Campaign finance reform must be more than a ban on big money

Originally published in The Georgia Straight, June 3 2016

It seems as if almost everyone is talking about campaign finance reform lately.  It’s no wonder.  The vast and obscene donations tied up in political campaigns distort and deform the electoral process, making “big money” the critical factor in determining who governs.  

Vancouver is a perfect example of the problem as developers pour millions into the process – and expect and get a handsome return on their investments.  During the 2014 election the two largest parties, Vision and the NPA received over five and a half million dollars in donations.

For many, Campaign Finance Reform starts and ends with a call to ban corporate and union donations to political parties.

We at OneCity start somewhere else entirely.

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Affordability is the real issue in Grandview-Woodlands

The Vision and NPA City Council have done it again: they’ve proposed a development that doesn’t deal with the desperate need for affordable and social housing, and at the same time makes many members of the community angry.

The conversation about  the proposed Kettle development on the corner of Venables and Commercial has started up again this month, with the release of a design visualization, which includes a 12-storey building, in a neighbourhood where a four-storey limit has been the norm.

Although the project stands to offer some benefit to the Kettle Society’s important work, and would contribute some much-needed supportive housing, the only real winner - at this point - is the developer, Boffo Properties.

The Kettle Society is a non-profit that provides housing, employment and advocacy support for people living with mental illnesses. Their Venables Street centre is too small and needs many upgrades, and wait-lists are growing. Understandably and admirably, the Kettle wishes to expand and gain new facilities, and offer more supportive housing for its clients.

While in an ideal world public funds would support and house our most vulnerable, the Kettle has been realistic and pragmatic, and partnered with Boffo Properties to redevelop the corner of Venables and Commercial.

Unfortunately, the Kettle, and the neighbourhood, seems likely to be shortchanged in this transaction.

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Affordable-housing crisis requires local solutions too

Originally published by The Georgia Straight.

By RJ Aquino, David Chudnovsky, and Cara Ng

In a city where housing costs reach stratospheric heights, it seems Vision Vancouver will continue approving luxury-condo towers rather than creating the affordable housing for seniors, families, and young people that we so desperately need.

Vancouver’s governing party is, rightly, calling on the provincial government to implement speculation and luxury-housing taxes. Vision has also offered 20 city-owned sites to the federal government for affordable housing. We at OneCity support Vision in these initiatives.

We also agree that the provincial government is failing low- and moderate-income households and young families. The 2016 B.C. budget does not come close to tackling the immensity of the homeownership challenges facing young households—nor do the B.C. Liberals seem to comprehend (or care) about the crisis facing renters in Canada’s most expensive and lowest-vacancy market. In fact, the B.C. government quietly doubled residential-tenancy-dispute fees—a move that further tips the residential-tenancy system in favour of landlords.

We believe there is a great deal of merit in a speculation tax. Hey, wait a minute. That sounds like the policy idea OneCity first proposed during the 2014 Vancouver municipal election. In fact, it is—only Vision’s proposal deflects municipal responsibility for addressing speculation. They have proposed a provincial speculation tax whereas in 2014, OneCity proposed to implement That Flipping Levy at the municipal level, with the City of Vancouver taking the revenue and creating new living spaces for low- and middle-income households.

We’re flattered Vision Vancouver is putting forward the affordable housing solutions we proposed back in 2014. But, unfortunately, their proposals fall short because they cede responsibility for a municipal role in protecting and creating affordable housing, leaving the success of such a plan entirely in the hands of the province.

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Addressing the Affordability Crisis: Calling on City Council and the Mayor to Act

Photo by Caelie Frampton | Wikimedia Creative Commons

Photo by Caelie Frampton | Wikimedia Creative Commons

Just over a year has passed since City Council and the Mayor were sworn into office, and in that year, the housing affordability crisis has only gotten worse. Or so at least we can speculate, in the absence of much data. What we do know, is In Grandview-Woodlands, for instance, housing prices have risen by 30%. While Council is patting themselves on the back and calling  a new rental development “affordable”, the price of 1bedrooms are far from modest - starting at $1300  a month. BC Housing is no longer collecting data on the number of people who are turned away from shelters, which further denies us valuable information on the state of the ongoing homelessness crisis. Almost a quarter of Vancouver renters spend more than half their incomes on rent, and the vacancy rate sits at below one percent. Social housing waitlists are years long, and co-ops are anxiously waiting for confirmation that their operating agreements will be renewed under the newly elected federal government. Ordinary working Vancouverites who need to find a new home, especially families with kids, are faced with a difficult and desperate search. It’s enough to make a family consider leaving town, like many already have. But what if your job, family, and support systems are here? What if you consider Vancouver home? What if you consider this beautiful, beloved city a place you’d like to be for the long haul?

We at OneCity believe that a strong Vancouver - a diverse, vibrant, and welcoming Vancouver - starts with affordability. People from all backgrounds should be able to feel like they can pay the rent and build relationships in their communities. We also believe that government intervention is the best way to achieve affordability in Vancouver. Here are some of our ideas:

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