Two weeks after Vancouver was once again named one of the most unaffordable cities in the world, Mayor Gregor Robertson has unilaterally appointed the members of the city’s “Blue Ribbon Affordability Task Force.” The fourteen appointees of the task force are drawn from a list of prominent developers, landlord lobbyists, architects, and industry insiders. There is not one person on the task force to represent renters, who are the most negatively affected by the housing crisis, and who represent 55% of the city’s population.
The task force was first announced in the Mayor’s opening speech after the re-election of Vision Vancouver in November 2011. Since November, the Mayor has been laying the groundwork and ‘terms of reference’ for the task force. The most important term-of-reference outlines how the city will carry out the privatization of Vancouver’s social housing stock, its demolition, and subsequent sale to private partners. While initially the idea was made in vague reference to “leveraging the city’s land base to help create partnerships with private and public bodies,” the Mayor has recently made it clear what the city has planned:
We’re looking at opportunities to leverage City land. Vancouver has a huge portfolio of land and buildings that we need to get highest and best use out of…What can we do with our existing public housing stock to maximize the opportunity?
The announcement of a “task force” recalls the city’s “affordable rental housing roundtable” process in 2009. In the wake of the financial crash of 2008, developers, financiers, and other stakeholders were invited to a series of workshops in the spring of 2009. The result: a report recommending tax breaks for developers in order to “incentivize” the development of rental housing. The policy that emerged was STIR, which the Mayor referred to as an “economic stimulus” for the hard-done-by development industry. Unsurprisingly, the balance sheet of the past three years shows that the tax-breaks-for-developers housing strategy delivered few rental units and literally zero affordable units of housing. It did deliver generous campaign donations from the development industry to Vision Vancouver.