Looking Forward With Hope

This week, the OneCity community was humbled by and grateful for the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We recognize the bravery and perseverance of residential school survivors and their families for sharing their stories. We also recognize that the City of Vancouver sits on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. We confirm our commitment to the process of reconciliation with the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people of Canada, and stand in solidarity with Indigenous people in Canada.

In dealing with the intergenerational legacy of residential schools, many Aboriginal people are disproportionately affected by the same problems in our city that OneCity works to mitigate: unaffordability, limited access to transit and childcare, lack of safety in public spaces, and the difficulty of securing work that pays a living wage. OneCity supports the Commission’s call to action and its 94 recommendations. Many of these recommendations speak to our values as a political organization: strengthening the education system for Aboriginal students, ensuring that all young people learn about the history of Indigenous people in Canada, and improving living conditions for all. We look forward to learning from the entire report, which will be released in September 2015.

As a community, we are strongest when we can learn from and listen to one another. We acknowledge our country’s shameful past, the cultural genocide that was perpetuated, and we look forward with hope to building meaningful reconciliation with this country’s Indigenous communities.


Vancouver Needs a Real Speculation Tax

RJ Aquino and Christine Boyle's opinion piece as published by the Georgia Straight:


It looks as if, eight months later, Mayor Gregor Robertson is borrowing a plank from the OneCity platform in last November’s election. Unfortunately, a few nebulous statements don’t equal a practical, achievable plan.

Robertson, together with mega condo-marketer Bob Rennie, are now beginning to talk about a “speculation tax” on house sales, though they think somebody else should do the taxing, and they’re pretty vague about how the proceeds would be used. Rennie, a top Vision Vancouver supporter, is of course also a major donor to the B.C. Liberals and Christy Clark, who recently came out against intervening in foreign investment—because efforts to slow down investor purchases might bring housing costs down.

Let’s compare the two proposals (though it’s a bit of an exaggeration to call the Rennie/Robertson musings a proposal).

On October 9, 2014, we proposed a flipping levy that would work like this:

The Vancouver Flipping Levy will be applied only to speculative profit, the difference between the initial purchase price and the resale price. It will encourage long-term home ownership and spending in the local economy by decreasing over time, disappearing after the fifth year, and by exempting the cost of renovations, green retrofits and other capital improvements…

OneCity’s proposed Flipping Levy will be 50 per cent of speculative profit in year one; 35 per cent in years two and three; and 20 per cent in years four and five…

The revenue generated by the Flipping Levy will be transferred to the Vancouver Housing Authority to create new living spaces for low- and middle-income people throughout the city.

Pretty clear.

Robertson says it’s the B.C. government which should take responsibility for such a move. Fat chance. Rennie suggests that the revenue generated (though he doesn’t put forward a plan for how to calculate the tax and the revenue or how much would be collected) would be used for small grants to first-time buyers. Would a $5,000 grant make it more possible for any middle or low-income family to buy a home in Vancouver? Of course not.

Our plan is straightforward and achievable. Significantly, it calls for revenues to be used to create rent-geared-to-income units. That’s real affordability for the families, young people, and seniors who so desperately need places to live in Vancouver.

City council continues to assert that their policies are somehow making Vancouver housing more affordable. But their solutions—including waiving development cost levies, which pay for community centres, social housing, parks, and childcare, for rentals that cost up to $1,366 per month for studio apartments—are driving low- and moderate-income residents out of the city. Vancouver needs bold solutions to the affordability crisis and so far we haven’t seen any.

RJ Aquino and Christine Boyle are founding members of OneCity Vancouver and active as community organizers. Both are young parents and they are committed to keeping Vancouver livable, affordable, and sustainable for their own families and the city's residents for generations to come.


No Room For Vacant Dwellings

RJ Aquino's opinion piece as published by the Georgia Straight:
Out-of-control housing costs, chronic transit issues and far too many marginalized communities and voices: For all its natural beauty and advantages, Vancouver has become a stressful place to live, work and take care of your family.
city.jpgDespite the near-zero vacancy rate in Vancouver, up to one quarter of dwelling units are unoccupied. There are many reasons why a home may be empty: some are vacation units, others are second homes, and others are properties awaiting permitting for redevelopment; some are speculative investment properties, condos and houses that are thought of as commodities, rather than a social good.

