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Why does Vancouver Council hate renters?

It's one thing to say you support creating more rental units. But then you have to actually do it.

In the race for worst city council in British Columbia, Victoria gets most of the media buzz.

It’s no wonder why, given Victoria’s debates over such stupid ideas as trying to ding veterans to pay for Remembrance Day, trying to ban the iconic horse-drawn carriages in Beacon Hill Park, cutting important police units to cover John Horgan’s employer health tax, or trying to get rid of poinsettias in city hall because they are somehow a “Christian” symbol. Times Colonist columnist Jack Knox isn’t kidding when he calls Victoria “Dysfunction-by-the-Sea”; this might be the one of the more polite things that town has been called lately.

Yes, Victoria is bad. But there’s another sprinter making up ground in this race to the bottom. Vancouver City Council may yet earn its spot as the province’s worst council. While Victoria’s dumb ideas are splashier, Vancouver’s blunders may have far worse effects long-term.

Last month, Vancouver council vote 7-4 to reject a 21-unit rental townhouse proposal for Granville Street in Shaughnessy. Their arguments to kill this development were preposterous.

Some councillors claimed the townhouses were too tall – but they were only three storeys. That’s very, very gentle density and obviously not a project that will tower over anyone. Others fretted over the excavation for underground parking, because the hole would initially cover the entire site. Does council now prefer people park above ground?

Truthfully, the council was scared off by a neighbouring hospice facility, which drove a number of protestors to the public hearing. The hospice – like every other NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) before it – claimed the rental townhouses would bring such a confluence of noise, traffic and view-killing 3-storey buildings that life in the neighborhood would be rendered unbearable.

So the plan was defeated. Now, the property owners have shifted gears and will build a 12,000 sq. ft. single-family mansion on the site. In a city crying out for affordable housing, Vancouver City Council traded 21 rental units to get a new mansion.

This isn’t the only recent debacle in rental housing. Dan Fumano of the Vancouver Sun reports that of the 20 proposals selected just last year for Vancouver’s affordable rental housing project, six have already withdrawn. More are likely to fall apart in the coming months.

A five-storey, 63-rental unit complex  proposed for Kitsilano is basically the second-coming of the Empire State Building and will crush Kits, if you believe the NIMBYs there.  The same arguments killed 105 Keefer in Chinatown. The word in the protest community is out: if you can get a couple of dozen people yelling and screaming that ‘the end is near’ to a public hearing, councils will fold like cheap suits.

Vancouver City Council has made quite a mess and they have only themselves to blame for it. The nexus between housing affordability and families looking to purchase homes at reasonable prices meets at City Hall and the results do not end well for homebuyers.

The City’s tax and fees on development are ridiculous. Close to 30 per cent of the cost of building a condo in Vancouver is now direct taxes, development cost charges, community amenity charges, and dozens of other fees paid to the city. That’s an unbelievable markup.

Vancouver takes too long to make a decision on these projects. The city council’s erratic handling of proposals is stunning – how did we get to a place where it takes longer to approve and permit a housing project than to build it.

When even the projects the city says it wants – like affordable rental housing – get defeated, it’s no wonder developers are walking away from Vancouver. The most recent provincial budget anticipates housing starts to drop by a third over the next two years, and the Conference Board of Canada now has “negative expectations” for Vancouver housing starts both short- and long-term.

A council attacking poinsettias and horse-drawn carriages is stupid. A council making it impossible to build rental housing is flat-out dangerous.

Chris Gardner is President of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of BC (ICBA)