to build a mix of low-, middle-, and high-income co-op housing. Sim argued for speeding up the process of granting building permits to developers, Harding agreed with Sim and stressed the need for Community Approval Contributions (CACs).

CACs are contributions from developers when the city approves rezoning allowing new development. In theory, these contributions allow the City to build and expand, among other things, affordable housing and childcare services.

The debate heated up when the panelists were allowed to ask each other questions. One of the main areas of contention was the licensing process for new developments.

Sim, who lost to Stewart by a narrow margin in the 2018 mayoral election, challenged the mayor over Vancouver’s slow residential building permits.

“[This debate has] it all boils down to authorizing, when what we really need is a housing plan moving forward, which is exactly what you’re not offering, Stewart countered. “We need to build a lot more housing, a lot more density.”

In 2018, Stewart promised to build 85,000 new units over the next ten years if elected. The City of Vancouver’s current goal is 72,000 in ten years. The council approved 8,800 new homes in 2021.

Harding asked Stewart to fill the gap between approved buildings and what was actually under construction. Stewart said the residential units currently under construction are 60% rental units, with a significant portion reserved for those earning minimum wage. Stewart accused Harding of wanting to fast-track development permits in order to build luxury homes.

“No, that’s not true…we want to speed up the process because the process is broken,” Harding said.

In both of these exchanges, audience members clapped, laughed, or called, mostly in support of Kennedy’s challengers, forcing moderators Jen St. Denis and Mo Amir to remind the audience to remain silent.

Both Harding and Sim have continually stressed the importance of meeting the needs of developers, with Sim stating that the process of obtaining permits was prohibitively expensive for builders.

“[Developers] keep talking about the same thing. It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to build in our city, to get permits, and a lot of builders are leaving. Sim said: “Housing is becoming less affordable and less will be built.”

Harding criticized the city for creating an environment that repelled developers.

“We have to create conditions where we bring developers back,” Harding said, “[The housing market] is not only for people trying to get by, but also for the middle class.

Hardwick had a different opinion. She argued that the rate of population growth in Vancouver did not match the proposed number of new units to be built.

“The supply shortfall…isn’t based on reality,” she said.

Instead, Hardwick pointed to the rezoning of residential areas for developers to build higher-density housing as the culprit of the affordability crisis, saying the practice increases land values.

“We have the ability to slow the rate of inflation by stopping the huge volume of rezoning that we are doing just to sell the zoning to generate revenue to fund our expansion.”

Advance voting for all City of Vancouver elections is open October 8, 11 and 13. People can also vote on Election Day on October 15.