Stop BC Housing Privatizations

OCOP has signed on to a letter sent by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods to BC Minister Rich Coleman regarding the proposed privatization — and potential redevelopment — of BC Housing supportive housing projects in Vancouver.  The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Minister Coleman,

RE: Neighbourhood Engagement in Planning and Development

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods is a consortium of 25 Vancouver Residents’ Associations representing residents across the city. As a coalition, our purpose is to ensure that planning and development in our neighbourhoods happens within specific guidelines that focus on meaningful consultation, public engagement and collaborative planning.

We are writing to express serious concern with your proposed plan to offer significant public lands and housing throughout the City of Vancouver for sale and potential redevelopment without any prior discussion with impacted neighbourhoods. There is a tendering process currently underway for the first two such properties. Therefore our concerns are immediate and urgent.

It is our position that there is no need for haste in selling off BC Housing operated land. On the contrary, there are many reasons to undertake a thorough collaborative planning process with residents and the communities in question, with a focus on local preferences for land ownership and development. We believe that this must happen prior to any decision any one of BC Housing’s holdings.

We are alarmed by the speed of this drastic change in policy. While it is understandable that nonprofit housing societies would want to purchase rather than lease the lands on which they operate, it is unclear whether or how the public, or the neighbourhoods, or indeed residents of the housing will benefit from such a change in ownership.

Local input is critical to ensure that these properties continue to meet their goals. As such, any plans for use which will bind BC Housing’s ability to deliver services must, in our view, incorporate such input. The tender must be halted to ensure the future viability of these properties.

On behalf of the many Vancouver residents we represent we ask that you terminate the current tender, and suspend the policy to allow for a full and open public discussion of the merits and efficacy of undertaking such a change. As taxpayers and residents we share ownership of the properties in question which your government manages on our behalf. We wish to have sufficient time and information to allow for fulsome consultation and collaboration on the future of these public lands.

The Coalition’s Statement of Principles and Goals outlines more completely what collaborative planning entails. We attach a copy for your reference.

We need to keep these lands in public ownership or – even better — find some creative way to transform this into a resident-owned and managed situation.

Besides that, there was no consultation in this case with the residents or Ray-Cam which currently helps manage the properties. Residents of Grandview need to be particularly concerned because McLean Park will no doubt be the next target.  This needs to be stopped.

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Scrap GW Plan Say Candidates!

Mayoral candidates KIrk LaPointe (NPA) and Meena Wong (COPE) have called for the scrapping of the current Grandview-Woodland Community Plan process.  They were joined in this call by Council candidates Adriane Carr (Greens), Glen Chernen (Cedar Party) and RJ Aquino (OneCity).

At an all-party election Town Hall meeting last night , put on by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods and attended by an enthusiastic full-house crowd of almost 400 residents, the candidates were asked whether, if elected, they would replace the current process with one that followed the Coalition’s Principles & Goals.  All the candidates that were asked the question agreed.

The NPA’s Kirk LaPointe noted that the level of contention in the neighbourhood showed there was clearly something wrong with the current Plan, while OneCity’s J.J. Aquino agreed that using the Coalition’s Principles as a blueprint for a new process was the way to move forward.

Adriane Carr, leader of the Green Party reminded the audience there had been no consultation of any kind regarding the high-rise towers that were proposed for Grandview, and she agreed that the Citizens’ Assembly was set up to sideline the process.

The Cedar Party also agreed the present Plan need to be replaced by one matching the Principles. Glen Chernen noted he was sad for the people who have joined and put their hopes in the designed-to-fail Citizens’ Assembly.

Vision’s Andrea Reimer was not asked the question though, in the recent past, she has been a fervent supporter of the Plan as currently established.

For those of us who have fought against the details of the GW Plan process for so long, this was a night of confirmation and hope. Confirmation that we are not alone in our distress with the Plan; and hope that something better could be achieved.

Another Slap In The Face For Grandview

Since it began in 2012, the Grandview Woodland Community Plan has been been one community engagement disaster after another. And now we have yet another one.

As part of the training/indoctrination of the appoointed members of the Citizens’ Assembly, they are being offered heritage walking tours of each of the neighbourhood’s seven sub-areas. That is a great idea; Grandview is famous for its fine heritage architecture and for still being, as Bruce Macdonald has coined it, an Edwardian village.

Moreover, Grandview has the only long-established and extremely active Heritage Group in the entire City. It is an organization that was recognized by the City last year and won Vancouver’s Heritage Advocacy Award just last year. The commendation for the award noted that GHG has “a successful community-based education and awareness program.” 

The GHG has, as active members, three of the City’s finest and most recognized heritage tour guides — Michael Kluckner, Bruce Macdonald, and Maurice Guibord — who between them have conducted scores, perhaps hundreds, of popular educational tours; and all of them live in Grandview-Woodland. But did the Citizens’ Assembly staff choose any of these expert and appropriate local resources?  No they did’nt.  They went outside the neighbourhood to source these tours.

