For five years, Vision councillors have argued that the City of Vancouver can’t use its own powers to build and protect affordable housing. Councillor Geoff Meggs has reiterated to The Tyee this week that threats to affordable rental housing are “beyond city hall’s control.” Despite their refusal to publicly criticize the provincial government, Vision has maintained that social housing and rent control are each the sole jurisdictions of senior governments.

Critics have often cited municipal housing authorities and rent control boards in cities like Toronto, New York and Vienna. It has often been pointed out that Vancouver too has a housing authority – something few people know about because city council has allowed it to remain dormant since being elected in 2008.

In response to these criticisms, Vision councillors have played the “jurisdictional” card, passing the buck to other levels of government. According to Vision, “the city gets blamed for the problem when the powers to fix it lie with the provincial government.” Yet the Mayor has been supportive of the BC Liberal government since being elected in 2008. Not once has Robertson or council publicly called on the Province to increase funding for housing or change the Residential Tenancy Act. At the end of the day, the main financial backers of Vision also control BC Housing and are the main BC Liberals donors.

This morning, supporters gathered at the Little Mountain housing project to hear tenants speak out about their upcoming eviction hearing at the Residential Tenancy Branch. On July 27th, BC Housing issued a 2-month eviction notice to the tenants, requiring that they leave their homes by October 1st.

In 2009 eviction notices were given to all of the roughly 700 tenants living at Little Mountain. Four families refused to leave and are still living in the last remaining row house on the property at Main and 36th Avenue. The four families — including the blind senior couple Sammy and Joan — refused eviction, arguing that vacating the site was unnecessary and premature. Since then the site has sat empty for three years, with former tenants scattered in sub-standard housing throughout the Lower Mainland.

At today’s press conference neighbors and advocates from around the city stood with the four families in their call for a fair hearing at the Residential Tenancy Branch. The tenants demanded that the hearing be held in person rather than by phone. The main demand of the rally was that the tenants be allowed to “stay on site until a redevelopment plan is in place and the new housing is built.”

Long-time resident Ingrid Steenhuisen stated, “There’s nothing wrong with the building. We were told that this latest eviction was served because of the time frame of starting construction early next year. As we know from being active in the meetings, there’s a minimum ten to twelve months before the rezoning, and a minimum six months for the enactment.”

Mayoral candidates debate against the public

Tonight’s mayoral debate on homelessness and affordable housing was a heated fight — not between the two candidates, but between the City and its residents. Mayor Gregor Robertson and mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton were supposed to face off and debate the issues, but the real debate was with the people of Vancouver.

Rather than reveal disagreements, the event brought to the fore the overlapping politics of Robertson and Anton. If before tonight there was a sense that the candidates’ two parties — Vision and the NPA — were different in their respective policy platforms, tonight’s debate showcased agreement on housing strategy: let the market do it. When asked in vague terms if the market could provide all the solutions, both candidates hesitated, and Anton frequently brought in her party’s history of buying sites throughout Vancouver for social housing — admittedly more than could be said for Vision. But on actual concrete politics, the candidates converged more than they differed. Most importantly, both candidates stressed that they do not support a speculator tax on housing and do not support inclusionary zoning in Vancouver.

Inclusionary zoning is an urban planning policy used in cities throughout the world — including Vancouver’s Oppenheimer district (“DEOD”) — mandating the inclusion of affordable housing in all new multi-unit housing developments. In exchange for pushing up property values and exposing low-income renters to evictions, developers are forced to build a percentage of new units as affordable. In Oppenheimer it’s 20%. Tonight, the question was: “Would an inclusionary zoning policy, one where you require developers to build a certain percentage of affordable units into their projects like Richmond does, be workable in Vancouver?” Gregor and Anton said categorically: no.

Gregor was referring to city staff’s current review of inclusionary zoning in the Oppenheimer district. Earlier this year head Planner Brent Toderian stated that the city will have to make “tough decisions” about inclusionary zoning in the Oppenheimer district. Tonight Gregor repeated this plan for affordability: replace affordable housing in East Vancouver with $300,000 condominiums. Like Anton, who tonight argued for a “common sense revolution” of “removing red tape” for the developers, Gregor wants further de-regulation to accompany more STIR tax breaks.

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Throughout the debate, however, dozens in attendance disagreed with Robertson and Anton, shouting slogans like, “Housing is a Human Right,” “Stop the Evictions,” “Drown Out the Developer Parties,” “Gregor Lies,” and “Three More Years of What?” A big theme of the night was the debate format itself, pitting two candidates “against” each other in a false opposition. Attendees — dozens of them from #occupyvancouver, arriving at the debate with the recent announcement that Mayor Roberston has ordered an eviction of Occupy — rejected the format of the debate, which excluded any political party or candidate not funded by developers.