It doesn’t matter where the owners come from: some speculative investors are Vancouver residents, while others are buyers from other parts of Canada and around the world. What matters is the effect on our city, and what we choose to do about it.

 No matter the reasons for all these empty dwellings, our housing market and neighbourhoods are distorted. Housing is unaffordable for residents who cannot live near jobs and amenities. It also has a negative impact on the local economy, as businesses suffer in neighbourhoods that should be much more vibrant. Rather than streets populated with children playing, people out gardening, and families and friends out in their communities, we have - in some neighbourhoods - empty streets.

 City Council is reportedly looking to hire a consultant to investigate how many homes are empty, and why. It’s very late, but a necessary step: the true test of Council will be what they do with the data.

We believe that the City should establish an Empty Dwelling Levy that would double the effective property tax rate to disincentivize holding empty dwellings. Revenue generated from the Empty Dwelling Levy will be transferred to the Vancouver Housing Authority to develop new affordable housing. Similar policies exist or are being developed in cities throughout the world.

Critics will claim that it’s too difficult to assess whether a home is empty, and that there are sometimes good reasons for a home to be empty. Of course it isn’t simple, but this is a challenge that we need to undertake. Too much is at stake: the vibrancy and livability of our city means that working people, families, seniors, and marginalized people need places to live that they can afford.

There may be thousands of units already here, just waiting. We’d like them to be occupied.


Investing in all our kids: Together, let`s strengthen our public schools

Once again, the Vancouver school Board faces an unwelcome rite of spring: a budget shortfall of over 8.5 million dollars. For well over a decade, BC’s school boards have struggled to comply with ever shrinking provincial government funding. So the VSB, like the rest of the province’s school boards, will be forced to make cuts. Kids, staff and programs will suffer. Again. 


Curiously, more money for education seems to be available. The 2015 provincial budget added more funding to the private school pot, and also appointed a private education advocate.  Along with Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Education Peter Fassbender is increasingly a supporter of private education. Although cuts to education are presented as fiscally responsible and one part of the pursuit of a balanced budget, the underfunding of education appears to be ideological.   

Despite the government’s advances towards privatization, most British Columbians, and Vancouverites, believe that excellent public education is a priority and are fighting to preserve it. As the VSB’s budget shrinks, the pressure on Vancouver Parent Advisory Committees, which now act almost exclusively as fundraising bodies, increases.  Books, breakfasts, computers, theatre and gym equipment, playgrounds, musical instruments, the list goes on. Corporations, interested in advertising tools and consumer recruitment, donate these resources to needy schools; even then, over 40 schools in Vancouver are at high risk of collapsing in an earthquake, kids are coming to school hungry, and programs like music, physical education, special education, art, and French are stripped. 

All this because the province refuses to pay. School Board Chair Christopher Richardson promised to advocate for more provincial funding while increasing fundraising and major donations, but kids should not have to rely either on the kindness of strangers or the donations of big corporations to stock their public schools. We believe that any action that promotes or encourages private charity will undermine any advocacy for more provincial funding. What’s more, our most needy children need justice, not the stigma, inconsistency and potential humiliation of having to accept charity. 

Ceasing the province’s attempts to privatize the system, and securing full and stable provincial funding for public schools and a provincial poverty reduction plan are necessities. At this point, they are also long-term goals.  How might they be achieved?

Education activists, parents and families need to build a movement to bring about changes to save, and strengthen, the public school system. We can start by getting involved in our children’s school PACs, joining the fundraising conversation (see the recent Tyee online article), attending VSB public meetings, writing letters and emails, joining the advocacy groups FACE (Families Against Cuts in Education) and PPEN (Protect Public Education Now), both active on Facebook, and of course, we invite you to join in the OneCity discussion to help us define our education work.


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