Vancouver is at a crossroads and the upcoming civic election will set a new path for our city. NPA City Counsellor Hector Bremner shook things up with his election last year and is now throwing his hat in the ring to become the next Mayor of Vancouver. Hector sits down with Matt and Adam to discuss his ideas to fix housing in Vancouver. And he has a lot of ideas. A must listen for those interested in the future of our city!
NPA City Counsellor Hector Bremner
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About Hector Bremner:
Hector is an NPA City Counsellor and NPA mayoral candidate (note: since this recording, the NPA board has blocked Hector’s application to run for mayor. He may still run as an independent candidate.). Hector was elected to city council during a 2017 by-election on a pro-development, pro-density and housing affordability campaign called #letsfixhousing. He is also the vice-president of Pace Group communications firm.
Why the NPA?
For the last four years, the NPA hasn’t had a clear message and we’re not sure where the party stands. We were frustrated with all the noise and wondered what was the best way forward. Should we form a new party? We decided that the best years of the last 80 years were NPA ones and that the party was worth reviving. We weren’t finding the right leadership so I was honoured to be asked to step into that role. The NPA is about bringing together liberals and conservatives – we’re not playing politics; we’re getting the job done. We’re focused on good ideas to fix our party and fix our city.
On the new generation of young people wanting to change the game in Vancouver:
I definitely consider myself part of this generation and movement. People like myself, in their mid-late 30s, are tired of all of the flag waving, party politics and value statements. We know that isn’t getting us anywhere. We’re tired of people just campaigning to win and running to help their career. Instead, we want people who are passionate about the issues and who really stand for something. We want good ideas that lead to solutions. Politics as usual has failed us. Career politicians, playing to polling and governing by press release isn’t serving us. I’m very excited to see what’s next.
What is at stake in the upcoming election?
The city of Vancouver is at a crossroads. We have the homeless crisis, overdose crisis and housing crisis. 9000 less children have enrolled in Vancouver schools in the last five years because families can’t afford to live in Vancouver. There’s been a 30% increase in homelessness. Seniors are leaving the community. We need to fix housing. We need to fix political dissonance. We need to fix Vancouver. We need to be welcoming, youth focused and job focused. We need to say yes, get the job done and build the housing that will attracts families and jobs.
On how current housing has failed:
We have a long history of housing failure in our city. We have put all the density into a finite few square miles. We divide the square metres and double the price in these dense areas. But the rest of the city, 75% of it, is single family detached homes. This concept of exclusionary zoning is tied to our history of racial segregation. And that leaves out the middle class families. They can’t afford a single family detached home. So if the dirt is too expensive, we need to decide what we can put on that dirt to help the middle class family.
It takes five years to go from a building application to a turn key home. Zoning and permits are slow, unfocused and exclusionary. Our city has doubled in size but housing has not kept up. Because the building process is slow, prices have increased, speculation has increased and people have begun leaving the city.
On politics around redevelopment:
The city does a bad job communicating with residents. Tensions build and no one feels heard, so they become angry. With the 105 Keefer project in Chinatown, there was a lack of a city plan and a lack of genuine consultation. The city has not laid out a clear path in the 21st Century for middle class people. Density has become a dirty word. When people hear it, they think of luxury homes and condos, which doesn’t include them. The city has missed the opportunity to bring people to the table to talk. We need citywide planning and consultation.
What areas are right for rezoning and what does that look like?
Vancouver is the only major city in North America without a citywide plan. So it takes forever to get anything done. We need to create one cohesive plan so we can get through the planning process faster. Density shouldn’t be restricted to the downtown core and major corridors – all four corners of the city should be absorbing more housing.
For example, Northwest Point Grey (between Pacific Spirit Park and the UBC Endowment lands) restricts lots from being less than 150 feet wide. Essentially, these are mandated mansions. There are less than 150 people living on 150 acres in Northwest Point Grey. But what if we turned that area into 6-storey rental only buildings or seniors housing? Now we have 10,000 – 15,000 affordable units on the same amount of land. People see this as a solution and there’s a positive response to this idea. Do we really need mandated mansions to be protected in the 21st Century in Vancouver? Of course not. We can have a huge impact in a small area and can find other areas like this around the city. Any part of the city can help shoulder the load of the housing crisis.
On the blame game and policies against foreign buyers:
I understand it’s appealing for people to blame foreign buyers. But the truth is that there’s a push for homeownership domestically and municipalities are too slow to respond to that. Homeownership is an expectation and because municipalities can’t react in time, prices go up. At any given time in Vancouver, 1000 people are looking for a home and only 100 are available. Of that, at most 15 are foreign buyers. So we can tax them and put restrictions on them but we aren’t addressing the fact that our market is broken.
We can’t allow ourselves to be deluded into believing that taxes and restrictions on foreign buyers will make housing more affordable. Adding housing at the volume and speed that we require is the key to affordability – not blaming one ethnicity or one country for buying in Vancouver.
Our policies are broken. It takes two years to get a building permit. We’ve been so focused on flipping houses and tearing down old houses to make new ones; creating more expensive housing but not creating more housing. We need to elect people who understand the history and economics at play and who can get the job done. They need to treat the disease of housing affordability, not the symptoms, like foreign buyers and speculation.
With these foreign buyer policies, are we tarnishing our reputation?
Vancouver has an ugly history with racism. We have built a city off of plans that put white people on the left and everyone else on the right. And while that doesn’t reflect our values today, it still underlines many of our policies and attitudes. Why do we look at the Guinness family and Duke of Westminster as international investors who are welcome to own in our city but Chinese nationals as foreign buyers who have no place here?
We can’t build a wall around Vancouver and keep people out. And more importantly, we don’t want to. Cities either grow or they die – there is no other option. Vancouver can build middle class attainable housing; we just haven’t tried to do it before. We can dilute land cost by adding density and do it while being open, welcoming and inclusive.
Someone said yes to us, our parents, our grandparents or our great-grandparents many years ago. We all came here to make a better life for ourselves and our families. Who are we to say, “Not for you!” to someone else? That’s not us as Vancouverites or Canadians.
Learn more about Hector here: https://hectorbremner.com/