In September I attended the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities in Vancouver.
Monday’s offering of study sessions included the latest developments in renewable energy and electric vehicles, agriculture, cannabis legalization, funding for climate change, green innovation and housing affordability.
I attended the session on affordable housing, which brought together presenters from multiple sectors and attempted to shed light on the root causes and possible solutions to the rising cost of housing. There was consensus that the rising cost of homes in the Lower Mainland was due to a housing bubble in China. Between 2005 and 2013, average house prices across China more than tripled; in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, this figure rose to eight to ten times.
Vancouver has joined London, Manhattan, and Singapore as one of the locations that investors are buying real estate. This was no surprise, however what was interesting was the conclusion that building more housing units and increasing supply would not weaken demand. The rest of BC is experiencing rising home prices as the effect of this investing and rising prices ripple out to the rest of BC. The provincial and federal governments have allowed investors free rein, allowing rising house prices beyond the reach of regular working people.
In Vancouver and elsewhere there is a worker shortage because of the lack of affordable housing. One idea being offered as a solution is to have an investor tax on homes not occupied by the owner or tax non-Canadian investors. The average house price in West Vancouver is 3.1 million.
We heard from Premier Horgan and his ministers that poverty, homelessness, mental health, and the overdose crisis were top priorities. We certainly are experiencing the results of years of inadequate funding to address these issues. It may take years to correct.
Municipalities across the province are reporting that police and hospital resources are struggling to do their jobs as they are inundated by people presenting with mental health, addiction and poverty related emergencies. The New Democrat and Green MLAs and ministers were accessible and receptive.
Along with the mayor and various councillors I attended meetings with the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction to encourage funding for employment, skills development, mental health and addiction resources we updated him about our community Street Culture Collaborative.
We met with the Minister of Advanced Education to advocate for Nelson’s dire need for student housing. We meet with Finance Minister Carol James and made an appeal for tax reform to address our challenging housing and rental market. We also met with the Solicitor General to request he take into consideration the financial impact on our area with regards to the direction and framework for legalizing cannabis. He did indicate he understood the economic importance of cannabis cultivation to the Kootenays. We also updated him about our Restorative Justice Program and advocated for ongoing funding consideration.
During the week I also attended sessions around: moving toward zero waste in BC, uncivil civil engagement, new approaches to the overdose crisis, wild fire prevention and mitigation, short-term rentals, and the Municipal Insurance Association.
Between meetings and presentations there are many resolutions brought to the floor to be discussed and voted on. A sampling of resolutions include: election financing, taxation to discourage housing speculation (flipping), expedite accident clearing, emergency recovery cost, restorative justice training, tax on vacant or derelict residential property, work safe regulations, task force for watershed management, changing the date of family day, ambulance service wages, protecting local water ways and fish species.
There is also a two day trade show where we can meet with service and supply providers to see the latest technology and products to make running a municipality more efficient.
It was a full week, along with the scheduled sessions and meetings there were opportunities to meet with fellow councillors to compare notes and ask about new projects and initiatives that are happening in similar sized communities.
As well I attended an evening program that included a screening of Us and Them, a film that digs into the root cause of addiction and homelessness. Dr. Gabor Mate, Kishone Roy (the CEO of BC Non-Profit Housing) and Lisa Helps (Mayor of Victoria) participated in a post screening discussion that was very interesting and informative. The main point of consensus was that while we need to help those people struggling with addiction and homelessness, our attention must be on the care and nurturing of our children so they don’t become the next generation of homeless or addicted people.
As always please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions.