North Vancouver desperately needs more secure rental housing. While the city has seen a slight increase in new rental units in recent years, North Van continues to have one of the lowest vacancy rates in Metro Vancouver, hovering at at 1.7 percent in 2017.
Gen Squeeze recently supported a rental development proposed for 151 E. Keith Road in North Vancouver. We got props from the mayor for showing up at the hearing: five Gen Squeezers attended, three got to share their support, and for two of those folks, it was their first time ever speaking to city council. All told, 12 people spoke in support of the project.
But despite an ‘unprecedented’ showing of youth voices at the public hearing on April 23 (and then a surprise reconsideration spurred on by the mayor just days later), North Vancouver city council twice rejected the proposal with a 4-3 vote.
We regret the outcome, but we also just drastically increased Gen Squeeze's Metro Vancouver organizing capacity and are super pumped for future opportunities. Keep reading to learn about our big announcement!
44 per cent of North Vancouver households spend > 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, and 23 percent spend > 50 percent of their income on it.
Why we supported the project
When we say we need more suitable rental supply, we mean by protecting and stabilizing existing affordable rentals, opening up low-density zoning to enable more family-sized units, emphasizing purpose-built rental, and prioritizing substantial density near transit corridors. Gen Squeeze believes the 151 E. Keith Road proposal by Starlight Investments was a great fit for the community:
- 40 secured market rental units close to transit
- Multiple 2 and 3-bedroom homes suitable for families
- A 10 per cent affordable housing component reserved for seniors
- A non-profit partnership for the affordable housing units
- An urban infill densification project with zero displacement of existing homes
Perfect is the enemy of the good
Gen Squeeze supporter, teacher, and community organizer Stephen Price knows development conversations are hard.
He told us that while the development wasn’t everything he dreams of for housing, it was better than a lot of options he’s seen in his travels — but those opposed were out in numbers.
“The neighbouring building focused on the importance of the park across the road and the idea that part of the park's environment include the setbacks historically required in the area (a setback is the distance that a building must be located from the edge of the property). Instead of 20 feet, this project would have as little as five feet. But the reason for that was because the project doesn't displace anyone — it builds living space in those setbacks,” Stephen told us.
The main sensitivity about the project appears to be the proximity of the buildings to the residential neighbour to the west, Victoria Place. The strata building had concerns regarding the perceived impact the two four-storey rental buildings would have on their natural light, views, and general livability. As a result, the developer reduced the size of the building on East 6th in order to increase the setbacks between Victoria Place and the proposed infill, which reduced the number of three bedroom units. But the compromise still didn’t cut it.
“The council heard the need for local residents to not face any more density, but this project is walking distance from the Seabus, exactly where rental density is a good idea. They said the absence of those setbacks would deeply impact existing residents, so I spoke of the compromises that I had already made."
"I only have one child, in part because I have little hope of affording the space for another. I’ve largely given up on the idea of affording to live in the city where all my family have been for decades. I’ve compromised on the idea that a family with one child and two parents with good jobs can get by without help from our parents generation. From my perspective, I feel my life has been impacted by the housing crisis far beyond the loss of a setback,” Stephen said.
But those personal compromises didn’t cut it, either. Stephen thinks the local homeowner who feels directly impacted seems to have an inherently stronger position than the person who wants to maybe one day move there.
“The greater good argument for something does not seem as compelling as the individual concerns against it. I left feeling that in the face of everything I shared, that the sacrifice the neighbours would have to make by having a four storey building five feet from the property line instead of 20, was more important than the sacrifices I had already made.”
“The conversation is hard," he said. "It was hard to listen to an elderly gentleman and resident of the neighbouring complex stand and declare that the park across the road was a cenotaph, and that adjusting the setbacks would be an 'affront to the dead soldiers who fought for our freedom'."
"I sing yearly at the main Remembrance Day ceremony in Vancouver (incidentally, this is adjacent to a cenotaph surrounded by buildings with no setbacks). Soldiers didn't fight because they wanted to preserve setbacks. But how do you engage in productive and respectful conversation when that is the starting point? How do you work collaboratively in a system that is inherently adversarial at the point of decision: one proposal, one final hearing, one ultimate vote?” Stephen asked.
"It’s said that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second best time is now. We’d say the same of rental housing."
- North Shore News Editorial
The unfortunate thing about city council hearings
Is that they can last forever, they often go really late, they can be intimidating, and it’s nearly impossible for parents or many working people to attend.
This was Gen Squeeze supporter Ginette Holland’s first time speaking at a city council public hearing. She has a 24-year-old son with a university degree who’s had a tough go of finding jobs and housing.
“I was compelled to speak up because when I look at the younger generation — my son, my friends, my siblings — they’re young adults, and they all face the same challenges,” Ginette told us.
Despite that motivation, Ginette found the hearing process cumbersome.
“Having sat through that process, I thought it was really painful. I signed up to speak at 5:30, I spoke just before 8 and the voting didn’t happen until after 9 p.m. There has to be a better way of engaging the community,” Ginette said.
Stephen felt a similar strain: “It’s difficult juggling family responsibilities, two work schedules, my marking from school, and then summoning the energy to sit and wait for my turn to be called at 9 p.m. But a retiree can easily come any given Monday night.”
At the end of the night, both Ginette and Stephen left feeling defeated and deflated.
“I got the feeling that council members were really out of touch with how much a struggle it is to find suitable housing. Neighbours don’t want more people around. They don’t want to lose their parking. And all these kids who are living at home are doing so because we can’t open up any housing projects,” Ginette said.
But here’s Stephen’s challenge to everyone: “The more people who share the load, the less exhausting it becomes. Now is our time, don't stay home.”
There lots coming up on the horizon. We hope you’ll work with us.
While it’s unfortunate we couldn’t help bring these rental units to North Vancouver, we’re overjoyed to announce we’ve just brought on board a Metro Vancouver Housing Strategist to help us with future community engagement opportunities.
Rachel Selinger is our newest team member! She has a Masters in Architecture from UBC, volunteers as a Co-Director of Abundant Housing Vancouver — who we've teamed up with in the past — and she gives back through her public education about co-housing models (she lives in an innovative co-housing development, herself).
Rachel’s excited about working toward more affordable housing throughout Metro Van. If you've got questions about volunteer opportunities — or our work to restore housing affordability in Metro Vancouver — you can email Rachel here: [email protected]
Catch up on our work
We’ve been hustling hard. Learn about more of our recent actions:
Let’s do more
We want to restore housing affordability for renters and owners — forever.
You can help by becoming a Gen Squeeze Member: