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episode # 335

The Vancouver Plan with Kit Sauder

Kit Sauder is back to discuss Vancouver & its various pain points. Here are three reasons you’ll love today’s episode: one, we cover the city-wide Vancouver Plan, what it means for the future of our city & the opportunities that it presents; two, we discuss political gridlock, the upcoming municipal election & voting issues that are top of mind for all Vancouverites; and three, we go deep on the most politically & emotionally charged issues that dominate today’s headlines. What will the future of Vancouver look like & where do we go from here? Listen up & vote!

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Episode Summary


 

Who is Kit Sauder?

I’m a dad living in an East Vancouver apartment. I’ve lived in Vancouver for 5-6 years. I’m a citizen activist and volunteer. I’ve been involved in politics since I was 17 years old but have stepped back from that to help build a stronger city. 

Find out more about Kit Sauder in our previous episode, Generational War on the Broadway Corridor with Kit Sauder

Thoughts on the prime interest rate:

Market-wise, we have a very high prime rate. But we’re not that far off where we were in 2019. We’re barely at the average over the last 15 years, so we don’t want to lose our heads in these long term planning discussions.

What has changed with the Broadway Plan recently?

We got the Broadway Plan across the line in June 2022. Substantive amendments were put into place and there’s a delivery timeline for September 2022. That certainty for industry players, investors and non-profit actors was critical. People need to know when this is happening. 

I championed renter protections and requirements around unit size with the Broadway Plan. In a 6+ unit multiplex, 25% of units or more must be two-bedroom plus and 10% or more must be three-bedroom plus. 

We’re also protecting against renovictions, or demovictions, allowing renters to return at rates based on market rent or their previous rent at the time of the demolition. However, there is uncertainty around what those rates will be, which is making it hard for developers to move forward with purpose-built rental and even strata projects. 

If developers can’t create the housing that’s needed, that’s a problem. I can’t advocate for renters if we’re not creating units for renters. 

As the Broadway Plan was coming in back in June, we also got reports about purpose-built rental projects through the arterial road rental housing program. 11 projects went into the arterial program but that’s it. Staff have indicated they don’t anticipate any more projects in the foreseeable future. So we may get 400 units in the next five years, but that’s nothing compared to the 14,500 that we need every year to keep pace with the underhoused in this city. 

Would Vancouver be better off with less regulation around housing? Would that allow more housing supply to hit the market? 

I like to avoid labels, but I would say I am a liberal YIMBY. We are living in a period of permanent crisis and if we don’t do big things to solve the crisis, we’re going to get swamped. 

Should we let housing happen without regulation? We sort of did that in the 2010s with Vision. And we did get more housing, but it wasn’t the right kind of housing. It wasn’t housing for families. 

When we introduce regulations on housing, we also need to introduce certainty, flexibility, timeline management and cost reduction. What we haven’t seen from this city council is how we get there. We don’t have executable timelines, we don’t have certainty on projects and we don’t have elimination of political risk in the hearing process. 

Things are broken and we need to fix it. Our society has been comfortably consuming for the last 3-5 decades. The amount of capital that each generation has held, controlling for time of life and education attained, has gone down with each generation since Gen X entered the workforce. Millennials have about 28% of the wealth that their parents had at the same age. Meanwhile, taxes are going up, service fees are going up, and crises are happening. So what do we do?

This is why we have thousands more unhoused people in BC and many people who are one paycheque away from not being able to pay their rent. Our society is becoming increasingly fragile and we need to make choices to increase our resiliency. 

People understand that there’s something structurally wrong with our society. The advisory board to the city is pushing very hard for both rental protections and an open enough market so that smaller developers can profit from their work and build up our city again. 

With economic gardening, you sow the seeds but you don’t get to pick where the plants grow. You pull out the weeds and try to grow as much as you can. That’s what we need to get back to in Vancouver.

What is your take on the Vancouver Plan?

I don’t think the Vancouver Plan goes far enough; I recently wrote an opinion piece on this for Daily Hive. I applaud the vision and work on it, but it’s not enough. Vancouver is the only city in BC without an official community plan. We’ve tried to implement a plan three times in the last 50 years and they’ve all failed. Plans get held up because the most important people in the city want to slow growth in their area. 

People get generationally used to mono-cultural neighbourhoods in Vancouver. As they get used to seeing the same type of buildings around them, they’re naturally resistant to change. Vancouverites travel and see all of these different communities around the world and say they want it, but always vote no. We haven’t had the political courage to move on a plan and we’re still not seeing it with the current Vancouver Plan. 

City council decided to strike the implementation part of the Vancouver Plan, basically saying they’ll approve a plan but the next council will have to put it in place. Just the delivery component of the plan should take a year, but could take 2-3 years if this current council is still in power. 

What’s the point of having one big plan for the city if each neighbourhood gets their own plan?

That’s a good question and it should be getting answered in this next election. Vancouver is a geographically small city but I believe we are one city. We have a cohesive history and shared values and interests. A city-wide plan should align with that. 

If you have one official community plan, all of the documents that staff currently have to go through will all need to come together. You won’t have multiple policies all competing against one another. But someone has to go in and address those existing policy problems so they don’t contradict one another in the final plan. Instead of doing that, every council has decided to just add more policy on top and hope no one notices the contradictions. 

What we’re not seeing is execution. We should be protecting our water, air and land. We should be working with our Indigenous leaders. We should be focusing on public transportation. 

People who purchase their own land should be able to build a multiplex instead of a mansion, if they so choose. But currently, it’s easier to build a mansion anywhere in the city than it is to build a multiplex. 

There was recently big news about a BC Housing project at West 8th and Arbutus. What happened? (as of July 27, 2022)

After seven days of hearings with over 40 hours of public feedback, council voted 8-3 in support of a BC Housing project at West 8th and Arbutus. It’s 129 units of split supportive housing – half of the units are for people who are street-housed and drug-dependent and the other half is for people who are currently in supportive housing, but might need to be relocated. 

Some folks in the neighbourhood are not happy. A loud and vocal minority are very much opposed to the project. 293 speakers registered and over 300 ended up speaking, which made it one of the largest public hearings in the history of the city. We’ve had more than 90 public hearings go for over four hours throughout this council term, which is more than all of the other cities in Metro Vancouver combined.

The hearing process in Vancouver is historic, dysfunctional and not working for anybody. 

Why did the West 8th and Arbutus BC Housing project pass?

Because it was the right thing to do. We have more street-homeless people in Vancouver and BC than we ever have. There are more than 8600 unhoused British Columbians as of March 2022. 

We recently heard about an incident in Langley where there was an active shooter who was stopped by police action. As best we’ve heard, a young man got drunk and drove around Langley, hunting and shooting unhoused Langley citizens. Two died and two are in hospital care. That’s the social context of what is going on with street homelessness, mental health and drug issues. 

This is all happening in the same week that the Pope is touring Canada to apologize for the act of genocide perpetrated by the residential school system, which was maintained for over 100 years in this country. 

So this project is a lightning rod as a result of decades and even centuries of policy making. We’re a wealthy enough society to be able to end street homelessness. We essentially didn’t have street homelessness until exclusionary zoning began to get more restrictive in the 1970’s.

This new BC Housing project is walking distance from Vancouver General Hospital and public transportation. It’s an objective good to get these people housed but it’s also a big ask of this community to accept new neighbours who they fear will be bad neighbours. But we need to ask ourselves how we got to this point and if those fears are founded.

Another reason why council voted to pass this project is likely because they recently passed an almost identical project in my neighbourhood of East Vancouver in partnership with an Indigenous housing supporter. They voted unanimously for the East Vancouver project.

I’m not in favour of everyone sharing the burden; I don’t believe what’s good for the east side is good for the west side because that gets into punitive politics. But council did pass the East Vancouver supportive housing project. Only 26 speakers showed up to that hearing, half in favour and half not. More supportive housing projects have been built and supported on the east side of the city than the west, but eventually you run out of land.  

Some people are concerned that the West 8th and Arbutus project is primarily made up of bachelor suites and that half the people living there will be drug-users, while the property is right next to a school. How do you address those concerns? 

I grew up in the suburbs in White Rock. My former stepfather was an abusive alcoholic and got really bad when I was a teenager. I grew up in a town of doctors and engineers, like the people who live in Kits, and I lived in a house with an abusive man who threatened our safety. 

