Yesterday Vancouver City Council approved the third phase of the Cambie Corridor plan, which will guide future growth along the Canada Line, the LRT line completed for the 2010 Winter Olympics. While Vancouver had always intended to preserve affordable housing along the corridor and use community amenity contributions to support new affordable units, the approved plan is a truly well-balanced attempt at increasing density in a existing neighbourhoods while protecting affordability and equity. There are a lot of lessons here for other municipalities attempting TOD, protection of affordable housing or creation of new rental housing, all of which have proven difficult for Canadian municipalities.

What Vancouver has done in its typical, well-structured and clearly documented way is address the fact that gentrification will definitely occur in this corridor. Council was under pressure to address affordability concerns as several high-end developments were already underway–and well they should be. It’s been nine years since the Canada Line opened and everyone knew land prices would soar immediately as it always does with new LRT infrastructure. At the time, there was a lot of underused land along the corridor (click here for photos from 2009) and despite Vancouver’s attempt to preserve industrial land, it was well known that some of this land would be gobbled up by developers seeking to build luxury high-rise condos, the city’s stock in trade. Not only does Vancouver’s phase three plan address affordable housing, but it goes beyond that with its Public Benefits Strategy which acknowledges the need for new social amenities, recreational facilities, and employment in the corridor. Clearly the 60 public events and extensive online consultation contributed to the development of the plan.

The population in the Cambie Corridor will more than double from 33,600 in 2011, as 45,700 new residents will be living in the area by 2041. The plan sets targets of building 5,000 secured rental units, 2,800 social housing units, and 400 below-market rental units targeted to those earning between $30,000 and $80,000. More than 1,700 existing single-family housing lots will be used for these projects. This means that fully one-quarter of the anticipated 42,000 new residential units will be affordable.

There’s a level of detail in the plan that is lacking in many others: on p43, in the area of Heather and 16th, the City describes the mixed-use 4-5 storey development or 100% secured rental housing they would like to see and state that, “On existing purpose-built rental housing sites (750 16th Avenue, 711 17th Avenue, 3217 and 3255 Heather Street), existing tenants will be entitled to compensation and assistance in accordance with the City’s Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy and its guidelines.” On p56, the exact lots that would be consolidated for a 100% secured rental project are listed; p67 outlines the exact square footage of non-profit organization space, space for a youth centre, childcare facilities, and artist studios that would be required for sites between 39th and 45th Avenue. A closer look at the plan reveals a generally mid-rise approach to density along Cambie, with a concentration of 15- to 18-storey towers near Cambie and 41st. There are some special sites for redevelopment, like the YMCA site near Langara College which will be targeted for 80% condo/20% social housing or 100% rental with 20% below-market rental; Balfour Block at the north end of the corridor will include replacing existing and maximizing new rental units, with a target of 25% below-market and childcare on site. The plan constantly refers to the City’s other plans and strategies, indicating how it reinforces the City’s priorities and goals (e.g. on p27 it explains how the Cambie Corridor Plan helps achieve the goals of Vancouver’s 2017 Housing Strategy).

Elements of the plan’s Public Benefits Strategy include include more than 20 acres of parks, childcare centres (1,080 new spaces), community facilities (civic centre and seniors centre), and improvements to the public realm. Through collaboration with the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre, the plan hopes to attract 9,200 new jobs to the corridor. Transportation improvements will include a #41 B-Line (finally!), and improved capacity on the Canada Line, upgrades to the cycling network.

Expect these targets to be carefully monitored and documented online, something the City has done with most of its other plans. This makes it easy to determine its success at key time points (e.g. ten years after implementation). Vancouver is excellent at documenting its plans and strategies: the Cambie Corridor page on their website even allows you to “read the plan in various levels of detail”: two minutes (infographic), ten minutes (plan summary), twenty minutes (consultation display boards), or the full plan.

While the City can’t solve all of its affordable housing or social problems, the Cambie Corridor Plan is light years ahead of the Halifax CentrePlan’s proposed corridor approach, which is currently available for public review. Corridor planning can be difficult when it includes high-order transit, which has been linked to gentrification. There is a temptation to focus on density and form above all else. The CentrePlan is a comprehensive plan for the entire downtown of the region, and as such it can’t get into the level of detail of the Cambie Corridor Plan. But there are some fundamental problems. First, the plan needs to outline the ways in which it reinforces the goals of other plans and strategies, something it misses the mark on. For example, the designated corridors do not align perfectly with the transit corridors outlined in the 2017 Integrated Mobility Plan. This will be critical if HRM wants to achieve a shift in transportation patterns and choices (Halifax actually saw an increase in its driving mode share from 2011-2016). Second, more specificity for the corridors is necessary to prevent massive redevelopment without regard to its social effects. HRM knows that gentrification will occur, but does not currently have an approach to slowing its effects, including protecting demolition of existing rental housing or ensuring replacement of units that would be lost in new development. The social and community elements of the plan are largely lacking, as is the attention to detail. In addition to this, all corridors are treated the same–vulnerable neighbourhoods like Gottingen Street, the historic black business area which still boasts lots of local shops, affordable rental housing, and social housing are treated the same as Young Street, which doesn’t have the same social concerns, demographics, or types of units. For example, a detailed corridor study for the more vulnerable Gottingen (a much shorter corridor than Cambie) could provide the same level of detail as the Cambie Corridor Plan and provide more clarity for residents and developers.

There is no such thing as a perfect plan, and Vancouver’s skyrocketing housing prices are proof that even when there is success, there may be harmful effects on affordability. But the Cambie Corridor plan is a rare attempt to plan for an entire linear neighbourhood in a much more comprehensive way than most cities in Canada have attempted. It is similar to the corridor planning approach used in cities like Tokyo, which has excelled in this area for decades and achieved a very high level of transit use. But it actually attempts to preserve affordability, consider social amenities and the improve the overall quality of life for residents. Let’s hope that it’s successful; undoubtedly, we will find out through future monitoring and evaluation of the plan.

Most Canadian cities have been looking for affordable housing alternatives for several decades. Since purpose-built rental housing became so difficult to build starting in the 1980s, cities have grasped at the low-hanging fruit, such as allowing secondary suites and laneway housing. Both allow cities to add some smaller, more affordable units in established residential neighbourhoods; increased density is another bonus.

Secondary Suites

Secondary suites (self-contained units within existing dwellings) are allowed in cities such as Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and smaller cities such as Kelowna. CMHC surveyed 650 municipalities located within Canada’s Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations in 2014, and found that 88% of the large municipalities (populations over 100,000) permit secondary suites as well as 85% of medium-sized (30,000-99,999) and 82% of small (5,000-29,999) municipalities. Often they are basement apartments, but they can be arranged differently depending on the city’s bylaw.

Vancouver has a really easy to understand guide for property owners who want to create a secondary suite with diagrams showing the possible configurations. CMHC estimated that there were 26,000 secondary suites in Vancouver in 2014: one-fifth of the city’s rental housing stock. Vancouver and Edmonton allow the units as-of-right in residential land use zones. Calgary introduced new rules to streamline the process for approving secondary suites this spring, in part hoping that the many illegal units in the city would comply with the new rules during the two-year amnesty period. Other cities, like Mississauga, have struggled to implement secondary suites, introducing then modifying their by-law and process several times. Toronto has allowed secondary suites since 1996.

Laneway Housing

Laneway housing units are more unusual in Canadian cities. They are found in cities with the prewar grid street pattern, because they face onto back lanes and not onto the street. Edmonton first allowed them (calling them “garden suites”) in 2007 and eased restrictions on them in 2015 to allow them in most areas of the city. The city is expected to have a new laneway housing strategy in place this year. In Vancouver, a laneway housing guide, formal guidelines, regulations and an application checklist make it easy for property owners to develop them. Calgary has a guide to laneway suites that follows two households through the process of approval and building them. In Ottawa, rules allowing “coach houses” (secondary units that are not contained within the main dwelling) were just introduced last year and still face opposition in wealthier neighbourhoods like Rockcliffe Park.

Toronto has lagged behind these cities: Council rejected a proposal for laneway housing in 2006. They have objected to the idea on the grounds that laneway units would require servicing along the lanes, they would interfere with existing services like garbage collection, and they could change the character of existing neighbourhoods. The city has an astonishing 2,400 lanes available (300 km of underused space). They decided to review laneway suites last July, and held community meetings through the winter. A survey of 3,000 residents in December found that 91% of residents supported the idea. Finally, chief planner Greg Lintern acknowledges that even in traditional neighbourhoods, there has been gradual change such as decreasing family sizes. A new report recommending that the city adopt laneway housing will make its way to the East York Community council this week, then City Council next month.

Secondary suites and laneway housing are just two ways that cities can introduce affordable housing relatively easily, and with a reduced impact (visual, number of households/people, parking demands) compared to larger-scale rental apartments that are still difficult to build. There will still be communities that oppose them, though, so planners still face the challenge of public education and collaboration to make these successful.

 

John in Vancouver in 2013

Internationally-renowned planning theorist John Friedmann passed away on June 12, 2017 in Vancouver. At 91, John was an honorary professor at the University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP), where he taught and conducted research alongside his wife, fellow planning theorist Leonie Sandercock. The fact that he was named the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Distinguished Educator in 1987, yet continued to teach, publish, supervise students, and conduct research for another 30 years, is a testament to his passion for the discipline.

Generations of urban planning students have been shaped by John’s work as a scholar, theorist, and planner. Born in Vienna in 1926, he arrived in the United States at the age of 14. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1955, and taught at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil (1956-58), MIT (1961-65), and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (1966-69). In 1969, John was one of the founders of the planning program at UCLA under Dean Harvey S. Perloff, and he served as its director for a total of 14 years. He retired from UCLA in 1996, then spent four years as a Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning of the University of Melbourne before joining SCARP as an honorary professor in 2001.

John in 1969

John’s astonishingly productive career spanned major transitions in planning education and employment. From the positivist 1950s and citizen-powered 1960s all the way to the millennial concerns of labour market restructuring and international (re)development, his work evolved over time. While his earliest work was undoubtedly in the realm of regional science and development, central themes were power dynamics among stakeholders, the roles and responsibilities of citizenship, economic transitions in world cities, and the relationship between action and knowledge. His publication record includes 15 individually authored books, 11 co-edited books, and more than 150 chapters, articles, and reviews. Planning in the Public Domain (1987) remains a foundational text in the discipline. His most recent work focused on the urban economic transition in China, with China’s Urban Transition published in 2005. His writings have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Farsi, and he received the first UN-Habitat Lecture Award for lifetime achievement in the service of human settlements in 2006. In 2013, ACSP created the John Friedmann Book Award, to be presented to a book or comparable work that best exemplifies scholarship in the area of planning for sustainable development.

As a SCARP Masters and Ph.D. student from 2005-2011, I saw John frequently, read his work, and was his student in the Ph.D. theory and colloquium courses. The colloquium was a uniquely Friedmann experience: each student was required to present their work twice during the first year, second term, and then repeat the process again the following year. John would ask pointed questions about the theories we relied on, the authors and the relevance of their ideas and methods to the discipline of planning. He wasn’t above suggesting that questions concerning urban design, transportation planning or community health were outside of the realm of planning; indeed, unless your work centered on questions of power, participation, or increasingly, Chinese urban economies, you would find him an inescapable skeptic.

Yet his power as a teacher, mentor, and lecturer was undeniable. With Leonie, John helped reinvigorate the Ph.D. program. The two of them played a large role in the successful graduation of every Ph.D. student since their arrival in 2001, through program and course design, teaching, and supervision. John was instrumental in the work of several Ph.D. students through the colloquium course, shared interests, and informal discussions on theory and practice, including:

  • Aftan Erfan (Ph.D. 2013): Instructor, University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning
  • Sarah Church (Ph.D. 2013): USDA Postdoctoral Fellow, Purdue University
  • James White (Ph.D. 2013): Lecturer in Urban Design, University of Glasgow School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Janice Barry (Ph.D. 2011): Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba Department of City Planning
  • Danielle Labbé (Ph.D. 2011): Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Urbanization in the Global South, Université de Montréal
  • Sheng Zhong (Ph.D. 2010): Lecturer, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou
  • Laura Tate (Ph.D. 2009): Executive Director, InnerChange Foundation
  • Matti Siemiatycki (Ph.D. 2007): Associate Professor at the University of Toronto School of Planning
  • Tanja Winkler (Ph.D. 2005): Associate Professor, University of Cape Town School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics

It was through his eyes that we first saw our own research questions and proposals, and through his critical lens that we learned to defend our theories. This wasn’t always an easy process, because he always demanded more: more reading, a more critical understanding of the literature, and more in-depth research. For him time was not a luxury, but a necessity; he pushed his students to think outside of the typical constraints of funding, publications, and career trajectories.

John exerted his considerable influence to organize a biannual event he called the Ph.D. Jamboree, which brought students from the U.S. and Canada together for one week to hear from well-known planning scholars and to discuss their own research ideas. Bent FlyvbergAnastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, and Mike Douglass are just a few of the visiting scholars who spoke at the Jamboree since its inception in 2003. I don’t think John foresaw the impact of this event on Ph.D. students in planning, who often work in isolation from others and struggle to produce viable research questions, develop methodologies, and conduct research in very different conditions from those in the natural sciences. Every time I attended the ACSP conference and mentioned that I was a Ph.D. student at UBC, the listener would ask how John and Leonie were doing, often because they had met at the Jamboree. The Jamboree created a lasting bond of collegiality between these disparate people, who were always assured of meeting friends at the next ACSP.

In 2014, SCARP alumni received a request from John to develop profiles for the school’s website. In addition to our current/previous positions, he asked us to include what would we consider our main accomplishments to date, any awards we had received, and our thoughts on what our time at SCARP meant to us. I expect many of us are now evaluating what John meant to us, as a teacher, scholar, and mentor. Rest in peace, John.

Let us know you’re coming on Eventbrite!

Book launch postcard-Vancouver

 

Book launch postcard-Vancouver

Real estate speculation happens across the country, but is particularly popular in our largest cities. Some say foreign ownership and speculation is driving housing prices up for local residents: wealthy investors living in far-off countries buy housing with no intention of living in it. But should the government step in and regulate the practice of flipping houses?

Just a month ago, the Simon Fraser University Urban Studies program held a symposium on housing affordability. Their data-packed brochure indicated that Vancouver has been second to last in housing affordability for the past six years, and 40% of residents consider the high cost of housing to be the most important issue in the city. The city’s annual homeless count has identified an increasing number of homeless people in the city–some 2,700 people in 2014 compared to about 1,100 in 2002. While 35% of homes in Vancouver are rented, only 17% of new construction was purpose built rental housing. Urban Futures has done a number of studies on foreign ownership: in one, they found that the 2011 Census (National Household Survey) showed that Vancouver didn’t have an excessive level of foreign occupancy–that is, about 1.4% of the apartment units in the city were occupied by foreign or temporary residents, but there are no Census data that specify their citizenship, length of stay, or that support a thesis on foreign investment. In another, they found that only 0.4% of purchases in the region in 2010 were made by people living outside of Canada. But an article in the New Yorker last year quoted a report from Sotheby’s International Realty Canada: in the first half of 2013, foreign buyers accounted for nearly half of luxury home sales in Vancouver.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced on Friday that he has proposed that the BC government develop a speculation tax who “buy a home just to make a quick buck” by selling it 6 months later. He’s asking Vision voters to support the call for a new tax on investors, and other tools like an increased property tax on the most expensive residential properties with proceeds invested in new affordable housing.

“Together, we can send a message that housing shouldn’t just be an investment commodity – it should be for living in.” –Mayor Gregor Robertson

Less than two days after Robertson’s announcement, a petition started circulating in Toronto calling on Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment, and Infrastructure, to restrict foreign investment in residential real estate in the Toronto region. As of 5 pm today Shaan Brach’s petition had 10,491 supporters.

I’m sure that the Liberal governments of both Ontario and BC will shy away from regulating real estate speculation and taxing the rich, but nevertheless the petition and call for a new tax do raise several troubling questions: who should be allowed to buy housing in Canada? Should the government (either provincial or federal) intervene when housing prices climb too high for the average person or household to afford? And if so, how should this be done?

Canadian governments have a history of intervening when market conditions create affordability issues for local residents or when housing conditions are poor. Forty years ago, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation was busy supporting the development of co-operative and non-profit housing with the ample funding of the federal government. The federal government helped develop co-operative housing from 1973-1991, establishing long-term operating agreements coinciding with the length of the mortgage. They also had programs to help first time homebuyers, supplement rents, and rehabilitate housing in historic and central neighbourhoods. But over the years, their balanced approach to housing affordability changed. The two ends of the spectrum (households with very low incomes and homeowners with enough equity to buy) continued to benefit, but programs that helped renters and low- to middle-income households were gradually dropped.

Municipalities and developers have also introduced innovative solutions to housing affordability:

  • Equity loans–Toronto’s Option for Homes and the City of Saskatoon/Affinity Credit Union Equity Building Program help people move into affordable ownership by loaning purchasers a small percentage of the downpayment
  • Shared equity–at SFU, units in the Verdant building are reserved for university faculty and staff and resale prices are restricted to 20% below market value), and community land trusts.
  • Affordable Housing Trusts–municipalities such as Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Coquitlam, and Whistler have developed housing trusts through legislation and with the cooperation of the BC government

The issue of foreign investors driving up housing prices is critical in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, but there’s no quick fix for the affordability problems that took decades to create. In cities like Calgary, Fort McMurray, and Kelowna, affordability is still a major issue even without high levels of foreign investment. In Edmonton, 33.5% of all condominium units are rented. Researchers and policymakers across the country have been trying to find and implement the solutions for at least two decades. A speculation tax would only be part of the solution, but combined with better rent controls and a higher high-end property tax whose revenues would be used to build and maintain housing of different types for different income levels, it could be a good start. We definitely need an increased role for the provincial and federal governments in affordable housing, but that’s not news.

You’ve spent several few hours of your time attending public meetings hosted by your municipality on the development of a new plan. You had to rearrange your child care and leave work early to attend. Wouldn’t you love to know how your comments on the proposed plan were used?

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A page from the 2013-2014 Implementation Update

You may have heard about the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. Launched in 2010, the Action Plan planning process included a public engagement campaign that allowed residents to crowdsource ideas in an online forum. The Plan has ten goal areas, each with a specific 2020 target. The question asked in the forum was “How can we achieve reach our 2020 targets?” Guided by City staff, who moderated the forum, answered questions, and clarified levels of responsibility in implementation, participants suggested ways in which to meet the targets. Ideas were then reviewed and consolidated by staff, and participants were then able to vote on the ideas. As the status of an idea changed (under consideration, planned, started, completed, or declined), every person who voted on, commented on, or submitted the idea was notified by email. Since 2011, the City has published its progress on meeting the targets. The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan won the 2012 Sustainable communities Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Five years after participating in the online forum, I still receive Greenest City Newsletters. They contain information about events in the city (e.g. Bike to Work Week, the BC Commuter Challenge, the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline) and ways that residents can help meet the goals, such as using a rain barrel for collecting water to be used for lawns and plans. At the bottom of each section, they site the relevant Greenest City goal: Green Transportation, Climate Leadership, Clean Water. And each newsletter has dozens of links to City initiatives and programs.

Just last week I received an update that the City was already meeting its Greenest City 2020 goal for transportation mode share: 50% of all trips in the City are now made by walking, cycling, or public transit. This is a major increase from 40% in 2008. There are almost 100,000 bike trips per day in the City. Vancouver has done a lot to mainstream cycling, including designated cycling routes with signals at bike height and installing protected bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge, Hornby Street, and Union. Many of these changes have been introduced through pilot projects, which were carefully evaluated before becoming permanent.

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A screen shot of the May 2015 newsletter

In the past few years I have visited many universities in Canada, the US and Europe, and I often get to speak to local planners and scholars in urban planning. Every one of them has been amazed at the Greenest City newsletters. Not only was the planning process itself innovative, but the way in which the City has kept in touch with participants on how the plan is being implemented is very unusual. Many municipal planning websites are difficult to navigate–it can take some sleuthing to find the official plan, by-law, or meeting information that you need. All of the information for the Greenest City is in one place, so it’s easy to see the progress that’s been made, like the establishment of the Greenest City Fund to implement the ideas in the Plan, strategies on climate change, a new program on recycling food scraps, and improvements to walking and cycling routes. The newsletters make it easy to understand all of the policies, programs, and initiatives that directly relate to the plan, and they’re written in non-specialist language and designed with compelling graphics.

Obviously, Vancouver is a large city and its planning department has more resources than a small or mid-sized planning department might have. However, partnerships with universities and colleges might make it easier to reach out to residents and keep them up to date on planning initiatives, particularly on the social media front. City councillors might also be willing partners in communicating progress on implementation, since many of them send regular newsletters to their constituents. Most cities haven’t caught up to online participation methods, and don’t have well-organized websites or regular email updates for their residents. Practicing planners regularly check out plans, policies, and programs in other municipalities to inspire their own work, so providing clear online information and regular updates might inspire policy transfer and innovation in other places.

The results of a two-year partnership, My Health My Community, give us a lot of insight into Metro Vancouver’s active transportation trends: 43% of residents say their primary transportation mode is walking, cycling, or public transit.

Transportation agencies and municipal transit providers do a lot of their own research, but most of this is not open data and is summarized in publicly available reports. In the absence of Census data or a national transportation survey, transportation researchers often have to collect their own data. The My Health My Community study surveyed over 28,000 residents in Metro Vancouver on their primary mode of transportation, health outcomes, lifestyle behaviours and neighbourhood characteristics.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Active transportation users have lower body mass index, walk more each day, and are twice as likely to meet the requirement for 30 minutes or more of daily recommended walking
  • Car users with longer commute times have a lower sense of community belonging
  • Transit use is highest among lower income, visible minorities and recent immigrants–it is 69% lower among parents with dependent children and 70% lower among households with incomes of over $100,000 annually

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 4.23.42 PMAnother interesting result is shown on this map which depicts areas with higher than average active transportation (the darkest purple) in relation to existing and proposed transit infrastructure–and there is a second map showing the same for car users.

My Health My Community is a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health, the Fraser Health, and the e-Health Strategy Office at the University of British Columbia.  The survey was conducted in 2013-2014 and the results are just beginning to be released. Dr. Jat Sandhu of Vancouver Coastal Health will be presenting the research tomorrow, April 30th at the SFU Segal School of Business, from 7:30-9:00.

translink29nw1

Metro Vancouver is facing a critical choice this spring. From March 16 to May 29, 2015 residents of the region will have the chance to decide on future investments in public transit with the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite.

The referendum is a direct result of changes in transportation governance. In June 2014, there were changes to regional transportation authority TransLink’s governance model. Two groups now govern TransLink: the Mayors’ Council and the TransLink Board of Directors.

  • The Mayors’ Council is made up of representatives from the 21 municipalities in the transit service region, Electoral Area A (UBC campus and Musqueam lands), and the Tsawwassen First Nation. The Council appoints the majority of members on the Board of Directors and approves long-term transportation strategies (≥ 30 years), 10-year transportation investment plans, first-time short-term fares and short-term fare increases, changes in customer satisfaction survey processes, changes in customer complaint processes, TransLink’s Executive Compensation Plan and director compensation levels, and oversees sale of major facilities and assets.
  • The Board of Directors includes nine members appointed by the Mayors’ Council and up to two members appointed by the Province, selected on their skills and expertise. The Board appoints the TransLink Chair, Vice Chair, and CEO, supervises the management of the affairs of TransLink, submits long-term transportation strategies and 10-year transportation investment plans to the Mayors’ Council for approval, approves TransLink’s annual operating budgets, proposes to Mayors’ Council changes to customer satisfaction survey processes and conducts surveys annually, proposes to Mayors’ Council changes to customer complaint processes and implements approved processes, publishes annual reports, holds public annual general meetings, and establishes subsidiaries and appoints their Board Chair and members.

The “new and improved” Mayors’ Council represents a fundamental shift in the way regional transportation planning decisions are made, returning a voice to the public through their elected representatives, who have a vested interest in building a collaborative vision and plan for transportation and transit (TransLink’s mandate includes roads, bridges, and public transit). In 2007, Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon said that there was too much in-fighting among the municipalities and little agreement on regional goals. He introduced governance changes that weakened the ability of the Mayors’ Council to determine the regional transportation vision. But a 2013 governance review criticized the lack of accountability to local residents. The 2014 governance changes eliminated the Regional Commissioner of Transportation and the ability of the provincial government to set the regional transportation vision.

As many of my readers know, municipal/regional transportation authorities have an uneasy relationship with their provincial ministries at the best of times–the Province of BC’s decision to prioritize of the Canada Line over the Broadway Line and Falcon’s 2007 governance changes soon afterwards highlighted this power struggle. In Ontario I once overhead a longtime provincial policy analyst say that he “didn’t think the province would ever let go” of its legislative authority over municipalities. The governance issue relates back to the British North America Act, which granted authority to the federal and provincial governments, omitting municipal governments because Canada was largely a rural nation in 1867. Today municipalities, and local/regional bodies such as transit agencies, struggle to fund their services because they lack revenue streams that the upper levels of government have (e.g. the Goods and Services and Provincial Sales Taxes) in a country where over 8% of the population now lives in urban areas.

