The City’s developer task force released another interim report today — a follow-up to the previous very preliminary interim report (see The Mainlander‘s analysis here).

Although the latest proposal and its ideas remain in draft form, the document contains a couple of substantial policy proposals, including a municipal Housing Authority and a Land Bank. These are two very good ideas, but the question remains: will the proposals actually be implemented? If so, will it be at a scale capable of meeting the demand for real affordable housing? Will it be done in a way that benefits residents and communities instead of private developers?

The Housing Authority proposal is a good idea, but not a new idea. For example, the City of Vancouver Public Housing Corporation has existed since the 1980s. But it has been so inactive that it owns only a dozen buildings, most of them in the Downtown Eastside. For this reason, The Mainlander has been consistently arguing in favour of a reactivated and robust Housing Authority. During the 2011 civic election campaign, Vision and the NPA did not endorse a Housing Authority. COPE was the only party to do so.

It is surely a step in the right direction to start talking about what a reactivated Housing Authority will look like. The trick is to make it powerful enough to make a real difference. For that to happen, the devil is in the details. And today’s interim report is weak on details. It floats the idea of a hypothetical “City-owned entity, such as a Housing Authority, [which] could enable the City to deliver on its objectives for social and affordable rental housing.”

Two weeks in a row, Allen Garr has written articles attacking Downtown Eastside community members who oppose the Pantages condo project slated for their neighbourhood. Harold Lavender, a board member of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC), has called Garr’s recent writings “libelous and horrible articles” filled with “scurrilous attacks.” One would imagine that before publishing something so inflammatory, the veteran columnist would make sure he was on solid ground. Let us examine whether Garr did any investigating, or whether his words are indeed “scurrilous.”

Garr’s article opens with thunder: “By all accounts, it looked like a riot. There was pushing and shoving, cops and security guards trying to control the crowd and death threats being uttered: ‘There will be blood in the streets.'” Is that an accurate representation of what happened? I was there and wrote an article about the same meeting. How could two accounts of the same event be so different?

First, of course, Garr wasn’t there. What I learned, by speaking to staff of city hall and City Manager Penny Ballem, was that the Mayor’s Office determined beforehand to block DTES residents from the public hearing. When residents demanded to be allowed to enter the hearing — which is why they sent a delegation all the way to city hall! — security, police and city managers responded completely out of proportion to anything reasonable. In front of everyone’s eyes the police physically assaulted three members of the public, all who simply stated verbally that the meeting should be publicly open. It is impossible to imagine what would happen if City Hall treated a delegation from Shaughnessy in the same way.

This past Monday, April 23rd, all three voting members of the Vancouver Development Permit Board (DPB) voted in favor of the ‘Sequel 138’ condo project on Hastings, next to the Carnegie Centre and across from Insite.

The decision to push through the gentrification project was made beforehand by senior city staff at the direction of the Mayor’s Office. Nevertheless, the city went through the motions of holding a DPB meeting to listen to community concerns. The meeting lasted 7 hours, from 3pm to 10pm, with about 50 community members giving speeches. Almost all delegations passionately opposed the project.

After seven hours of delegations, not one member of the DP Board or its Advisory Panel engaged in discussion or posed any further questions of staff for clarification. The Board moved immediately into a vote. First, the nine members of the Advisory Panel gave their advice. The only member of the nine-member Advisory Panel not personally associated with the development industry, Duncan Wlodarczak of SFU’s Sustainability Centre, spoke for deferring the decision until “rate of change” mechanisms are in place to address the balance between market and non-market development in the DTES, as outlined in the DTES Housing Plan. One other member Advisory Panel member, Jasminka Miletic-Prelovac, spoke in favor of deferral until the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan (LAP) is in place next year.

This Tuesday, the Vision-controlled City Council struck a developer-run “affordable housing” task force. The public debate surrounding the affordability crisis has begun in earnest – and that is a great thing. Unfortunately, the discussion has been largely limited to pundits in the corporate media and rich people who work in the development industry — none of whom have have direct experience dealing with the affordability crisis. The vast majority of their professional and friendship networks are totally disconnected from the front lines of eviction and tenure insecurity.

As a result, much public commentary has been out-of-touch and condescending. The quality of recommendations has been substandard, the argumentation lazy, all this grounded in a position of apathy. For example, Gary Mason published a piece in the Globe and Mail this morning entitled “Living in Vancouver comes at a price,” which begins by recognizing that we are in the midst of an affordability crisis:

“Most of the world’s major cities are trying to solve this problem – in the most politically palatable way possible. In Canada, the issue is particularly acute in markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, where real-estate prices long ago made home ownership a dream for everyone except the wealthy.”

First we should note that Mason’s main, though concealed, argument here is that Vancouver’s housing problem is no different from that of any other major city. This is decidedly false. The disparity between median income and median market housing price is larger in Vancouver than every other city on the planet except for Hong Kong. But then Hong Kong has 1.2 million units of public housing, which house 40% of the population. Just this week, a report came out showing that Vancouver has the highest rent in Canada. While most readers will know all this intuitively — many of us adapt to the crisis by multiple-subletting and by sleeping in attics, basements, on couches, floors – it’s necessary to cite these figures to remind out-of-touch elites that the crisis is systemic. The situation in Vancouver is not healthy and normal. It is pathological and exploitative.

Mason then addresses some policy approaches he has heard circulating in elite circles: 1) “subsidized” housing on city land, 2) rezone certain areas for more townhouses, and 3) co-op housing.