At 17 years old I was the star of the rugby team, class president and lead in the school play. But three months before graduation, my mom asked me to leave the house because she was scared my stepfather would get violent with me. Three months before graduation, I was homeless. I slept in the student council office, sneaking back in every night for weeks. I bunked with friends and eventually reconciled with my dad and moved in with him. 

If I didn’t have a network of support and if I didn’t live in an upper class suburb, I could have been street-homeless. I wouldn’t have gone to UBC, owned a business or become the person I am today.

When we talk about street-homelessness, we need to personalize the situation. We’re not talking about strangers – we’re talking about our own children and siblings. That needs to be the context of our decision making and it needs to drive our compassion. 

People ask, “Why does the Arbutus & West 8th project need to be so big?” I reject that. It’s 13-storeys, which is just larger than a mid-rise, and would be allowed under the new Broadway Plan. 

We need to raise the rates. Even BC Housing on public land with tax exemptions and tax payer support has problems financing their projects. So they came forward with a larger project to house more people. This project allows more than 10% of Vancouver’s street-homeless to get housing. 

Tent encampments can be dangerous and the threat of fire is very real. But if you do a street sweep to clear people out and don’t have anywhere for them to go, you’re not the good guys. 

I don’t want to villainize small business owners or condo owners who live near or in the Downtown Eastside. In a vibrant community, you are going to have shifts. Shaughnessy used to be the Downtown Eastside. But what I hear activists on the ground asking is, “Are you being harmed or are you being made uncomfortable?” 

For people who are unhoused, they are unequivocally being harmed. There’s a risk of harm to some of the business and condo owners. I personally have been uncomfortable riding the bus through the Downtown Eastside. I have had to personally intervene in situations. That shouldn’t be happening. 

What we need to do is end policies that concentrate and force all of these problems into the Downtown Eastside. We need to create supports across the city so people can stay where they are. 

Thoughts on Chinatown and the communities neighbouring the Downtown Eastside:

Full disclosure, I was previously working on Ken Sims mayoral campaign. I also served Naomi Yamamoto, the first Japanese-Canadian minister elected to the BC Legislature. The legacies of the Chinese-Canadian community and Japanese-Canadian community are ones that need to be considered. There’s a history of head tax and internment camps that still plays out today. 

With Chinatown, it was an area built largely by Chinese-Canadian immigrants but has lost its vibrancy due to the concentration of poverty in the Downtown Eastside. It’s now primarily an older generation that lives there, with people who are not as economically invested or able to be involved in their community and community decisions. 

With Little Tokyo right next door, many Japanese-Canadian families didn’t come back to their neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Richmond after they were sent to internment camps. So there’s a lack of cohesion and championing of stories and history in those areas. 

If you’re looking to build housing to get people off the street, you’re looking for a place with less opposition and lower land values. And a place where there is already that concentration of poverty. That’s what’s happening in Chinatown and the surrounding areas. 

On the city’s mission: 

We should be fighting for a city where anyone can live anywhere. And where anyone can achieve their hopes and dreams if they put the work in. We shouldn’t be caging people into certain geographical areas. We shouldn’t have areas of the city that people want to escape. 

Is there a connection between public safety and the unhoused population? 

The actual data does not show an increase in attacks. We have no evidence that acts of violent crime are up; they are average across the last decade. However, reporting on violent crime is up, especially in an election year. 

There’s also the fact that we’re dealing with two plagues, monkeypox and covid. When you have multiple plagues, people either shut down or they’re primed to assess other risks at a higher level, such as violent crimes. 

I don’t want to downplay the fact that people in certain neighbourhoods don’t feel safe. Those concerns are real. But every time we see a spike in violent stranger attacks, it drives people to want to move to the suburbs. That has a negative impact on the economy. 

The truth is that a couple dozen people are responsible for almost all of the random street attacks and housing assaults in Vancouver. But that’s not a municipal issue. 

We need to move with compassion and grace towards some sort of supportive institutionalization. For some people, that is the answer. But those systems can be abused. It’s a very tough conversation to have but it needs to be worked through.  

Find out more: https://twitter.com/kitsauder & https://ca.linkedin.com/in/kitsauder

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