Generation Squeeze’s Code Red Policy Statement

March 20, 2018

Generation Squeeze (GS) is an advocacy group that has been around for a couple of years, but which has come to the fore more prominently as the Vancouver municipal election approaches.

Their website describes GS as the younger generation’s version of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. Their primary focus is on the difficulties younger Canadians have in the housing market, especially in Vancouver. In 2016 they produced a research and policy document called “Code Red: Rethinking Canadian Housing Policy” which I believe still represents their policy today. I have been reading the document and the following are my comments.

The first half of the paper consists of solid research including graphs and tables illustrating the development of the affordability crisis for young Canadians seeking housing. It is a tough read and things have only gotten worse since it was written, with land values and housing costs having continued to soar over the last two years. Of particular concern is a graph showing the change over the last forty years in the time it takes an average young Vancouverite to save a 20% down payment:


For those still unclear on what the problems are for the younger generation, this will be a useful read and perhaps a necessary piece of education.  Missing from this section is any analysis of (a) the consequences of enormous foreign capital inputs to the Vancouver market; and (b) the fact that Vancouver is such a low income city which, of course, has a direct effect on affordability.

The GS paper goes on to discuss ten possible solutions, or at least routes to solutions. They are grouped into tax changes to moderate demand for housing, housing supply, and non-housing costs.

First, they call for capital gains tax to be imposed on property transactions within 24 months at a sliding scale. This is something I have been calling for but I would stretch the time and keep the rate the same.  I would impose capital gains tax on all property transactions, including “shadow flipping,” with a deduction equal to the general inflation rate for the period between sales, plus costs of genuine improvements, for at least five years.

Then they propose a home valuation tax, a wealth tax on property. Seniors would be exempt and this tax would be offset against any income tax paid in Canada so it becomes, in effect, a tax on non-residents. The theory is that any collections on this tax would be paid into a Housing Affordability Fund. GS suggests a progressive tax based on median value in the region and suggests this would encourage developers to build housing at prices lower than the media value. This appears to deal with several problems at once but, frankly, it seems way too complicated and thus open to abuse.

This wealth tax is expanded in their next point where they suggest that property wealth should be considered when deciding how much people (seniors mainly) should pay for services such as health care.  They spend a whole page justifying this, but fail to convince that this anything but blatant ageism. And, if you are going to do this, why limit it to housing wealth?

The ageism is expanded in their following point where they suggest that those under 40 should be exempt from such wealth taxes by the introduction for that age group of mortgage interest deductions. I happen to support mortgage interest deduction from income taxes; it works well in the UK and the US and many other jurisdictions to assist people get into the house purchase market. But basing it solely on age is simply discriminatory. It seems clear that they want to foster age warfare rather than, say, class warfare.

Their final two propositions in the tax category once again attack what they see as advantages given to seniors (primarily the interest charges on property tax deferrals).  They believe that these advantages should be transferred to the younger age group based on what I think is less than conclusive evidence that seniors are better able to pay than they used to be.

The next section of the GS paper deals with Supply. Like other primarily supplyist groups, GS seem to believe that zoning restrictions in SFD neighbourhoods are the main cause of our housing problems. There is no recognition that only 16% of Vancouver’s “single family detached” houses actually house only one family. Nearly all of Grandview, for example, is already zoned as duplex, and a huge percentage have additional suites (legal or otherwise) which provide a good percentage of “affordable” rentals in the area. I have suggested ways in which Grandview’s density could be doubled without much additional building, and at costs far lower than new development.

GS’s complaints that “modest-sized homes with yards are being replaced with very large single detached homes that fill entire properties” is definitely not true in my neighbourhood where “modest sized homes” with affordable suites are being replaced by unaffordable townhouses and the threat of exclusive condo towers that no young Vancouverite could possibly afford.

However, in the following proposition calling for more rental accommodation I agree with GS’s observation that the building of condos in massive numbers under Vision Vancouver has significantly and negatively affected the availability of affordable rental.  They call for “tax incentives” to persuade developers to create purpose built rentals rather than condos.  However, there is no analysis of the failure of Vision Vancouver’s Rental100 incentives to create rentals that are actually affordable.

Finally, they note the recent Federal and Provincial programs to put money into specifically low-income housing. They complain that, even with the billions being talked about, the number of such housing units will barely touch the need. However, I didn’t see any alternative suggestions from them.

One of the important failures in this document is the lack of a definition of genuine “affordability.”  This is a failure that seems to be endemic among supplyist groups, perhaps because developers don’t want to reduce their profits to achieve the affordability targets that would match Vancouver’s income levels. Without such an agreed definition, then, as famously defined by Councillor Kerry Jang,  “affordable is whatever you can afford,” which helps no one, especially the low income younger workers, and leads to giveaways to developers for building studios at $1,500 a month.

I have called Generation Squeeze a supplyist group on a number of occasions in this piece. That characterization is not immediately clear when reading Code Red. But the company they keep is illustrative. They have funding from the developers’ group, UDI, and I believe, directly from developers. Some might say, so what? But it is naive to believe that funding doesn’t influence policy — if that was not the case, there would have been no reason for the Provincial government to amend the Campaign Financing Act to rid our elections of big money.

In conclusion, the policies listed in Code Red, and the age warfare that lies behind them, are a serious disappointment after the research that goes before.



A Progressive Unity? Maybe, But ….

March 11, 2018

It was a busy day in the world of Vancouver politics, with at least three meetings — the Vancouver Greens AGM, the COPE unity conference, and the GWAC AGM — all within hours of each other, and each overlapping.  The most important, perhaps, was the COPE meeting.

Meeting downstairs at the Russian Hall, COPE invited the Vancouver Tenants Union, Team Jean, One City, the Vancouver Greens, and the Marpole Students for Modular Housing to each give 10 minute speeches about their organizations and their thoughts on a unity left position for the next municipal election.

Before the speakers began, the COPE chair was firm in noting that no decision has been made on anything approaching a unity slate, and that “left unity” is just an aspirational phrase. She quite specifically noted a separation with Jean Swanson and Team Jean. The sole purpose of the meeting, she said, was to talk and to listen, and that later COPE members would be allowed to decide which way they should go.

Derrick O’Keefe of the Vancouver Tenants’ Union kicked it off with a rousing speech. He announced they already had more than 1,000 members and that renters now had somewhere to go for legal assistance and a clear political voice.  The Union was pushing for a 4-year rent freeze, rents to be attached to suites rather than tenancies, and for a lot more social and public housing.  He closed off with a passionate call for unity to ensure that developers were no longer in power at City Hall, and to make the city a movement leader.

Jean Swanson spoke next, thanking COPE for its endorsement and support during the last by-election. She also approved the idea that the City and its structures should be used as a movement generator, and noted that a rent freeze was a centrepiece of her by-election campaign. She called for a return to door-to-door voter registration (to register as many tenants as possible), and for easier access to polling stations in the election period. She also had much to say about using the city to better embrace and further indigenous reconciliation.

One City split their time between two speakers. Christine Boyle was a founder of One City having been a longtime COPE member. She said their campaign would concentrate on renters and affordable housing, including a realistic definition of “affordable.” They supported a rent freeze and she thought Once City’s “luxury tax” was similar enough to Jean Swanson’s “mansion tax” to bring them together. They approved the idea of all public land being devoted exclusively to social housing. She aligned herself with thoughts of making the city a movement leader, and specifically suggested using the City structures to beef up the Tenants’ Union. She called for a coalition.

The other One City speaker, their co-chair Alison Atkinson insisted that the market was the problem not the solution to the housing crisis. She also reminded the meeting that the Vancouver School Board was a vital target for this election. She declared herself “scared” that NPA developers would take over control of the City. However, she said that discussion of “a combination” should hang fire until the unity discussions organized by the Vancouver District have been completed (see below).

Ishman Bhuiyan of the Marpole Students for Modular Housing announced that he was too young to vote, but showed himself a great speaker. He went through the history of the Marpole project and how the students had come tigether to help — and continue to welcome the new residents. His message to loud applause was that activist students need to be taken seriously.

Pete Fry of the Vancouver Greens arrived straight from the Greens AGM. Regular readers here will know that I am a great admirer of Pete’s but his message wasn’t I believe what we needed to hear. He made it clear the Green’s were not open to any form of coalition. However, he mentioned several times that a motion from the floor at their AGM has suggested Adriane Carr as the “consensus” mayoral candidate. On each occasion the most charitable view of this meeting’s reception to that idea would be “impassive.”  Pete warned the meeting that the developers always played divide and conquer with the progressives, and that there are massive loopholes in the election financing legislation.

The best part of the meeting was seeing half the 100+ audience under thirty. The talk of unity and supporting policies was great. But there was a disappointing lack of actual concerted action.

The dark horse in all this is of course the Vancouver District Labour Council (VDLC) which was first mentioned, in passing, in the COPE chair’s introduction and the backroom dealings of which were confirmed by One City’s Atkinson.  From what I can gather, the VDLC is actively pursuing an alliance between One City, the Greens, and the remnants of Vision Vancouver. It is hard to believe that a genuine and progressive COPE Board would be in favour of giving Vision a break, but who knows what might happen if the unions press hard enough.

One can almost smell Geoff Meggs behind all of this, and a possible Don Davies mayoral run. Depressing.

An Interesting Debate Upcoming

March 9, 2018

The next Smart City Debate, the 11th in the Urbanarium series, will take place on Wednesday 28th March, beginning at 6:30pm at UBC Robson Square, 800 Robson.  The topic ls: Building Middle Housing Without Lot Assembly:

The pervasive development culture, requiring land assembly, underground parking, presentation center marketing and tendency towards large scale developments begs big questions for this missing housing type.

Will neighbourhoods embrace more density, and more neighbours, necessary for new approaches to affordable housing? Will local governments politically support the opening up of low density neighbourhoods that have historically been sacrosanct? Will municipal rules be quickly adjusted to support the design profession in the innovation of new typologies? Will the prevailing high cost of land hinder, or enhance, Missing Middle potential?

It promises to be a fascinating debate between two acknowledged experts from UBC, Patrick Conden and Scott Hein who have made substantial careers advocating for sustainable neighbourhood development, and Chuck Brook and Anne McMullin. Ms McMullin is the President and CEO of the Urban Development Institute (UDI), the home club for the development industry, close buddies with Vision Vancouver, and which many of us consider to be the generator of much of the disaster that is housing in Vancouver today.

I’m looking forward to it.  Hope to see some of you there.


COPE Meeting: 11th March

March 6, 2018

A special COPE General Meeting will be held from 1:00pm, on Sunday 11th March at the Russian Hall, 600 Campbell Avenue.

The first half of the meeting will include speakers from Vancouver Green Party, One City party, Team Jean [Swanson], Vancouver District Labour Council, Vancouver Tenants’ Union, and the Chinatown Action Group.

Members will then be asked to consider the following:

  • Should COPE run a Mayoralty Candidate in this year’s municipal election?
  • What is the right number of candidates for COPE to nominate for Council, School Board and parks Board?
  • Should we endorse candidates not running with COPE?
  • What would need to be the basis of electoral cooperation with another electoral organization in terms of policy and platform?

In other words,  they will be fixing their position regarding a progressive unity slate to face the boisterously optimistic NPA in October’s municipal election.

Unfortunately, this meeting partially clashes with the GWAC AGM.  I hope to spend the first hour at COPE and then wander back to the Drive for the remainder of the GWAC.

The NPA’s Meet & Greet

March 3, 2018

I attended the NPA’s meet and greet session at the Drive Coffee Bar this morning , and what can I say?  The coffee was great!  [I am still practising with my new camera so the following is the only half decent shot I got!]

It started slow, but by the time I left the place was packed.  Most of the crowd were clearly NPA caucus members, their friends and families. Obviously there were a few interested civilians but perhaps not as many as they would have hoped for.  Much of the NPA’s time was taken up with talking among themselves.

I was disappointed not to see George Affleck there; he’s always fun to chat to.  However, I did spend some time chatting with long-time Parks Commissioner John Coupar who complained bitterly about the huge cut in City funding that Vision imposed on the Parks Board.

