2 letters to City Council for May 26 & 27: ‘Social housing’ definition, development and permit processes

The following letters were sent to Vancouver Mayor and Councillors pertaining to agenda topics for meetings this week of May 25, 2020 at City Hall. Please see the list at top, with actual text of the letters further below.

  1. Motion B.4 (May 26): Defining Social Housing Consistently and Transparently in the City of Vancouver
  2. Agenda Item 1 (May 27). Development and Permit Process Improvements

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LETTER 1

Re: Motion B.4: Defining Social Housing Consistently and Transparently in the City of Vancouver
May 26 Motion B.4: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200526/documents/motionb4.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) supports this Motion.

This proposal is an important first step to redress the current situation, which misrepresents the actual social housing being developed by including primarily market rental housing within the designation. As a result, benefits such as CAC and DCL waivers are awarded where they are not deserved, while the actual need for social and affordable housing remains largely unmet.

Further, the City’s definition of social housing is completely out of step with all other levels of government, leading to confusion in the minds of the public and potential lack of coordination with government partners.

There is a clear need to have more actual social housing developed for lower income and homeless people in Vancouver. We urge Council to support this Motion as a needed first step to more fully addressing this issue. Continue reading

4 letters to City Council for May 12: Cambie Corridor, rental housing, development applications, Housing Vancouver Strategy

The following letters were sent to Vancouver Mayor and Councillors pertaining to agenda topics for meetings this week of May 11, 2020 at City Hall. Please see the list at top, with actual text of the letters further below.

  1. Motion B.3 (May 12) – Working for More Housing Affordability in the Cambie Corridor
  2. Motion B.4 – Rescinding Motion to Include C-2 Zones in Rental Housing Stock Official Development Plan
  3. Motion B.6 – Improving the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Development Application Processes
  4. Motion B.7 – Recalibrating the Housing Vancouver Strategy post COVID-19

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LETTER 1

Re: Motion B.3- Working for More Housing Affordability in the Cambie Corridor
May 12 Council Item B.3: https://council.vancouver.ca/documents/b3.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) supports this Motion. It is very clear, as the Motion states, that in the Cambie Corridor, the development of new units that are built, under construction, approved or under review, will not meet the Cambie Corridor Plan’s goals for affordability. And this reflects the problem which exists in Vancouver, that of housing affordability for people of lower incomes, and the need to solve that problem.

The City needs to address the shortcomings of the Cambie Corridor Plan, and move to increase the percentage of ‘social housing’ called for in the Plan.

The core problem is that under the City’s current definition of social housing, the majority of units provided are not actually affordable. Prior to 2014, the City defined ‘social housing’ as: “…residential units, purchased by a government or a non-profit housing group using available government funding, for housing senior citizens, handicapped persons or individuals or families of low income”. The current definition defines it as any “rental housing where 30 per cent of the units are affordable to households with incomes below Housing Income Limits (HIL)”. Add to that the current City policy that considers any building in which 30% of its units are affordable to people with incomes below the HIL to be 100% social housing, and you find a policy that needs re-evaluating. This also produces a condition where the city is appearing to be gaining many more units of affordable housing than is actually the case. Continue reading

5 letters to City Council: Rezonings, COVID-19, SROs, Public Hearings, Climate vs Vancouver Building By-law, etc.

The following letters were sent to Vancouver Mayor and Councillors pertaining to upcoming agenda topics this week at City Hall. Please see the list at top, with actual text in order below.

  1. Referral Reports – Continued Practice of Referring Rezonings to Public Hearing
  2. Motion B.2 (April 28)- Ensuring All Vancouver Residents Can Comply With Public Health Guidance (support)
  3. Motion B.3 (April 28) – Private Single Room Occupancy Cleaning Cost Recovery (support)
  4. Motion B.4 (April 28) – Strengthening Representative Democratic Practices in Vancouver (support)
  5. Agenda Item 3 (April 29) – Climate Emergency Requirements for New Housing 3-Storeys and Under [topic relating to Character Houses] (opposed, with reasons)

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LETTER 1 – April 27, 2020

Re: Referral Reports – Continued Practice of Referring Rezonings to Public Hearing

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) opposes these continuing actions by the General Manager of Planning and Council.

CVN outlined our concerns (in our email of March 30, 2020:1124AM) that emergency powers are to be used judiciously for emergency purposes to deal with COVID-19. We further stated:

Public hearings require full public involvement and should not proceed under emergency order
unless they are truly of an emergency nature. Rezoning is not an emergency so referrals to public hearings should be suspended until restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.

We continue to believe that rezonings are not an emergency issue and note that the provincial emergency order to allow electronic meetings did not extend to Public Hearings that are covered under Section 566 of the Vancouver Charter.

And further, at present, the City has not shown itself to have the ability to conduct a Public Hearing, in this time of pandemic emergency, in any way that approaches the concern with the health and safety of the public, which is necessary, or that enables a proper form of communication between the Council, Mayor and their constituents, as required under the Vancouver Charter for Public Hearings.

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Letter to City Council: Democracy and remote Public Hearings during COVID-19 emergency

The following letter went to Vancouver City Council on April 13, 2020, regarding fundamental topics of democracy in the context of plans to shift to electronic Public Hearings.

April 13, 2020
City of Vancouver Council

Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re: Remote Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) acknowledges that Council requires emergency powers to deal with emergency issues in emergency situations. However, we strongly challenge whether most, if not all, issues requiring a public hearing are, in fact, emergency issues. And we have stated those concerns in an earlier letter (April 5/20).

What this letter addresses, for the record, are our deeper concerns around Democracy itself, and the notion of public hearings as a part of that system of governing. A simple definition of democracy: government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them or their elected representatives.

City Halls and Council chambers were created so that government business could be conducted in plain sight, before the public, transparently. Not secretly, not in back rooms, out in the open. It gives citizens the opportunity to see their government in action. It builds public trust.

Public hearings are a way for the public to express their opinion on important issues that Council is deliberating. At the best of times, this process is educational to both parties, and is useful in making important decisions. It is an important element, but not the only one, in the process of public engagement. And there is a value in its face-to-face discussions.

When contemplating changes to this part of our governing process, even for emergency situations, care must be taken to retain that transparency, that trust. What is currently being proposed will seriously challenge both the transparency and the trust. Our understanding of the current options for citizen participation in public hearings being proposed by staff, and our concerns:

1. In-person procedure at City Hall

a. Speak in Council chambers to faceless Councillors in an empty room; receive audio questions from Councillors. Mayor and Council are remote for health and safety issues. You are, in effect, risking your life to participate in this democratic process.
b. Wait to speak in the room outside of Chambers, physical distancing, and limited numbers. Or downstairs, again, physical distancing, limited numbers.
c. If too many speakers, line up outside, 2 meters apart, masked up, around the building or down the block, as necessary. Remember, while Mayor, Council, staff, and all other presenters/participants, save the City Clerk in Chambers, are firmly and comfortably ensconced at their offices or in their Dining Rooms.

2. Online connection with Mayor and Council (and other presenters/participants?)

a. An exclusionary method, as it assumes all interested parties, who do not or cannot for various reasons, face the current challenges of not self-isolating during a pandemic, are either possessing of the needed technology, or are well versed in the use of said technology.
b. Speakers are required to sign away their privacy rights in order to participate(see 3b below).
c. Staff should be showing a speaker’s presentation slides online.
d. Text of proposed amendments should be clearly shown on Council Chambers screen and online.
e. Staff has indicated they have no interest in any methods of verifying the identity or location of speakers; leaves this option open to corruption by non-citizens and outside interest groups.
f. Incredible lack of detail available for exactly how this is going to work.

3. Speaking to Council over a telephone line

a. Talk about impersonal communications.
b. The speaker must give their consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information, to be stored on servers in the United States, and which may be accessed in the U.S. or internationally. Many will be reluctant to do so.
c. No details on how this works, as there will have to be a lineup, if more than one caller; how are you notified of your turn; sitting on hold for hours (?);
d. Again, no visual connection to whom you are talking.
e. Staff has indicated they have no interest in any methods of verifying the identity or location of speakers; leaves this option open to corruption by non-citizens and outside interest groups.

General comments on these options: Continue reading

Letter to City Council: Changes to Meeting Schedules – Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency (for 14-Apr-2020 meeting)

The following letter went to Vancouver City Council on April 13, 2020 in reference to a Council meeting scheduled for April 14.

April 13, 2020
City of Vancouver Council

Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re: Changes to Meeting Schedules – Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency

April 14 Council Item 1.: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200414/documents/comm1.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) recognizes the need for emergency powers to deal effectively with the COVID-19 emergency. City Council meetings are currently being convened electronically to enable appropriate physical distancing. Options for public participation are being considered. We have stated our concerns regarding these issues in an earlier letter (April 5/20).
CVN letter April 5, 2020: https://coalitionvan.org/posts/cvn-letter-5-april-2020/

The April 14 Meeting Agenda, Item 1, Changes to 2020 Council Meetings Schedule,
proposes the first electronic Public Hearing for May 5, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the questions posed by ourselves and other citizens have yet to be answered, and public participation is highly problematic (see earlier CVN letter sent today, Apr.13), we would urge Council not to approve this change and to instead not schedule any Public Hearings until restrictions on public assembly are lifted.

Thank you,

Larry Benge, Dorothy Barkley
Co-Chairs

On behalf of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods Continue reading

Letter to Council: Electronic Council Meetings and Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency

This letter went out to Vancouver Mayor and Council on April 5, 2020, regarding Council discussions about possible significant changes to meetings and Public Hearings.

April 5, 2020

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re: Electronic Council Meetings and Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) would like to thank Council for not referring the rezoning reports to Public Hearings at the March 31, 2020 Special Council Meeting.

However, some other issues arising from that meeting are cause for our concern.

  • While we recognize the need for special powers for the City under a state of emergency, as recently provided under BC ministry order, we remain of the opinion that these should be used judiciously for emergency purposes to deal with COVID-19. Only the most urgent of business should be undertaken at this time under emergency order, not business as usual.
  • Public Hearings for rezonings do not meet the test for emergency powers and are not covered by current provisions under the BC Order M083. This deals with “Vancouver Council or body” meetings, not Public Hearings .
  • The City Manager advised Council at the meeting that staff are in discussions with the province to expand the provisions of the emergency order to include Public Hearings.
  • Council was advised that staff, without debate, would be establishing procedures for electronic Council meetings and Public Hearings, However, it is Council who has to approve the Procedure Bylaw, so it is Council who will have input into and approve any emergency procedures as well.
  • The public should also be consulted and have input into any proposed procedures for this emergency.
  • The City Manager also advised that Public Hearing referrals should continue. It was suggested that the ‘non-controversial’ rezonings would come forward to Public Hearing first and the  ‘controversial’ rezonings would come later. Exactly how and who would determine what is ‘controversial’ or not, or when the issue would come forward, was not stated. It is not appropriate to make referrals to Public Hearings at this time of crisis when the public cannot be effectively engaged.

Public hearings require full public involvement. There is no clear indication when the restrictions on public assembly will be lifted. If the restrictions remain for more than a couple of months, this can always be revisited.

This is especially important for rezonings of a controversial nature, such as the 28 storeys at the former Denny’s site, Birch and Broadway that is to be considered for referral to Public Hearing at the April 14 Council Meeting.  This should definitely not be going forward under emergency powers.

In addition to withholding non-emergency issues and Public Hearings during the COVID-19 crisis, the public notification process for development should not be disregarded.

On the City’s website there is notification that onsite signs for development will not be provided. We are alarmed that development is proceeding without proper onsite notification signs for the general public to be aware of what is proposed. The demise of the print version of the Vancouver Courier further undermines this situation.

We appreciate the challenges that arise with this crisis. However, emergency powers should be used judiciously for emergency purposes and not for the convenience of pushing through project development without proper process.

We implore Council to not delegate its powers to staff to implement emergency procedures for non-emergency business that would further weaken the democratic process.  The COVID-19 emergency powers should not be used to carry on business as usual without proper public process as required under the Vancouver Charter at a time when the public is struggling with a pandemic.

Sincerely,
Larry Benge, Dorothy Barkley
Co-Chairs

Letter to City Council: CVN offers support to City Council, raises concerns about electronic meetings, Public Hearings

The following letter went to Vancouver City Council on March 30, 2020, offering support during the COVID-19 emergency, and also pointing out concerns regarding electronic meetings and Public Hearings during this time.

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) would like you to know that we appreciate the work that you have done, are doing, and will continue to do in promoting our health and safety during this time of crisis.

We would also like you to know that we are ready to assist in any way we can, whenever and however such assistance may be needed.

We also recognize the need for special powers for the City under a state of emergency, as recently provided under BC ministry order. While these emergency powers are needed, we trust these will be used judiciously for emergency purposes to deal with COVID-19.

While the use of electronic council meetings may be required for social distancing under the current emergency, consideration should be given to the fact that without public participation as normally required under the Vancouver Charter, it is not business as usual. Only the most urgent of business should be undertaken at this time under emergency order.

Public hearings require full public involvement and should not proceed under emergency order unless they are truly of an emergency nature. Rezoning is not an emergency so referrals to public hearings should be suspended until restrictions on public gatherings are lifted. This is especially important for rezonings of a controversial nature, such as the 28 storeys at the former Denny’s site, Birch and Broadway that is currently on the March 31 Special Council Meeting agenda.

We appreciate the challenges with this crisis and thank the City for a judicious response.

Sincerely,
Larry Benge, Dorothy Barkley
Co-Chairs

CVN letter to City Council: Support for motion on “Strengthening Representative Democratic Practices in the City of Vancouver”

The following letter went to Vancouver City Council relating to a motion going before the regular council meeting on March 10, 2020.

March 8, 2020

City of Vancouver Council

Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,
RE: Motion B.8 Strengthening Representative Democratic Practices in the City of Vancouver

Motion: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200310/documents/motionb8.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) supports this Motion that directs staff to review the City’s current practices and procedures for gathering public feedback. While there are concerns and differences of opinion amongst our members on the specifics of various issues within the Motion, and a belief that certain aspects need clarification, we stand ready to aid the City staff in such work.

As the text of the Motion points out, the practices and procedures for identifying one’s location is standard practice in neighbouring municipalities, and this information is considered relevant to Council’s consideration of a matter. And the City’s LIP program mentioned includes certification and authentication procedures and processes that may serve as a model. Of equal importance is that when a staff report which goes to Council and/or appears on the City website refers to a petition, it should state the number of signatures supporting or opposing an item, and not just count the petition as a single opinion.

CVN overwhelmingly supports the intent of the motion (that staff be directed to review the process) and certain aspects (e.g. the petition clause), but also believes that certain clauses (e.g. verification) need more clarification as part of the review.

Sincerely,
Larry Benge, Dorothy Barkley
Co-Chairs

CVN letter to Council: Rezoning Application – 1956 – 1990 Stainsbury Avenue (Public Hearing, 21-Jan-2020)

The following letter went to Vancouver City Council.

January 20, 2020

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

RE: Item 3. Rezoning Application – 1956 – 1990 Stainsbury Avenue Public Hearing Jan 21,2020
https://rezoning.vancouver.ca/applications/1956-1990Stainsbury/index.htm

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) opposes this rezoning application. We are concerned that many issues have been raised by the local community group Cedar Cottage Area Neighbours (CCAN), including such as the following: Continue reading

CVN letter to Council: Simplified & Expanded Zoning & Development Regulations for Passive House Projects (21-Jan-2020))

The following letter went to Vancouver City Council.

January 21, 2020

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

RE: Referral Report 2. Simplified and Expanded Zoning and Development Regulations for Passive House Projects

Report: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200121/documents/rr2.pdf
Council Meeting Agenda Jan. 21, 2020: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200121/regu20200121ag.htm

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) requests that this report not be referred to public hearing as it has had no public consultation and would affect all residential RS, RT and RA zones across the city.

While we support the objectives of making new construction more energy efficient, this proposal seeks to allow significant increased FSR for new construction that undermines the character and heritage house incentives in RT and RS zones. The report proposes single-family houses would be eligible for a flat exclusion of 16% and duplexes eligible for an exclusion of 18%. This goes well beyond what is required to make up for extra wall thicknesses and creates a large bonus density that undermines retention incentives.

A change of this scope should have had public consultation with consideration of impacts on other city objectives of reducing demolitions of character houses prior to bringing a report for referral forward to council. Continue reading