Over the past several weeks, Business in Vancouver's editorial team has interviewed 10 of the city's mayoral candidates.
Excerpts from the housing, transportation and business policies of the four top-polling candidates are included here. Podcast and video interviews with all candidates we've spoken to are available at biv.com/audio and biv.com/video, as is a video of Glacier Media's two-hour mayoral candidate debate.
Hector Bremner, Yes Vancouver
“We’re going to have to think bigger about our city,” said Bremner.
Yes Vancouver’s housing plan proposes 50,000 to 75,000 purpose-built rental units, which he said could be supported by unlocking $355 billion in mortgage-free equity in the city of Vancouver. The plan also advocates increasing the city’s home-building target to 12,000 homes in the first year and 20,000 homes – half of which would be purpose-built rentals – annually after that.
His party’s platform includes consolidating official community plans into one comprehensive plan, along with pre-zoning, bonuses for density and modifying input taxes and development cost levies. He also supports moving toward a flat-rate community amenity contribution (CAC).
“It’s time to stop repeating these eighth-grade book reports that claim that there are no lacks of supply or that foreign money or fraud is driving our whole market,” said Bremner when asked about demand-side policies. “This has been disproved umpteen times. But I get it. It makes for great tweets.”
He is also calling for a made-in-Vancouver speculation tax “where we would capture 50% of profits from properties that were flipped in 24 months when no value-add was done to them,” he said. The funds would be poured back into housing.
Yes Vancouver’s transportation platform broadly calls for more transportation options. Bremner told BIV that housing and transportation policies need to be closely co-ordinated, and that planning for both needs to be long-term. “We need to remember that when we’re talking about transportation …we need to think in the scale of time that these pieces of infrastructure live. And it is beyond our lifetime.
“What I’d like to see is a system where we are unlocking the land equity and that we’re fostering development around transportation corridors in order to pay for the development [of transportation],” said Bremner. He said his party would like to apply this strategy to the Broadway corridor transit expansion to see if revenue from real estate development can get the line to the University of British Columbia (UBC) faster than what he calls the “never-never” plan now in place. The extension of SkyTrain night service would also be a priority.
Bremner described the need to “heal the divide” between the business community and city hall. “It’s even difficult to describe how out of touch it is,” he said. If elected, he would bring on board a chief economist to help the city plan for growth and development.
“Building housing of course is … going to foster the tech jobs, the head offices, the service-oriented jobs that we should like to see,” he said.
Ken Sim, NPA Vancouver
“We are going to allow two secondary suites in houses across the city,” Sim said. “There are over 40,000 houses in Vancouver, so if a percentage of them take us up on our offer, guess what? We’ve created a lot of housing units almost immediately.” Sim’s second priority is to speed up permitting. “Now everyone says that, but I’m a bit of a workflow geek,” he added. “That will decrease the costs it takes to build housing.”
Part of NPA Vancouver’s plan is to fast-track housing options for low-income individuals, seniors and people with disabilities. It also includes renewing co-op housing leases, reducing fees and taxes for laneway homes and new secondary suites, developing a clear formula for CACs and stopping “sweetheart deals” with developers.
Sim would like to use city land to build purpose-built rentals, which would be tackled in conjunction with potential private and not-for-profit partnerships. He also calls the city’s empty-homes tax “ineffective” in that it hasn’t brought enough rental units online and has unfairly affected certain owners.
“People are spending too much time in traffic,” Sim said. “We are going to have an independent, non-biased review of congestion in the city.” He argued critics are quick to blame the city’s bike lanes, but “there are things other than bike lanes that affect congestion,” he said. “Left-hand turns, people running yellow lights and staying in an intersection, pedestrian-controlled lights on pretty much every side street on main corridors, the fact that we close down our roads for construction but then you don’t see a crew on that road for three to six months.”
More broadly, Sim argues the city needs a mix of transportation options. He also said his team has spoken to TransLink and UBC about transportation out to the university and that he will wait to hear what they decide.
Sim is quick to point out his experience as an entrepreneur and business owner when relating to the challenges facing Vancouver businesses.
“It’s a struggle,” he said, going back again to the issue of permitting. “If we speed up the permitting process, we can let businesses get up and running and do what they need to do.”
Property taxes and the assessment of commercial property taxes based on “best possible use” is a policy Sim will look to address on behalf of small businesses he said suffer when the land on which they sit gets assessed at the same tax rate as a 20-storey condo tower.
“We will be targeting that as one of our key platforms,” promised Sim. “We stop the bleeding and then we will start to work on making sure that these businesses are assessed the right way.”
The NPA’s other business-minded policies include accelerating new business processes, making small-business taxes more consistent and fair, and engaging with elected officials throughout the region to collaborate on Greater Vancouver economic development. “We will go out of our way to make it easy to do business.”