I was with a Twitter buddy who has serious concerns about housing affordability for professionals like himself, and he asked John about it.  Coupar propounded what I assume will become the NPA line:  a history lesson that the beautiful Vancouver we all grew up to know and love was created by NPA Councils and that only the Vision reign has caused the problems.  He, of course, skipped over the fact that this current sequence of disasters actually started with the NPA and Sam Sullivan’s infamous Eco Density project.  Vision fought and won their first election with a campaign against Eco Density. However, as we all now recognize, once in power they actually fed massive steroids to the same policy and got us to where we are today.

Prospective NPA mayoral candidate Hector Bremner was there, surrounded by his acolytes from AHV and elsewhere, several of whom seemed keen to look like mini-Bremners. Unlike an old pro like John Coupar who was working the tables, Bremner mostly stayed where he was and had people brought to him. Noblesse oblige, I guess.

The other prospective NPA mayoral candidate, Glen Chernen showed up around 11 and did his best to meet and greet. However, the tiny space was so packed with Bremner’s people that it was hard to get around.

If they have more of these types of events, they have to do one of two things:  (1) use a space that is not long and very narrow; or (2) have their reserved tables near the back of the space rather than blocking up the front.


Come Meet The NPA: 3rd March

February 27, 2018

This coming Saturday, 3rd March at 10:30am, members of the Non Partisan Association (NPA) of Vancouver will be at The Drive Coffee Bar, 1670 Commercial, to meet with residents ans discuss politics.  Come for the great coffee and tell the NPA what you want from a municipal government.

The Drive Coffee Bar has invited other parties to come along on future days.

Election Review #2

February 27, 2018

We are now less than 8 months away from the next Vancouver municipal election and the line up for both Mayoral and Councillor seats are still unclear. I will start with a discussion about Councillors because getting a majority of those is what counts in our system.

George Affleck

Both Vision Vancouver and NPA are in disarray. Vision has lost all but two of its incumbents, the rest having run for the hills unable to withstand any further scrutiny of their ten-year reign of disaster. The NPA, who should be shoo-ins with the collapse of Vision, have a couple of problems. First, the hated BC Liberals have embedded themselves in the party, and now an outsider is forcing a contest for the mayoralty. Besides that, their most popular and best-known Councillor, George Affleck, is retiring.

This confusion among both Vision and NPA should open a door for the genuinely progressive left to move en masse into Council.  But there is a catch: if the various progressive parties and independents each run under their own banner, they will — guaranteed — split the vote and allow the NPA to take over. There needs to be a unity alliance, not just in policies but in the candidates that are run.

My own hope is that a progressive alliance runs for all 10 seats under a single brand, and I would suggest a breakdown more or less as follows:  3 Greens, 2 COPE, 1 OneCity, 1 YPP, and 3 independents.  If they can get six elected, we are on the path to salvation.

Gregor Robertson

Gregor Robertson is finally bowing out, with his failed legacy dragging along behind him, and so there is plenty of talk about who is going to run as Mayor. Raymond Louie is a non-starter given that he would have to wear Vision’s past almost alone; I suspect they will not run a candidate this year (or, probably, ever again).

Libby Davies has been loudly touted as a favoured choice of the left. But seriously, much as I respect her, how many Gen X and millennials have even heard of her? Her candidature would come across as the last nostalgia-laden kick of the can for the boomers scrambling to hold on to power.  If we need an

Adriane Carr

NDP warhorse, then surely a younger and more active Dave Eby would be a better choice.

I am hoping that Adriane Carr stays as a Councillor, mainly because her popularity guarantees that seat, but she would definitely make a fine mayor too.

On the centre right, it looks like a battle between the BC Liberals under Hector Bremner and the anti-corruption crusader Glen Chernen for the NPA nomination. Whoever wins that campaign will probably have a lot to say about who runs for the NPA as Councillors, and whether the NPA drifts to the center or moves even further to the right.

It is time for the progressives to act. We cannot wait much longer before raising the flag of a united brand.