Ask Pat: Omnibus edition!

I had a few Ask Pat questions in the queue, and it being Family Day Long Weekend and all, I figured I would answer them all in one fell swoop. Have a question about the City, Council, Politics, music or fashion? Hit the red button up there to the right and send it to me, and more likely than not will answer it, hopefully before you forgot you even asked it!

RK asked—

I was in Winnipeg this last Christmas for a few days, and when I visited the public market at The Forks, I saw they had craft beer/wine stall set up in the main food court area, where people could buy a drink (served in glassware) and then enjoy it at any of the tables in the market, not just a roped-off area. Are you aware if there are legal restrictions on such a business opening in the River Market? It seems like a great and space-efficient way to not only add more life to a market but also complement the existing food-service businesses. And perhaps it was just the time of day that I was there, but I didn’t notice any roaming gangs of drunkards smashing up the place or terrorizing young children.

I’m not one to speak for the River Market. They are a private business with a business model that works for them. They have been pretty successful at activating the Market Hall, and I have enjoyed many, many events there over the last few years. It is also one of our community’s great “Third Spaces” where you never know who you will meet or the conversation you are going to have when you get there.

I also may not be completely up to date on the changes to BC liquor laws as they pertain to public spaces, but I think the Market would probably be able to license the common spaces as you suggest. However, this would very likely limit their flexibility in how they operate the space, and strange things like security measures and temporary license suspensions to accommodate special events would probably be more hassle than it is worth. The owners and operators of the Market are pretty entrepreneurial and creative, so the best evidence I have that the inherent hassles make it not worth doing is the fact they are currently not doing it.

That said, have you been to Fridays on Front? There was even a Christmas Edition under the Parkade this year. There were shifts in provincial liquor laws that allowed this to happen, and it took a bit of vision to put New West at the leading edge of activating those changes. I think the Downtown BIA (with some support from the City) has done a great job demonstrating that public market spaces can have an open license for adult beverages available without chaos ensuing. I’m old enough to remember the craziness that used to come with public drinking in BC in decades past, and the cost of managing that craziness made some great events go away (I’m looking at you Seafest Vancouver Seafest, Pentiction Peachfest, White Rock Sandcastle festival). I think the attitude around beer and wine have changed as our society has matured, though the transition away from puritan prohibition-era liquor controls is a slow one.

And as of the leading edge of current regulation, there are no special event licenses envisioned for cannabis, but I’ll hold that conversation off for a future post.


JJ asks—

are you the person that sides with justin trudeau of political correctness? Jaywalking the word to be remove? Stop the left wing removement!

[Sic] Dude, if you think Justin Trudeau represents some sort of left wing of Canadian politics, we are not conversing from the same frame of reference. My disappointment in his election in 2015 was very much tempered by the knowledge that Harper was headed for a long-overdue trip to the political wilderness, but I was also disappointed that Mulcair decided to tack towards the centre and got “out lefted” by Trudeau on the campaign trail (though that was not the only NDP campaign mistake last election). Clearly people were ready to move left politically, and voted for progressive ideas like legalization of cannabis (done), electoral reform (shamefully abandoned), and feminism (the jury is out on this one). Predictably, Trudeau swung right after the election and abandoned many of the most left-progressive ideas upon which he campaigned, from climate action to reconciliation, and his record is almost indistinguishable from Harper’s Conservatives on these files. Gord Downie would be disappointed. I am becoming less and less of a Trudeau fan as time goes on, and look forward to calling him out on his failures in October, but I will not make the mistake of looking for him to my left.


FB asked—

If i find someone isn’t sorting garbage and i take a picture as proof is it violating his personal information or privacy?

I’m not a lawyer, and know better than to give legal advice. If you have a problem with how someone is managing their waste stream , and suspect that they are contaminating the recycleables or compostables, there is good reason for you to take action, because this type of contamination costs the City money, or your Strata potentially lots of money, depending on how your waste is managed. I might suggest that friendly attempts at education might get you further than surreptitious incrimination. They may just not know better, as the rules for waste sorting are sometimes complicated and constantly shifting.

If this is going into the City’s waste stream, you can contact our Engineering Operations folks at 604-526-4691 or engops@newwestcity.ca. If you are in a Strata or a rental, please let your building manager know and ask them to take action. It is their job, and they will save money in the long run if they have a well-organized waste stream that assures as much waste as possible is diverted from the landfill.


Jenni asks—

How do I find out information about previous renovations done to my home before I purchased it? The previous owner simply said that all of the work was done before they purchased the home. Is there an archive of building or renovation permits that I can search?

Hey, I actually know the answer to this one! The City has an online tool where you can search for all kind of details about the property you own, or snoop on your neighbor if that is more your thing, because permits are public information, and the City has a pretty open approach to sharing data that belongs to the public.

If you go to the City’s website, and look for “Property Inquiry” under the Online Tools section, you get a slightly-ugly but super-functional interface that allows you to get an online report that tells you all sorts of info about your property. For the fun of it, I searched for my house and found a bounty of info about my lot size, the amount of tax I pay, and even that the Business License for my consulting hussle is up to date (redacted a bit to make it one step harder for stalkers to find out where I live):

You can also get a list of all the permits for the property:
Here I can see three permit numbers: the original building permit was from 1940, my rear sundeck was built in 1987 with a valid permit, and I can see the permit I took out for my bathroom renovation project I did two years ago.

Of course, there are no permits there for the renovation of my basement that probably happened in the 1980s, or of the attic conversion that happened around the same time, or of the transition my house clearly went from knob-and-tube electrical to modern insulated wiring. It is possible that permits were not required, or the owner at the time didn’t get a permit, or the City has lost the records. This just to say that the City knows what the City knows, and you should not assume the data you get from these searches is a definitive record of the work done in your house.

Ask Pat: Protecting Trees

Someone asked—

I’m curious about the tree protection bylaw that was introduced a few years back. The amount of protection barriers around the city is quite high and frankly questionable. The city of New Westminster neither supplies the materials to build these barriers, nor do they facilitate the recycling of either wood or barrier fencing. In fact, the orange barrier fencing is not recyclable at any Metro Vancouver transfer stations. How have we come to having to contribute substantial, single use construction waste, both plastic and wood, to landfills in order to protect trees that in many cases are not in harms way. I challenge someone to accurately estimate the amount of waste we are creating. We are cutting down trees, so we can build a barrier around another tree and then throwing the wood away . It’s all a bit of a head scratcher imo.

Yep, that is a good point.

First off, let’s go over how we got here. New West adopted an Urban Forest Management Strategy back in 2016. At the time, the City’s tree canopy was measured to be about 18% of landcover and trending downwards. The City set a goal to increase this cover to the North American average of 27% over 20 years. To do that, we need to do two things: Stop cutting down so many trees (during a time when we are densifying our neighbourhoods!) and plant more trees. The Tree Protection Bylaw is primarily about the former, but if well administered will also help with the latter.

When the City introduced the Tree Protection Bylaw, we did so building on the existing Bylaws that exist around the region. Why re-invent the wheel when other nearby communities have already taken a test drive? This allowed us to get out of the gate quicker, but also resulted in a few parts of the Bylaw that didn’t really work so well in our local context, so we have been making some changes to the Bylaw as we go along, and have made some adjustments in how it is implemented. This happened in a context where (frankly) not all of Council was on board agreeing that a Bylaw was needed, or felt that the protection provisions were too strict. I don’t agree with that position, because I think trees are fundamentally important to the livability of our community – the more the better – and the cost of protecting them is easily offset by the cost benefit to the community.

One of the aspects common to most tree protection bylaws is tree protection fences at construction sites. The idea is that a fixed temporary fence line to protect the branches and critical root zones of protected trees when construction happens around them. This is to stop the occasional (usual accidental) bumping over of a tree by an excavator, or the excavation of tree roots required for the tree to remain healthy. Sometimes they are located away from any visible excavation work, however this is likely because they are located in a location identified as a likely laydown area for building supplies or fill or drive alleys for construction vehicles – loading critical root zones can be almost as damaging as excavating them.

These fences – staked-in lumber with polypropylene safety fencing – is pretty typical of these bylaws. It uses materials typical to construction sites (i.e. doesn’t introduce something builders aren’t used to) and are relatively durable and cheap to put together. They do, admittedly, look a little overkill in some applications, but they are definitely on the cheap & easy solution side of things.

However, you do point out rightly that they seem pretty wasteful. Most scrap lumber at construction sites is kept out of the standard waste stream, it is commonly “recycled” into wood products used to fire turbines and generate steam or electricity. The polypropylene, however, seems destined to the landfill. I’m not sure it is a substantial proportion of construction waste for a typical project, but there is no reason for us to add more.

I have had a preliminary discussion with city staff about this to understand the need a little more, but will follow up to see if there has been any effort to explore alternatives. I suspect temporary modular fencing might be much more expensive (so we will get backlash from builders already irritated by the need for tree protection), or if the City can suggest alternative materials, or even provide at a cost-recovery rate recyclable materials that meet the needs of the Bylaw, the industry, and homeowners. Thanks for the idea.

Bylaw 8085

For the second week in a row, we had a Council meeting where many people came to speak to a bylaw that is meant to reduce the incidence of renoviction in the City. Ironically, this week’s bylaw has much more far-reaching implications than the very limited rezoning discussion of the previous meeting, but we had nary a landlord or members of the development community come to speak against this move. We did, however, have a large number of people come to speak about the real human impacts of renoviction in our community, and remind us why these kinds of aggressive actions are needed.

As a bit of nuance, this was not a Public Hearing as constituted by the Local Government Act, like we had last week. This was an Opportunity to be Heard. We effectively operate these like a Public Hearings in New West, but they don’t have the same regulatory baggage. In short, it is a non-regulatory opportunity for the public to either send us a letter or come and speak to Council on a point of public interest.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8085, 2019
As I said about last week’s Bylaw to protect 18 properties in the City with Rental Tenure Zoning, we are going to need many more tools to address housing affordability in the City. This step is another bold measure that will give the City more ability to protect people who are precariously housed. This and last week’s bylaw are part of a larger Rental Housing Revitalization Initiative that will provide both metaphorical carrots and sticks within our legal authority to protect safe, secure, and affordable housing in the City and hopefully mitigate the current rental crunch and its impact on lower-income residents.

The step being adopted here is to use a tool that is not typically considered when dealing with land use tenure: our business licensing powers. Cities typically look at demo- or reno-viction through a planning context, which invokes zoning or building bylaws. However, it happens that all businesses operating rental buildings in the city require a business license to do so, and we have great flexibility in how we administer our business regulations, as long as they are fair to all businesses. Our staff have found a creative way to apply these regulatory powers to create new protections against renoviction.

Nothing on this Bylaw prevents renovation of older rental stock buildings. Instead, the Bylaw requires that the building owner provide the City a demonstration of the efforts they have taken to accommodate the residency needs of tenants prior to the City providing them a permit to perform a major renovation that requires tenant displacement. This may include providing them alternative accommodation, providing them priority to rent the same unit after renovation, or other methods to assure the resident is not made homeless. This also gives the City the ability to determine if a renovation even requires tenant removal or not.

The City can apply fines and/or a business license surcharge if these conditions are not met, and those charges may be built upon each other. We can even pull a business licence if the violations are egregious enough. Of course, exceptions are considered for life safety improvements, immediate repairs necessitated by an emergency or natural disaster, or other reasonable causes.

Much like the previous Bylaw, this change will not stand alone, and indeed the few criticisms I have heard of the Bylaw are based on thinking that it does. We cannot stop renovating our older building stock, or the most affordable housing in the City will eventually become the least livable. This is why these Bylaws exist within the framework of a wider Rental Housing Revitalization Initiative. The entire program includes an updated Rental Replacement Policy to create clear guidelines for the development community about how and when we would address the replacement of any rental stock lost through development, and an incentive program through fee and tax reductions to encourage and make more affordable the renovation of older buildings.

This is a comprehensive program that will help assure there continues to be market rental in New Westminster that is safe and livable, but stays at the affordable end of the market rental scale. This, in turn, is enhanced by the admittedly less-affordable new rental stock that is coming on line in the City which will help on the supply side and hopefully put downward pressure on market rent costs. Of course, this also relies on all three levels of government working together to bring more non-market housing on line, because “the market” will never supply the type of affordable housing needed by those 500+ families currently on the waiting list for supportive housing in New Westminster.

The work goes on. Housing affordability is a pernicious problem and we are indeed in a crisis situation in the Lower Mainland. I am proud to sit on a Council where we support taking bold action, and thank our staff – planning, business license, and legal – who have worked to find creative ways for the City to address the problem. Mostly, though, I want to thank the residents of New Westminster who live in rental buildings (44% of our residents!), some of them in somewhat precarious financial situations, for uniting and bravely bringing your voices to Council so that we have the political support to do the right thing, and so that the rest of your community can understand why the need for bold, progressive housing action exists.

Council – February 4, 2019

Another week, another long Council meeting, as we heard from the public about our efforts to address the renoviction issue. Again, there is much to say about the public delegation part of the evening, but I am going to hold that off for a follow-up post, while this one summarizes all of the other important stuff on the Agenda that you may have missed.

We started with Opportunities to be Heard on three issues:

Development Variance Permit for 381 Keary Street (DVP00659)
This property owner in Sapperton wishes to create a legal secondary suite, but their house has no back alley access, nor is there room beside their house for a driveway to a back parking lot. So they want to create a front yard parking pad, which is a violation our zoning. That said, Keary Street is one where almost every house already has a front driveway and many have front parking pads – actually, this house already has a parking pad over most of this area, so we are more permitting a non-conforming use that is common on the street.

We received three pieces of correspondence (two supporting the application, one against), and no-one came to speak on the Variance. Council moved to approve the variance.

Development Variance Permit for 341 Johnston Street (DVP00658)
This is one of those cases where a DVP is required because a proposed and reasonable subdivision of a lot will result in the frontage being less than 10% of the circumference of the property because of the unusual depth of the lot. This is one of those arbitrary rules that serves as a check on how lot lines are developed in the City, and one for which a variance is usually approved if the lot frontage is reasonable.

No-one wrote or appeared to address this variance, and Council moved to approve it. We also move that future parcels created from this property will be exempt from the same rule.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8085, 2019
This was the agenda item that got the most attention, and we had something like 30 delegations and even more correspondence on it, almost all in favour. I will write more about this in a follow-up post, but for now suffice to say we are taking some creative action to protect tenants from unnecessary renoviction in the City as part of our larger Rental Revitalization program.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Investment Report to December 31, 2018
The City has $163 Million in the bank, which is $6.6 Million more than at the beginning of last year. Our savings are in a combination of commercial bank savings accounts and Municipal Finance Authority investment funds. We are expected to make a little more than the $2.3 Million we budgeted in interest for this fiscal year.

I need to point out, this is more than the amount of debt we have issued, and we are making more on our investments than we are paying interest on our debts.

It is also important to note that most of this “savings” is not money we can take out and spend at will or use to reduce your tax rates this year. Most of it is restricted to a specific use, such as the $15 Million or so we have saved up to spend on the Canada Games Pool replacement, or the money we have collected from DCCs to invest in sewer upgrades when they are required. I wrote a primer on this here.

Major Purchases September 1st to December 31st, 2018
This is out three-times-a-year report on our major purchases, for those interested in the results of our public procurement processes, be that sole-sourced or tenured.