Kennedy Stewart, independent
Twenty-five thousand new non-profit affordable rental homes and 35,000 condos, coach houses and townhouses over the next decade are part of Stewart’s housing pitch. He would like to see more rentals on city property, run by not-for-profits, with revenue going back toward social housing initiatives. “Places like Copenhagen have perfected this model, and I know we can move it here,” he said. He has also committed to speeding up permitting, revising CACs, renewing co-operative housing leases and getting both Victoria and Ottawa back into long-term housing funding.
“The one thing we can do immediately is the empty-homes tax,” said Stewart, who would like to triple the tax. “There’s been a lot of talk about this kind of speculative buying up of units and leaving them empty in the city. It’s been in for a little while now and we’re seeing evidence that it’s working… Policies that work you should reinforce, and when they’re finished working you should pull them out.”
Stewart argues that uncontrolled foreign capital has driven up housing prices in cities around the world. To that end, he aims to protect between one-third and one-half of new homes, including pre-sales, from foreign speculation. “I figure we can protect up to one-half of that. And that is through this rental-specific zoning that’s just been granted to the city through the province.”
“It’s not very glamorous, but my plan is to bring in more local community buses, especially for seniors and people that are transit dependent; this really gets people out of their cars and lets them better access their local community,” said Stewart, when asked about his plan to tackle traffic congestion in the city.
Stewart also said he would commit to working to secure the funding from UBC, the province and federal government that would be required to extend the pending Broadway corridor line all the way to UBC. Additionally, he would convene a transportation roundtable with key stakeholders – including cruise ship operators, Tourism Vancouver, the port and taxi companies – to develop a transportation plan.
“I’ve had some very disturbing conversations with large tech firms who are extremely mobile,” Stewart said. “They’re leasing their buildings now, and they can pull out. Their No. 1 thing is having the affordable housing.”
Stewart argued housing is the solution for helping businesses attract and retain talent. “Now that we’ve pushed some of the foreign investment out of residential homes, it seems to be going into commercial properties,” he said, adding that foreign owners of commercial property may care more about getting good returns than about keeping local businesses in the city. “I think that’s something that we have to look at right away, as well as commercial property taxes too.”
If elected, Stewart would review all city policies that affect small businesses, including taxation and permitting. “All options should be on the table; you should evaluate them fairly.”
Shauna Sylvester, independent
Sylvester’s six-part housing strategy focuses on the “gentle densification” of Vancouver and on how to achieve more affordable, purpose-built rental.
“We’ve got kind of an addiction to large towers, condo towers that aren’t meeting the needs of Vancouverites. They might meet the needs of an international demand, but they’re not meeting what Vancouverites with small families, young professionals need.”
A priority would be directing $2 billion from the city’s Affordable Housing Endowment Fund to be “immediately” directed toward purpose-built rental housing. She is calling for a Vancouver version of Whistler’s housing-authority model, which would create housing authorities for certain kinds of workers, such as first responders, teachers and front-line retail workers.
“I want us to become North America’s capital for co-housing and co-operative housing, and part of that means right now we need to renew the leases on co-ops,” said Sylvester. “It’s a great model.”
“There are just too many cars on the road and not enough options for people to get out of their cars,” said Sylvester, whose solution is to “really increase” investment, while also planning for how transportation is slated to change.
“We’ve got an electrification revolution coming at us – it’s coming fast and we’re not prepared for it,” she said. If elected, she would work on how to incorporate electric charging infrastructure, autonomous vehicles and vehicle fleets into the city’s longer-term transportation plan.
Getting the Broadway corridor line all the way to UBC is a top priority too. “I want to work regionally with the Mayor’s Council [on Regional Transportation] and really demonstrate how important this is to regional economic development,” she said. She also supports increasing transportation support services for seniors and people with disabilities, such as HandyDart.
When asked about some of the challenges facing businesses, Sylvester tied the issue to housing.
“They need the customer base back. If we’re talking about -west side, Dunbar, West 10th – the customer base isn’t there and part of that is because we’ve got a lot of empty homes,” she said, reiterating her plans to address housing.
Beyond that, Sylvester looks to address what she describes as structural issues facing businesses.
“The policies that we’ve been implementing have created real barriers for small businesses. They’re facing property tax increases out of this world. We’ve got to address those property tax increases. We’ve got to address the rental.”
Sylvester said she would aim to cut permitting fees and the length of time it takes to get permits. She is considering advocating a new category for assessing commercial properties that house small, neighbourhood businesses. She is also exploring whether introducing a new category of zoning, and rezoning certain non-industrial areas, could be a solution to the city’s diminishing industrial land base.