Calls for density are answered!
The City of Vancouver has announced a new and radical housing plan and the implications for home-owners and investors in real estate are huge. Adam and Matt sit down with UBC Associate Professor Nathan Lauster to hash out the details and sort out the winners and losers.
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Nathan is a sociologist at UBC who conducts research on many housing topics. His book, The Death and Life of the Single Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Liveable City, is about how changes in Vancouver, especially those outside the downtown core, are affecting people.
On the new Vancouver housing strategy:
Nathan broadly supports the City’s plan and was quite encouraged. He feels it’s a real step in the right direction, especially by freeing up some of the single-family residential land for alternatives and subdividing existing houses. Moves to strengthen renters’ rights, encourage work with the non-profit sector, and add social housing stock is really positive. The federal government is stepping into the void they’ve left for many years to target non-profit housing.
On if it’s enough at this stage:
The federal policy is that housing is a human right, so this should ultimately be the goal. The proposal to cut homelessness by 50% is great, but it’s not as ambitious as ending homelessness. Ambitious words are one thing; seeing solutions is another. We are moving in the right direction, though we’re not all the way where we need to be.
On whether the proposal caught him by surprise:
Yes, Nathan was surprised at how ambitiously they are moving in this direction. The City has moved further in recognizing they should find alternatives to single-family homes than he expected, as they had been tentative in the past. In the last by-election, there was broad support from all the candidates for densifying single-family neighborhoods and not reserving so much land for millionaires. That was probably an important push. Nathan gave a keynote speech at the City’s housing reset and told them this, too. They’re getting lots of feedback on it from many people and organizations like Abundant Housing Vancouver and Generation Squeeze.
On Elizabeth Murphy’s piece in the Vancouver Sun (about preserving heritage buildings, that the proposal will undermine local context, and increasing density broadly across the board leads to higher home prices and speculation):
Some of it resonates, in terms of the aesthetics. Nathan likes old buildings. But at the same time, it’s quite reactionary. Murphy cites a study that he’s taken issue with (by John Rose, Kwantlen Polytechnic University): the understanding of demand and supply is wrong, and there are broader issues with the methods used to carry it out. Nathan’s not a big fan of the study or its general position, but he’s sympathetic to the general aim of keeping some of our old, beautiful buildings. To do this, we should allow internal subdivision and infill, and recognize the city needs to keep growing.
On how Rose gets the study wrong:
Metaphorically, we’re in a boat that’s sinking and you can bail out the water or plug the leak. The principles of supply and demand say you should do both of these things. So, with housing, we should address supply and demand at the same time. We should change policy to reduce speculation and take on those negative consequences. Through new policies, we are doing this (e.g. the Empty Homes Tax). Tom Davidoff’s housing affordability proposal is another good measure. But, we should be doing things on the supply side at the same time. We can’t or shouldn’t do just one of these things.
On anything missing in the housing Vancouver strategy:
The City could do more in thinking through wide-scale rezoning of single-family districts: how to make it a faster, simpler, and easier process to introduce townhouses and still retain what is good about the small-lot development and enable more people to move in. Avoid contentious and long-lasting permitting policy. They’re aware of this though; they just announced they will hire more people to clean up the backlog.
On the City making improvements to their consultation process:
They’re trying to improve, but it’s tricky. They need to ensure that in the consultative process, people living in the neighborhood aren’t the only ones being spoken to. Those who want to be in the neighborhood and those who have been marginalized should be heard, too. The homeless or those in substandard housing conditions need to have a much bigger voice in community consultation.
On the groups of people who show up for consultation:
It can be challenging to get homeless or marginalized people to show up, and the people who most often show are retirees and don’t want the neighborhood to change. They are quite advantaged already and there is a history of exclusion in these neighborhoods. They should be heard, but not be given the ability to veto new neighbors.
On the history of exclusion, in the west-side particularly:
Single-family residential is about exclusion and keeping the city at bay—keeping it from encroaching on the residential areas. The poor are most often being excluded, or anyone needing more denser forms of housing. Being able to afford a large lot and put a house on it has always been exclusionary, but the main difference now is we’re also excluding the middle class (unless they’ve inherited a lot of money or have come into a great deal of wealth). This is why it’s more of an apparent problem.
On where Vancouver should be at the end of the 10-year process:
Vancouver should be an inclusive and diverse city that puts its policies where its mouth is. An inclusionary, liveable, world city; a greener city reducing its carbon impact. Densification in a smart way will help get us there. More non-market housing in addition to more condos—a greater mix to support a diverse population. We should be something other cities can aspire to.
- Favorite neighborhood: Kitsilano, where he used to live
- Favorite restaurant: Maenam
- West-side mansion or downtown penthouse: Neither!
- Where you bring out-of-town guests first: Granville Island
- Twitter or Facebook: Twitter
To reach Nathan: