Photo: Shawn Nystrand/Flickr
Kennedy Stewart recently won his bid to become the first independent mayor of Vancouver since the 1980s in an election the city’s housing-affordability crisis loomed large over.
Stewart, a former Burnaby MP who was a member of the New Democratic caucus in the House of Commons, put forward an ambitious housing platform that, if implemented, would have major implications for the city.
His platform included a commitment to build 25,000 non-profit rental units and 35,000 condos, townhomes and coach houses over a decade. Stewart, who also previously worked for Vancouver’s planning department, vowed to hire more planning staff to help streamline the development-application process, protect existing co-op housing, and allow duplexes across the city.
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The messaging clearly resonated with voters. But Stewart might not have an easy go at making his platform a reality, suggests analyst Andy Yan, whose research on the city’s housing market is widely cited.
“He certainly provided a very aggressive platform in terms of housing units, but I think the issue is actually how are you going to deliver it?” Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, tells Livabl.
Yan notes that four different parties are represented on Vancouver’s new 10-member council, with five councillors affiliated with the NPA, a trio of Green Party politicians, and lone representatives of COPE and OneCity each.
“You are going to see the issue of how do you span through four platforms of varying interest and importance in the realm of housing,” Yan explains. “All these parties ahd housing concerns, but I think as mayor his challenge is going to be building a bridge across the platforms because we don’t have an executive system,” he continues.
Yan also notes that Stewart’s housing platform relies on other levels of government. In particular, the mayor-elect’s platform outlined plans to work with the federal and provincial governments to secure funding for housing and change tax rules to encourage the construction of purpose-built rentals.
“It’s the role of senior-level government that really defines what he can deliver in non-market housing,” says Yan. Similarly, the target of 35,000 private-market units depends on what builders can actually construct, he adds.
Stewart’s success doesn’t solely depend on the number of homes that are constructed, says Stuart Smith, a board member of the non-partisan advocacy group Abundant Housing Vancouver.
“It all sounds great, but whether it’s successful or not will really depend on where” the homes are built, he tells Livabl.
“What’s really key is are we willing to put those homes in historically low-density areas,” he says.
Whatever the success of the plan, Stewart’s victory signals frustration among the voting public in terms of the city’s affordability, suggests realtor Steve Saretsky, founder of Vancity Condo Guide.
“I think that kind of just goes to show the sentiment for most people is that people are pretty fed up with the current housing situation, so they’re voicing that with their votes,” he tells Livabl. “I’m a little bit concerned in terms of how much he’ll actually get done,” he adds.
Saretsky says of the plan that “a little bit of it is a stretch.” However, he adds, “I think that kind of goes with any politician.”