The Ironies of Vancouver: The Post-Gentrified City

Vancouver       Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada may be a case study of the post-gentrified city.  Average housing prices have dropped all the way down to $1.4 million per house.  The Vancouver Sun reported that a Habitat for Humanity house had sold for $330,000.  ACORN Canada’s office and all of our groups are in the working-class suburbs of Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, and other communities.  It is difficult for low and moderate-income families to afford to even think about living in Vancouver.

The government is progressive.  Leadership has been stable with an excellent and forward-thinking mayor in Gregor Robertson for a number of years.  There is no lack of people trying to do the right thing.  There is no confusion at the top or at the bottom of the economic and political ladders that housing is unaffordable.

So, what does Vancouver do to assure that housing is affordable and to prevent the city from just become the living and working space for the rich and elite?

While in the city for the ACORN Canada board meeting and annual general meeting, the next four years city budget for capital or big construction and development projects was published.  The capital budget is big time for the coming four years, $2.6 billion.  Surprisingly though, 55% of that budget or $1.44 billion the Sun reported are “earmarked income from ‘development contributions,’ which are raised by charging real estate developers.”  At first glance, we might say that’s great, “Make them pay!”  At second glance it is hard not to think that the city of Vancouver may be riding the sharks as much as regulating them.  If developer money is funding so much of capital expenditures, then the city also depends on new development, which gives developers a lot of leverage

In fact, when it comes to affordable housing and child-care spaces, which many might argue are the top priorities for lower income and working families in the city, the capital budget is scary.  First, it only provides for 1200 to 1600 nonmarket rental house and 1000 child-care spaces, which annually is only 300 to 400 units per year and 250 child care spaces. That’s way too little.  The fiscal number for the construction was $539 million and the budget says that 99% or $535 would come from development contributions, meaning the city and its taxpayers have zero skin in those projects.  For the $117 million for child-care development contributions are 94%.

The Sun helpfully defines these development contributions.

“Development cost levies…are typically a standard calculation.  Community amenity contributions tend to be individually negotiated between the city and a developer over rezoning for a specific project and can be paid in straight cash or the building of an on-site amenity such as a pool or community center.”

One is a tax and the other is what we would normally see emerge from community benefit agreements, although it almost seems like the developer is driving the decision to benefit their own project, rather than the community or the city.  An amenity would seem to accelerate the rewards for gentrification as well.

It would seem like a rich, gentrified, progressive city like Vancouver could – and should – be doing so much more.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Lot to Celebrate at ACORN Canada’s Year End Meeting

ACORN Canada Team

ACORN Canada Team

Pittsburgh   Twenty organizers from ACORN Canada gathered in the cold of Pittsburgh’s South Side for their annual Year End / Year Begin meeting, surprised to note that the first snow most of them were seeing for the season was coming in the United States rather than in the great north. What was not a surprise were many of the reports of progress from the offices and the serious, ambitious plans for the coming year.

Overall, after a successful biannual convention this year in Montreal, where ACORN also opened a new office in 2015, its fifth over the last dozen years, head organizer, Judy Duncan, reported that ACORN Canada had passed the 84,000 member mark with a budget and expenditures at the million mark for 2015 with $222,000 coming in direct dues income. As the great country and western song says, “that’s something to be proud of!”

High and low tech at ACORN Canada YE/YB

Serious Business on Future Plans

More importantly the members had fought — and won — on a number of fronts over the year as one office after another reported. British Columbia’s victory in overturning the claw-backs for welfare recipients in the province, forcing reductions in their meager checks whenever they received overdue child support had triggered similar campaigns in Ottawa and Nova Scotia. Payday lending zoning restrictions in Burnaby in 2015 had also encouraged other offices to launch municipal regulation campaigns, since the reality of the victory in British Columbia froze the number of payday outlets to only those already opened, and all of this influenced the direction of serious discussions on national campaigns and plans for the coming years. The national banking act is due for renewal in 2017 opening opportunities to try to turn the tables on installment loans, payday lending, and other so-called alternative financial products that tend to be predatory for our members.

Canada's Annual performance awards are a highlight

Canada’s Annual Performance Awards are a Highlight

 

Housing continues to be a flash point throughout the country. Hard work in Toronto has moved the Mayor and much of the council from almost studied disinterest in the housing crisis to support of the landlord licensing regime that has been a signature of ACORN’s work for over a decade in the city. Significantly, resources for outreach and enforcement of housing standards are on the verge of increases that can finally make a real difference in the quality of housing for Toronto tenants. There have been many milestones in this campaign, but Toronto head organizer, John Anderson, senses the opportunity for a capstone looming in coming years.

High and low tech at ACORN Canada YE/YB

High and low tech at ACORN Canada YE/YB

Political discussions were fascinating. A dialogue with the political director of the Pennsylvania Working Families Party helped set the stage in framing the discussion. The recent federal elections in Canada bringing the Liberals back to power after many years of Conservative Party government throughout most of ACORN Canada’s history offers the prospects of some openings on critical national campaigns that have long been stalled in addition to financial justice efforts. The Liberals serious consideration and positive responses to ACORN’s Remittance Justice Campaign proposals improved the prospects for real change in this area. Hearings being held by the Canadian radio and television regulators, that also govern the internet, open the door for us and the larger consumer coalition to look at capping the prices for internet access for lower income families and broadening the availability.

Nova Scotia ACORN steps up its game with a powerpoint

Nova Scotia ACORN steps up its game with a powerpoint

Internally, Scott Nunn from Vancouver was planning to hold the number of tax returns from our service center to about 4000 and Jill O’Reilly, Ottawa’s head organizer, was looking to break 2000 returns in 2016, but the real topics of the discussion were sustainability as the program navigates the critical transition from largely free to fee-for-service. Suggestions ranged from asking for a donation of one dollar for every thousand to any number of other hybrid mixes and matches, but whatever the pilots and decisions that evolve in the coming year, the program will progress and increase its status as a benefit for our members and a firm foundation of the organization’s long term sustainability.

No year of organizing is easy, but there were many milestones for ACORN in Canada in 2015.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail