VANCOUVER – An energized and invigorated Vision Vancouver will begin an immediate push to end street homelessness by 2015 and pursue the Greenest City Action Plan now that the civic election is over.
Mayor Gregor Robertson’s powerhouse city council and Vision-dominated park board and school board won’t be sworn in until Dec. 6. But even before Vision’s packed post-election party at the tony Robsonstrasse restaurant Cincin had begun, party officials said Robertson will push ahead quickly.
One of the first orders of business is to open more homeless shelters this winter. Vision will also try to improve relations with the city’s 20-plus neighbourhoods, in particular the West End, Marpole and Grandview-Woodlands. And it wants to put meat on the bones of the housing affordability program approved in principle last summer.
“We definitely want to focus on community engagement, working with neighbourhoods. The city is growing, we’ve got a lot of pressure to grow and develop. Our economy is strong and we have to do that very carefully and thoughtfully working with our neighbourhoods,” Robertson told reporters following his acceptance speech Saturday night.
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Robertson’s Vision won all seven seats it contested on council, along with the majority on park and school board, with most candidates topping the polls.
But it faces increased pressure from the Non-Partisan Association, with one-time councillor Elizabeth Ball and communications specialist George Affleck winning seats. Adriane Carr, the Green candidate, also won a seat on council.
Paddy Smith, a Simon Fraser University political science expert, said Sunday that Robertson clearly has cemented Vision as centrist party and voters want him to pursue his promises of housing affordability and ending homelessness.
But he also said the increased presence of the NPA, and the election of Carr should tell the mayor to be careful.
“Proceed with caution is not the right term. Deliberate is more like it. Proceed deliberately, but not with the pedal to the metal,” Smith said.
Robertson told supporters Saturday night a renewed Vision majority would pave the way for great things for Vancouver.
“We have a very challenging agenda ahead of us. Our friends and our neighbours have given us an ambitious mandate to make our city better, greener, more compassionate, fair and more livable for everyone,” he said.
“You have sent a very clear message here in Vancouver that goes well beyond our borders, that we can think big and we can accomplish great things in Vancouver,”
The mayor expects to quickly act on elements of the housing affordability program council accepted in July, which formed a large part of the party’s campaign plan during the election. Elements include:
• Finding $42 million in land and capital grants to create more than 38,000 new affordable homes over the next decade, including 7,900 supportive and social housing units, 11,000 market rental units and 20,000 new condo and “ownership” units by 2021.
• Creating a “rent bank” to help tenants facing eviction for not paying their rent. The plan already has seed funding from philanthropist businessman Frank Giustra.
• Creating long-term leases for city-owned land, and putting limits on the profits developers can make when rezoning land.
• Creating new methods for affordable ownership in cooperative housing.
Vision Coun. Kerry Jang, who came second in the polls behind Raymond Louie, said council will likely move quickly on those initiatives.
But before then, he expects council’s most immediate priorities will be more homeless shelters and a new relationship with neighbourhoods.
“We do need more lower-barrier shelters for this winter. Certainly downtown north and south are primary areas. We know there is a large group of youths who won’t come in without them,” he said.
Ball said she supports opening new temporary shelters if that’s the only way to protect homeless people in an emergency. But she said the city needs to build better relations with the federal government to bring it back as a partner in building more social housing.
The province may be on board in helping to finance housing on 14 sites the city has made available for that purpose, but without federal support the longer-term goal of housing the poor will remain difficult, she said.
“They [Vision] haven’t been able to get the feds on board. They need to do that,” she said.
Jang said Vision also wants to move quickly to fix a “flawed” neighbourhood consultation process.
The city’s method for updating its official community plans has become so bogged down it would take 60 years to renew them all, he said. That delay has led to frustration in many communities that are under considerable development pressure.
Last year, Robertson ran into severe opposition from some people in the West End after he sought to create a “mayor’s advisory council” at the same time the city was pushing ahead with its controversial Short Term Incentives for Rental plan.
That program offers incentives and cuts in costs to developers who dedicate a portion of their condos as long-term market rentals. The debate over the ad hoc committee led to Robertson’s controversial off-mike reference to speakers as “f—–’ NPA hacks.”
In an interview before the election, Robertson said that event showed him the city needs to find a better way to deal with changing neighbourhoods.
“Certainly working deeply with neighbourhoods and doing a better planning and consultative process is our main goal,” Jang said.
“Over the last term, we continued more or less with standard city process. We went along with how it was done in the past but seeing the flaws in that basic system really stood out for us.”