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.

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