Report/update on DODP Public Hearing (resumes 6 pm today): “Social housing” definition change could be devastating

DODP amendments alert for hearing 24-Mar-2015(Outcome – late on March 26, this item was passed with 6 votes by Vision Vancouver for, and 4 votes opposed — 3 NPA and 1 green. The saga continues…) This case has vast and long-term implications for all of Vancouver. It is also complex and evolving. Day One of the Public Hearing (click for details/agenda) was held on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Day Two starts tonight at 6 pm with speaker #18. In this post we attempt to put together bits and pieces from various sources over the past few days.

This whole thing relates to a B.C. Supreme Court decision on January 27, 2015, overturning a public hearing, a rezoning, and a development permit for 1099 Richards and 508 Helmcken Street — a case we have covered extensively. The City is racing to settle this issue through this Public Hearing, and on top of that, DODP boundaries from CoV documents

Updates:

  • Below we provide a kind citizen’s detailed commentary on Day 1 (March 24) of the the Public Hearing. Also, click here for the City’s complete video of that meeting.
  • The CANY petition “I am opposed to the proposed amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan. Vote NO” garnered over 500 signatures in the first 24 hours and is currently at 665. You can still sign it now.
  • Community Association of New Yaletown has much information online (see “Say NO to Downtown Official Development Plan amendments“) explaining the key issues. Note that they still seek donations to fight City Hall’s appeal of the Supreme Court decision.
  • False Creek Residents Association’s Fern Jeffries gave an excellent presentation on Day 1. A transcript is available online: “Density Bonuses for Developers.” She nails the issue very well: (1) the need for democratic accountability in decision-making; and (2) the importance of accommodating deep core need residents in social housing across the city. Watch the video starting at around 2:14:00. Interesting discussion with Mayor about City Hall’s need to protect staff from suspicions of abuse or corruption.
  • Some observations about the role of Christchurch Cathedral in this matter
  • City Redefines “Social Housing” to Keep Out the Poor” by Garth Mullins is an excellent read. Excerpt: Definitions matter. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher sought to wipe out poverty in the UK by redefining the problem as one of absolute calories, not relative income. You have enough to eat, ergo you are not poor. Don’t have enough to eat? You’re dead, ergo, also not poor. Now, Vancouver wants more costly digs to be considered as social housing – the housing equivalent of greenwashing.
  • People may not have noticed, but City Council has referred 508 Helmcken back to a new public hearing. Date not yet made public. Decision was made at the March 24 Regular Council meeting. Staff report here. It will require careful public analysis!

A KIND CITIZEN’S DETAILED COMMENTARY on Day 1 (March 24) of the the Public Hearing. Click here for the City’s complete video of that meeting.

  • After watching the Council Meeting from home,  here are some observations.
  • It is worth watching the Staff presentations at the start of  Agenda Item 3.  It was emphasized that thousands participated in the public consultation processes for each of the plans. [CHW comment: People need to take these numbers with a grain of salt — it is not “individuals” but “contacts” to there is a huge amount of double-counting. Even City staff have no idea how many individual people were involved.]
  • In addition, one of the planners explained that the current definition of “social housing” was developed because in the past, developers have delivered housing units to residents at basic shelter rates, if they are given enough flexibility and can select residents with higher income levels. If you allow them to build for a wide variety of income levels within a “social housing” spectrum, developers may find a way to build a few units which can be rented at basic shelter rates.
  • The definition of “social housing” is the “hot button” item. The definition selected by the City will determine how certain parts of the West End Community Plan are implemented.
  • It is rather telling when the first speaker, the chairperson of the City’s Seniors’ Advisory Committee, told the Mayor and Council, that her group could not support the City’s current definition of “social housing” because they had not received enough understandable information to explain what is meant by this definition.  Based on her limited understanding of DODP proposal content, she was very concerned that if the current definition of “social housing” is used, it will be older single women, living on very low fixed pensions, who will be displaced from their communities.
  •  Jean Swanson expressed her concerns related to the definition.
  •  She acknowledged that the senior levels of government are not providing sufficient funds for housing. However, in her opinion, the City should not be giving developers big density bonuses to produce unaffordable “social housing” units for  low income residents. Ms. Swanson recently discovered that one developer of a DTES project,  sold the “social housing” units to a non-profit society at market rates. She stated that the City should put some pressure on the developers. Do  not give them big density bonuses as a way to “encourage” their association to put pressure on the federal and provincial levels of government.
  •  Fern Jeffries made two important points as a representative of the FCRA. Like Ms. Swanson, she wants the definition of “social housing” changed to accommodate residents who receive $375 per month for shelter. She mentioned a housing “mix” that worked when Mike Harcourt was Mayor. In one building, one third of the units were rented at the basic shelter rate, one third were at the HILs rate,  and one third were rented at 30% of lower incomes.
  •  Ms. Jeffries also mentioned that she did not understand the process that is being proposed to approve density bonuses for “social housing” projects. In her opinion, the public should be involved in these decisions, but while the Staff Report mentions that these land use changes will go before Council, it is unclear whether input from residents will be part this process.
  • While all speakers agreed that the definition of “social housing” has to changed, they also agreed with Mr. Meggs who stated that in the absence of funding from senior levels of government, the market housing units are necessary to subsidize “social housing” units.
  • After listening to speakers and the questions asked by Mr. Meggs and Ms. Carr, it became clear why the City changed the definition of “social housing.” As stated above, the City is hoping that developers who undertake projects to build “social housing” units in a building with higher end units, will also find a way to finance a few units for those who cannot afford $912 per month for a bachelor unit (Ms. Swanson informed us that the HILs rate has increased).
  •  In the City’s opinion, developers are more likely to undertake projects with “social housing” units in the building “mix,” if the definition of “social housing” includes the higher sources of income and excludes the very low sources of income (such as the basic shelter rate). 
  • However, spokespersons such as Ms. Swanson and Ms. Jeffries disagree with the “hit and miss” approach. In their opinion, the definition of “social housing” should be “tightened up” to include the lower end of the “social housing” spectrum.  If developers do not find a way to build units for basic shelter recipients, they get a big density bonus with bigger profits, and the community gets fewer amenities (such as parks, library upgrades, etc.) and a bigger homelessness problem.
  • I actually enjoyed listening to Mr. Meggs present clearly stated constructive comments.
  • In the Council Chamber,  Ms. Carr and Mr. Meggs  did most of the talking. 
  • Mr.  Jang said nothing and when Ms. Minty made comments about the new overpriced  ‘rabbit hutch” housing form,  Mr. Stevenson addressed her by making comments about generational differences in housing preferences.  Robertson “cut him off” by asking “do you have a question?” 
  • Was Mr. Jang silent because the actual homeless count likely has increased? Comments made by speakers clearly indicated that if the new definition of “social housing” is implemented,  homelessness rates will stay high (supporting Ray Spaxman’s observation that the DTES Local Area Plan, and other Plans, are flawed plans which are about to evolve and become failed plans).
  • I was surprised when Ms. De Genova asked without any context, ” has the City confirmed the new definition of “social housing” with the province?”  There was very little response to her question.
  • Later during the proceedings,  a speaker who appeared to be knowledgeable about supportive housing, mentioned that he has informed the Ministry of Housing with regards to the City’s new definition of “social housing.”  Again, there was no response from anyone.
  • It is likely that the speaker had sent an email to all Councillors regarding his contact with the Ministry of Housing. 

************

Excerpt from presentation to City Council by Fern Jeffries of FCRA:

I urge you not to compromise the importance of elected officials making decisions about whether or not to grant a density bonus. I have spoken in the past of the appearance of conflict of interest when developers donate huge sums of money to candidates. Having the public service make decisions around lucrative density bonuses raises the same level of suspicion or appearance of conflict of interest. We know that many city staff members later turn up as highly paid consultants for, or employees of, developers. Have their previous favourable decisions put them in line for such lucrative contracts? We wonder.

In my view, the city must ensure its policies and practices protect its staff from suspicions of abuse or corruption and even the appearance of conflict.

*************

Question: Why was a category in the City’s “Correspondence” box  created for the CANY petition, and not for hundreds of petitions and form letters submitted in rezonings in the West End?  Have procedures changed as a result of Judge McEwan’s decisions?

*************

False Creek Resdients’ Association really gets the point:
http://www.falsecreekresidents.org/2015/03/25/density-bonuses-for-developers/

Globe and Mail civic reporter Frances Bula? Not so much.

Not only does it seem she misunderstands what is going on, she doesn’t cover it on her blog.

Her twitter feed (https://twitter.com/fabulavancouver) refers to the “CD-1” Zoning for Brenhill, when in fact this is a rezoning to the DODP area: But now on to re-introducing the CD-1 zoning process for the city site that was going to be sold to Brenhill.”

Not only is she wrong on the topic, but the land WAS sold to Brenhill. Oops!

*********

The Role of Christchurch Cathedral

It has come to the attention of some that two people connected with Christchurch Cathedral submitted 102 and 45 signatures, totaling 147, to City Council in support of the amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan and changes in the definition of “social housing.” Image below. Link here.

CoV 24-Mar-2015 public hearing DODP correspondence as of 4pm 26-Mar

No one would know unless they looked deeper, but here are some connections.

Christ Church Cathedral (see http://thecathedral.ca/ and http://thecathedral.ca/serve/community-outreach/housing/

This page states that there is a financial relationship between Christ Church Cathedral and the 127 Society (http://www.127society.ca/), which operates Jubilee House. 127 Society is a party to, and a financial beneficiary of, the Brenhill development agreements that were halted by the B.C. Supreme Court decision of January 27, 2015, overturning the rezoning, public hearing, and development permit.

The proposed DODP amendments are aimed, in part, at working around the Court decision. And such a workaround appears intended to enable the Brenhill development of a 36-storey tower to proceed.

There is nothing wrong with 147 individuals signing a form letter to elected officials. But not disclosing a financial relationship to a beneficiary of the bylaw changes seems like a notable omission.

The website states that “The 127 Society for Housing currently owns and operates three affordable housing projects with 255 units in Vancouver’s Downtown South.”

The deterioration of Jubilee House is used as one justifications being used by proponents (and repeated by media) for the land swap deal of public land (supposed to be a future park) that was owned by the City of Vancouver at 508 Helmcken, and 1099 Richards (originally owned by Brenhill). But Jubilee House opened on June 15, 1986 — a 4 storey wood frame apartment building. The building itself is less than thirty years old.

Could it have been managed differently in order to extend the building’s useful live beyond thirty years?

Also, the role of Christ Church Cathedral may be called into question as a registered charity under the Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency. Is it appropriate for the Church to be used to gather signatures to influence elected officials in a vote of the municipal government? And did the 147 people who signed the letter supporting changes to the Official Development Plan know what was really involved? Did the get a fair explanation?

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