Saturday, June 7, 2014

Vancouver Courier Column May 14, 2014 Voter Worries


Opinion: Affordable housing tops list of voter worries

Michael Geller / Vancouver Courier
May 13, 2014 03:09 PM
Vancouverites identified transit and transportation as among their top civic concerns.
What civic issues are of major concern to you as a resident of Vancouver?
This is one of the questions pollster Barbara Justason asked a select number of Vancouver voters last month. They identified a list of ten issues.
Not surprisingly, their top issue was housing affordability. For millennials, trying to rent an affordable apartment, or empty nesters hoping to downsize and sock away money for retirement, Vancouver’s high housing prices are the number one concern.
To its credit, city council has followed the advice of economists and approved a number of initiatives in an effort to improve affordability by increasing housing supply. The Short Term Incentive Rental (STIR) program offered density bonuses, relief from development cost charges and speedier approvals to those willing to build new rental housing.
Unfortunately, many neighbourhoods claim the resulting developments are often out of scale with their surroundings, and the high rents do not justify the concessions offered.
The city has also rezoned properties for higher density condominium developments, such as along the Cambie corridor. However, in return for rezoning, developers have to pay community amenity contributions averaging $55 per square foot of building area.
The result is more housing, but not necessarily more affordable housing. Although city planners claim these added costs are not being passed onto buyers, most housing experts believe otherwise.
The next civic issue identified by voters was the cost of living. This was not surprising since the cost of many products and services are often higher, due in part to provincial taxes. Unfortunately, as long as healthcare consumes 40 per cent of the provincial budget, these taxes are not likely to be reduced.
On the contrary, as the percentage of senior citizen households increases, healthcare costs and related taxes will continue to rise unless we change the way the government delivers healthcare services.
The third concern identified by Vancouver voters was transportation and transit. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this problem either.
While most of us want improved public transit, we are not prepared to pay for it. This contradiction is going to become more evident as the deadline for the transit funding referendum draws nearer. Sadly, I fear this referendum is likely to be a lose-lose proposition.
The survey results did offer some good news. Number 10 on the list was safety and security. This surprised me since so many of us have experienced a home or car break-in in the past few years, or known someone who has been victim to these crimes.
However, we should take comfort and pride in the fact that safety and security does not seem to be a major concern for Vancouverites.
I was also surprised by the ninth item on the list — the environment. While the mayor wants to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world, Vancouver residents, at least those polled by Justason, do not consider the environment a major issue. Maybe that is because we already enjoy good air and drinking water.
Other civic concerns identified by voters included the social issues so prevalent in the Downtown Eastside: mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness. The recently approved DTES plan is intended to address these concerns.
However, many of us worry the plan, with its emphasis on social and rental housing in the heart of the neighbourhood, may exacerbate rather than improve the situation.
That is because it will likely result in a greater concentration of low-income households suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.
I question whether we can ever end homelessness or effectively deal with mental illness until we open more facilities and provide more support services.
Issue number six may be more easily addressed — bike lanes and cyclists. It appears council’s initiatives, including expensive bike lanes, contorted road patterns, ugly barricades at West 41st and Angus, and the recent closure of Point Grey Road, continue to upset many voters.
Residents are also frustrated by the increasing sense of entitlement displayed by many cyclists.
These ten issues all need to be addressed. But compared to what is happening in Syria, Ukraine and Nigeria, our problems are minor. We should never lose sight of the fact we are fortunate to live here.
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
twitter.com/michaelgeller


© Vancouver Courier
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-affordable-housing-tops-list-of-voter-worries-1.1059671#sthash.t00ipriM.dpuf
Affordable housing tops list of voter worries
Michael Geller / Vancouver Courier
May 13, 2014 03:09 PM

Vancouverites identified transit and transportation as among their top civic concerns.

What civic issues are of major concern to you as a resident of Vancouver?

This is one of the questions pollster Barbara Justason asked a select number of Vancouver voters last month. They identified a list of ten issues.

Not surprisingly, their top issue was housing affordability. For millennials, trying to rent an affordable apartment, or empty nesters hoping to downsize and sock away money for retirement, Vancouver’s high housing prices are the number one concern.

To its credit, city council has followed the advice of economists and approved a number of initiatives in an effort to improve affordability by increasing housing supply. The Short Term Incentive Rental (STIR) program offered density bonuses, relief from development cost charges and speedier approvals to those willing to build new rental housing.

Unfortunately, many neighbourhoods claim the resulting developments are often out of scale with their surroundings, and the high rents do not justify the concessions offered.

The city has also rezoned properties for higher density condominium developments, such as along the Cambie corridor. However, in return for rezoning, developers have to pay community amenity contributions averaging $55 per square foot of building area.

The result is more housing, but not necessarily more affordable housing. Although city planners claim these added costs are not being passed onto buyers, most housing experts believe otherwise.

The next civic issue identified by voters was the cost of living. This was not surprising since the cost of many products and services are often higher, due in part to provincial taxes. Unfortunately, as long as healthcare consumes 40 per cent of the provincial budget, these taxes are not likely to be reduced.

On the contrary, as the percentage of senior citizen households increases, healthcare costs and related taxes will continue to rise unless we change the way the government delivers healthcare services.

The third concern identified by Vancouver voters was transportation and transit. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this problem either.

While most of us want improved public transit, we are not prepared to pay for it. This contradiction is going to become more evident as the deadline for the transit funding referendum draws nearer. Sadly, I fear this referendum is likely to be a lose-lose proposition.

The survey results did offer some good news. Number 10 on the list was safety and security. This surprised me since so many of us have experienced a home or car break-in in the past few years, or known someone who has been victim to these crimes.

However, we should take comfort and pride in the fact that safety and security does not seem to be a major concern for Vancouverites.

I was also surprised by the ninth item on the list — the environment. While the mayor wants to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world, Vancouver residents, at least those polled by Justason, do not consider the environment a major issue. Maybe that is because we already enjoy good air and drinking water.

Other civic concerns identified by voters included the social issues so prevalent in the Downtown Eastside: mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness. The recently approved DTES plan is intended to address these concerns.

However, many of us worry the plan, with its emphasis on social and rental housing in the heart of the neighbourhood, may exacerbate rather than improve the situation.

That is because it will likely result in a greater concentration of low-income households suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.

I question whether we can ever end homelessness or effectively deal with mental illness until we open more facilities and provide more support services.

Issue number six may be more easily addressed — bike lanes and cyclists. It appears council’s initiatives, including expensive bike lanes, contorted road patterns, ugly barricades at West 41st and Angus, and the recent closure of Point Grey Road, continue to upset many voters.

Residents are also frustrated by the increasing sense of entitlement displayed by many cyclists.

These ten issues all need to be addressed. But compared to what is happening in Syria, Ukraine and Nigeria, our problems are minor. We should never lose sight of the fact we are fortunate to live here.

michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
twitter.com/michaelgeller



© Vancouver Courier

- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-affordable-housing-tops-list-of-voter-worries-1.1059671#sthash.t00ipriM.dpuf

 




 

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