So it transpired that in February 2014, the BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure asked the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council to confirm its transportation vision and to clarify the costs, priorities and phasing for investments and actions. The Mayors’ Council established a Subcommittee on Transportation Investment, which worked with TransLink, Metro Vancouver and municipalities to define their vision, establish spending priorities, and recommend new funding mechanisms. For those of my readers in other cities and countries, this kind of collaboration towards a common vision is typical of the Vancouver region, where the first regional plan was articulated over forty years ago. Liberal Premier Christy Clark asked for a referendum on the Mayors’ Council plan.

The actual wording of the ballot is:

The Mayors’ Council has developed a transportation and transit plan called Regional Transportation Investments – A Vision for Metro Vancouver. The plan will:

  • add bus service and new B-Line rapid bus routes
  • increase service on SkyTrain, Canada Line, Seabus, and West Coast Express
  • maintain and upgrade the region’s major roads
  • build a new Patullo bridge
  • build rapid transit connecting Surrey Centre with Guildford, Newton, and Langley
  • build rapid transit along Broadway in Vancouver
  • extend the region’s cycling and pedestrian walkway networks.

A new Metro Vancouver Congestion tax would be applied as a 0.5% sales tax on the majority of goods and services that are subject to the Provincial Sales Tax and are sold or delivered in the region. Revenues would be dedicated to the Mayors’ Council transportation and transit plan. Revenues and expenditures would be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Council transportation and transit plan?

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You can get more details on the Mayors’ Council, and their plan, on their website (www.mayorscouncil.ca). If you live in Metro Vancouver, and are a registered voter, you can vote by mail between March 16 and May 29th. If you’re not registered, and you are 18 or over, a Canadian citizen, a resident of Metro Vancouver and a BC resident for at least 6 months, click here to go to Election BC’s website.

I’m also supporting Moving In a Livable Region, a consortium of businesses, organizations, local governments, and transportation leaders working together to create a long-term sustainable funding regime for transportation in the Metro Vancouver region, in their efforts to get information out to the public. Click here to read my guest post. Transportation referendums are exceedingly rare in Canada, so don’t miss your chance to have your say!

Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) are one of the contributions developers are required to make in Vancouver to support affordable housing, community resources such as schools and libraries, and parks. Developers, in return, are often allowed to build at higher densities. Vancouver’s unique legislation, the Vancouver Charter, gives it the ability to levy a negotiable tax such as the CACs. In the rest of the province, municipalities can only charge Development Cost Charges (DCCs), non-negotiable fees based solely on the number of units or square feet of the development. Similarly, Ontario municipalities may use Section 37 of the Planning Act to obtain community benefits in exchange for higher densities.

Penny Gurstein, Director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC, leads a project on housing justice in BC. She has just released an analysis of the use of CACs between 2010 and 2012, which produced just 170 affordable housing units. By contrast, BC Housing’s waitlist for affordable units averaged 3,425 over this period.

Developers also have the option of making cash contributions in lieu of building units—a total of $61.07 million was raised just from 2010-2012. This is the preferred option, as most developers want to build luxury condos to maximize their profits and get their investment back immediately–rather than invest in market-rate rental or mix in affordable units with their fancy condo owners. Unfortunately, cash contributions just go into a reserve fund, and the City is not very open about how much of it goes towards the housing budget or how it’s used. But it says it has approved over 1,000 affordable units since 2010. Gurstein’s analysis was based on staff reports, which are unclear on the use of cash contributions for affordable units. Read the article in the Vancouver Sun here.

Rental housing is also an issue in many Canadian cities, since incentives to build them (at least at the federal and provincial levels) disappeared long ago and changes to the Income Tax Act have made rental housing much less profitable to develop since the 1970s. Some analysts believe that a shortage of market rate rental units and the loss of units to condo conversion have contributed to very low vacancy rates across the country, pushing people into homeownership before they may be financially ready. Since 2010, Vancouver has also run the STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing) program and Secure Market Housing Policy, which have added 3,000 rental units at market rates.