In the four years Colleen Hardwick served as a Vancouver city councilor – first under the NPA, then briefly independent, then finally leading TEAM For A Livable Vancouver in the municipal elections – she gained a reputation for being very criticism of housing and density. .
While housing activists tend to portray her as someone who doesn’t care about housing affordability, she wants voters to know that’s anything but true.
“My goal is to make more things more affordable. I have two children in their thirties and now have two grandchildren who were born during my time on the board. And I don’t want to be the last generation of my family who can afford to live here. So that’s my goal in doing this, because I understand the complexity,” Hardwick said in an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized.
Unlike most of his city council counterparts and all major mayoral candidates and their parties, Hardwick deviates in discourse from pursuing a supply-side approach to achieving housing affordability for a myriad of reasons.
She takes issue with the fact that the municipal government is addicted to creating more housing as a source of revenue, particularly to fund capital budgets for new facilities, infrastructure and maintenance. She believes the City of Vancouver’s whole approach to funding changed about 14 years ago, after Sam Sullivan’s NPA lost the election to Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver.
“Before that, throughout the history of the City and most municipalities that I know of, infrastructure was financed by capital debt. So we used to have stand-alone plebiscites,” Hardwick said, pointing to a 1984 plebiscite for final approval of the Cambie Street Bridge.
She says that after the Sullivan government, the city restructured its financial business model to fulfill the vision of new political leaders to expand the role of a city government.
“At first glance, it seemed like a great idea. We will let growth pay for growth. It was the story. And then, at the same time, the definition of what constituted capital spending shifted from infrastructure to what we now characterize as city council’s priorities on climate change, social issues, economic development and housing,” she said.
“So what we saw happen over the decades that followed was that the budget doubled… The city bit off more than the cities were historically responsible for and they had to pay for it.”
During that time, there has been a huge increase in the number of City employees, and 65% of the budget is now attributable to salaries, according to Hardwick.
To begin to curb the town’s scope drift, during his tenure with the support of the city council, Hardwick successfully spearheaded the creation of an Auditor General. It now has a mandate to independently review municipal government finances and operations and identify efficiencies and cost savings.
In the process of encouraging more residential development to pay for growth, she believes the use of rezoning tools and density-catalyzing area plans by consecutive city councils has greatly exacerbated the housing affordability crisis. in Vancouver by driving up land values.
“Well, on July 1 of every year, BC Assessment comes in and says ‘oh, we’re going to rate the property based on highest and best use. So when you do this multiple times, as we’ve seen over the past decade, it ultimately increases land values exponentially… It all starts with land if we’re talking about affordability. We have to stop inflating the earth lift,” she said.
“What I think needs to happen is that we really need to get the balance back in the pace of change, which means we’re going to have to scale back that notion of promoting growth to fund board priorities. “
She compares the city’s financial business model to a “Ponzi scheme” to extract as much revenue as possible.
She doesn’t believe it’s viable in the long term for the city to have a real estate-driven economy. Rather, it must diversify and develop other sectors.
“We have seen our economy shift from being driven by natural resource extraction industries to being driven by real estate, construction and housing production. So largely what we’re seeing is using immigration to stimulate housing production, rather than looking at what we need to do in terms of economic diversification, innovation and entrepreneurship, which , I repeat, are absolutely essential to the mission of imagining the future we want for ourselves,” she said.
Since 2017, the City has used Housing Vancouver’s 10-year strategy as the basis for determining the number of additional new units that must be approved each year until 2028. The target goal over this period is a total of 72,000 units with a range of housing tenures for a wide range of incomes. She says when she challenged city staff, they said those goals were “ambitious” and not based on any available data. By her calculations, she says, the 72,000 figure is well above and beyond what is needed, and that existing zoning capacity is sufficient to meet demand.
The other issue she would like to address is the 20% to 30% increase in the cost of homes due to the City’s licensing policies and regulations. She would like to halve the City’s additional costs on new housing.
“Let’s get him back. Let’s build within the capacity of the existing area so that we don’t swell the land, at least for a number of years to try to regain our balance. Let us reduce our reliance on promoting development, because that is really what we do,” she continued.
“It’s like building, building, building at all costs. Well, maybe we should really watch what we’re doing.
The municipal election is tomorrow, Saturday October 15.