They completely ignored the Grandview Heritage Group (no contact or discussion was ever offered to them) and they completely ignored the local heritage tour experts.   They hired another expert to handle the tours; an expert that we all recognize as one of the City’s finest historians and tour guide. The skills of John Aitken are not in question in any way.  What is in question is the deliberate choice to ignore local resources and expertise.

After all the community engagement problems that have plagued the GW Plan, and just after the Assembly held a thoroughly unrepresentative housing forum followed by a less than adequate speed-dating event with local organizations, and as Assembly members begin to leave the troubled process, it would have been simple common sense for the City and its consultants to avoid yet another PR problem.  Especially as the Chair, Rachel Magnusson, wrote to me that “drawing on local talent and knowledge is certainly a good thing.”  Fine words not backed up by action.

I have been in correspondence with Ms. Magnusson in an attempt to change her mind on this particular issue, but she has refused, suggesting only that GHG could put on a superfluous eighth tour.  Do we really want to put the already-stretched Assembly members to what could only be a repeat of material already covered.

The company being paid $150,000 of our tax dollars to manage the Citizens’ Assembly was hired for their “expertise” in community engagement.  Frankly, if their expertise was that good they would have recognized the value (both political and educational) of using GHG/local resources to handle these tours.  They didn’t, and we can only assume this was a deliberate slap in the face to Grandview.

Society Act of BC: Protest Proposed Changes

OCOP, through its membership in the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, has joined its voice with a multitude of other organizations to protest proposed changes to the Society Act of BC.

The BC Society Act is the governing legislation for many of the non-profit and community organizations that do so much to maintain civility and honesty and transparency to our lives.  Under the proposed changes, corporations (developers, say, or pipelines or mining companies) would be given the right to sue such organizations in court, claiming they were not acting “in the public interest” (this latter term to be defined by the judge at trial).  The organizations, generally volunteers with little or no resources like OCOP, would be forced to expend all their time and energies on legal defence against these SLAPP suits.

The Coalition’s letter can be found here.

News & Backgrounders: October 12

These are a few of the articles that piqued our interest over the last few days.  Note that these are updated to the Resources Page.

Community Plan:

Vancouver Planning:

Lessons From:

Tools:

Voter Suppression In East Vancouver?

OCOP has been actively involved in the exposure of what Garth Mullins has called the creation of a “democracy desert” in East Vancouver.

The issue is the siting of the advance polling stations for the municipal election in November.  There are no polling stations in the Downtown Eastside, Strathcona, Grandview, Hastings Sunrise, and most of Mount Pleasant creating the desert.

Voting
Map from CityHallWatch

In larger terms, there are five polling stations west of Main Street, two to the east, and one, on Main Street, on the border between east and west. Moreover, the 4km radius circles around both of the stations east of Main include wide swathes of Burnaby.

More intimately, the map requires the least able in our city — the low-and-no-income folks, the mentally challenged, the seniors — get to be the ones who have to travel by bus or walk long distances to exercise their constitutional rights.  This is just a mess.

DTES Votes, an organization working to register voters in the DTES, held a press conference on Thursday morning.  Garth spoke for OCOP.  The meeting got good coverage in the Straight and the Courier.  Further coverage here. 

By the end of the week, most political leaders had written to the Electoral Officer suggesting more polls.  Hopefully she will come back to work on Tuesday and get on with closing these gaping democracy gaps,

OCOP’s 12 Point Program

As part of our attendance at the Citizens’ Assembly, we handed out written material.  The summary document is shown below, with links to other parts of the material.

———————

The Our Community, Our Plan (OCOP) group of Grandview-Woodland residents was formed last year in response to the disastrous first attempt at a Community Plan contained in the document known as “Emerging Directions”.

Many of the members of OCOP have been closely involved with the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan process since it began in 2012, and have been involved in prolonged discussions with the City and its planning department. OCOP is a member of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods formed by twenty-four community associations from across the City, created specifically to improve the planning and development process.

OCOP believes that the entire GW Plan process has been faulty since its inception and that the Community Assembly portion of this process is equally flawed. Our belief is that GW has become a wonderfully diverse and popular neighbourhood under the existing Community Plan, and the neighbourhood should be allowed to continue evolving at its own pace and as desired by residents.

That being said, here we are, and we hope to persuade you that there IS a better way.

This package includes:

  • The Twelve Points that represent important views expressed during OCOP’s deliberations (2 pages);
  • One-pager lead in to …
  • Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods Principles & Goals for a more respectful relationship between the City and the neighbourhoods (5 pages)
  • Flyer for Development debate on 15th October

We suggest that the All-Party debate on development and community engagement on 15th October will be a useful learning exercise for all CA members.

We urge you to stay in touch with OCOP through its website and please feel free to join us at our Tuesday evening meetings at Britannia.

The Citizens’ Assembly Starts Work

On Saturday 4th October, the Citizens’ Assembly portion of the Grandview Community Plan held the first of what might be just a few public sessions — a Panel on Housing Perspectives.  That same afternoon, in a closed session, a dozen groups were allowed to make 12-minute presentations (including Q&A) to a small number of Citizen Assembly members. OCOP was one of the groups.  Jak King reported on these meetings:

It was an interesting day, and further evidence, if more were needed, that this is someone’s experiment , we are the guinea pigs (with no safety net other than the election this November), and that its results could cost GW its future as an effective and livable community.

About 25-30 non-CA types attended the meeting, including mayoral candidate Bob Kasting. After being instructed by the CA Chair that we were not allowed to take photographs or video, the day began with the first public session: a 90-minute panel on Housing Perspectives.

I had written earlier about the skewed nature of the panel’s industry-based perspectives.  Apparently, after some similar complaints, the CA management at the last minute added panelists who could talk about co-op housing and low-income options.  However, the panel still had no-one who was a renter, an owner-occupier, or co-op member who was not attached to the housing industry.  Thus, the persepctives given were all from the housing industry view.

Speakers were: Abi Bond, director of housing for City of Vancouver; James Roy, senior policy analyst at BC Non-Profit Housing Association; James Evans, a local developer; Thom Armstrong, ED of the Co-op Housing Federation of BC; and Nick Sully, a principal with Shape Architecture.

Did we learn anything that was genuinely relevant to the GW Community Plan?  Perhaps, but most of the talks concerned much broader issues, including many that are outside municipal government.

  • Abi Bond talked in general terms about City policies toward “affordable” housing. She said — against all other evidence — that City policy considers 30% of income as the upper limit on “affordable” (Rental100 rents, far above this level, are the reality). She also said the City had $125 million set aside in 2015-2020 for “affordable” housing, though it was not clear whether this was for the City to actually build at that level.
  • Thom Armstrong and James Roy spoike in more generral terms about the difficulties being experienced in raising finance for low income housing of all kinds. Of particular concern is the Federal withdrawl from all housing programs, including those for co-ops.
  • Nick Sully gave a short illustrated talk on the housing pods hios company has created in Strathcona and elsewhere. This was to illustrate the alternative types of development that we might use here.
  • James Evans, developer of the Jeffs Resident development in GW, examined the difficulties under the current system of dealing with major renovation and retention of the heritage buildings that are such a feature of GW.

Because of timing problems, very few questions were asked of the panel, and all but one of those were limited to CA members.

When the session was over, I was able to speak with many in the audience, both CA members and others.  There seemed to be a sense of disappointment in the presentations, some even talking of a condescending tone.  It was also clear that the CA members were already swamped with the information streams coming at them.  It was about to get worse.

After a very decent lunch (unfortunately organized and pushing us even later than we were before) we moved on to the one and only time a number of local groups would have to present to the CA.  I had earlier described this process as speed-dating but in fact this was speed-dating, with multiple partners at the same time, in what might as well have been a tin shack in the middle of a rainstorm — the ambient noise level was high enough to make it very difficult to hear and talk.

The set-up had a dozen local associations, including GWAC and OCOP, on groups of chairs around the hall.  Every twelve minutes, a group of CA members, three to five at a time, arrived at the OCOP station, and one had a few minutes only to shout out, as quickly as possible, the points one wanted to get across.  That usually left about five minutes for questions and dialogue and, just as one got into a good rapport with a group, the Chair loudspeakered that the CA members had to move onto the next group. This happened four times. It was exhausting for us, and I have little idea how valuable it could have been for the CA members.

It was, I agree, a good opportunity to tell how much we disliked the process and what we might do to improve it; but even then we only got to talk with sixteen CA members.  For the rest, we have to hope they will actually read the materials that were emailed to each member.  And that leads me to some hope.

First, I have to say that I was astinished at how few of the CA members had any idea about the process that went on from the fall of 2012 and ended in September 2013.  They had interest, but no background in the struggle. That being said, I was glad to hear so many of them tell me they knew they were being fed a line from the City and they were determined to make up their own minds.  Hopefully, then, the OCOP materials will help them see through more of the charade, and to show that a more efficient process is available.

Another sign of hope is that 48 CA members, 25-30 other residents, and a dozen or more City folks were willing to give up a very pleasant fall Saturday to do their civic duty by participating in a process, flawed though it may be, that is vital to the future of the neighbourhood we all love and cherish.

The next meeting of the Assembly (members only) is not until the end of November.  The next public meeting?  Not sure.