Recruitment 2019: Appointment to the Intelligent City Advisory Committee
We have named a representative from the Ministry of Transportation in Infrastructure to the ICAC This position exists for a couple of reasons: MOTI owned conduit and right of way through which much optical fibre stretches, and because intelligent transportation systems is a major area of interest for both the MOTI and the City.

Phase I Infill Housing Program: One-Year Update and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8067, 2019 – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The City passed a new Official Community Plan in 2017 after more than three years of intensive community conversations. Once the plan was passed, staff moved onto creating policies that will see the vision of the OCP realized – the “implementation phase” in planner-speak.

Part of the OCP vision was to see more gentle infill density to increase housing choice in the majority of our City that is still designated for single family detached homes. This includes encouraging small townhouse (strata tenue) and rowhome (freehold tenure) developments around the periphery of the SFD zones, and Laneway and Carriage houses within the SFD zones. At the time, we asked Staff to track the success of this, and report back to us on how the guidelines and policies were going – recognizing the land use economics can shift quickly and best laid plans can age quickly.

Short version: we have had 22 formal applications for laneway and carriage houses after more than 100 inquiries. Some are being built today. The townhouse/rowhome side is not moving very quickly, with two applications in process (representing up to 59 homes), though both have local gradient situations that require some adaption from the guidelines.

At the same time, staff are proposing some modest changes in the bylaws and guidelines. A couple would follow under the category of “housekeeping”, the rest are subtle changes in how FSR is calculated in one of these developments to meet the massing-control and other goals of the original guidelines while providing more flexibility for the builder and designer to make a livable space. These changes would need to go to a Public Hearing, so watch this space.

Keary Street Sewer Installation (Royal Columbian Hospital Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Installing storm sewer upgrades on Keary Street below east Columbia as part of the RCH project will require some nighttime work during late February and early March, but not on weekends. They need a Noise Bylaw exemption to make this happen.

Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8084, 2019: Rescind Second and Third Readings and Amend Bylaw – Consideration of Readings
We are getting sloppy. Once again we read the wrong version of a bylaw at first and second reading. So we need to rescind second and third, replace it with the right one, and do it again. We’re busy, stuff happens. Good to know we got it right the second time!

Development Services Fees and Rates Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw No. 8094, 2019: Bylaw for Three Readings
This is a follow-up to Bylaw 8084 where we do some housekeeping to assure the language is clear and the new requirements mesh well with existing regulations. Unless you are deeply engrained in the details of “Occupancy Certificates” and “Building Officials”, this may no impact your life.

Quayside Drive Speed Humps & Raised Crosswalks
Speed humps were installed by Metro Vancouver on Quayside Drive as a temporary measure in anticipation that the extended Front Street closure would result in heavier traffic and associated unsafe driving on Quayside Drive. Once they were installed, the City received both kudos and criticism from Quayside residents, as is to be expected. Some don’t like the rougher ride, some like the reduced speeds. Despite a few of them being installed in a way that actually made crosswalks less accessible (since fixed), the data indicated that the speed humps had a marginal effect on average and 85th percentile speeds, but did significantly reduce the number of excessive speeders. So in that sense, they work.

Given some mixed reaction from the neighbourhood, staff is going to go to the Quayside RA and to residents in general to decide whether the speed humps should stay or go.

European Chafer Management Program Update
The City is going to continue the subsidized nematode program to keep a few dozen private lawns tidy and unsustainably monocultural in the City for another year. Insert expressionless face emoji here.

New Westminster Urban Solar Garden – Installation of Second Array
We have reached the point where enough people have signed up for a second array for the Solar Garden project. This might be the coolest little community action thing I have ever had the pleasure to approve. It shows that people, when given the tools, want to take personal action to find local solutions to global issues. You can still buy a panel here, but act fast.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Pier West Development, 660 Quayside Drive – Construction Update
This is an update on the construction project on the waterfront that has been causing some disruption, both to the physical space and to the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood. I will probably write a follow-up blog on this, but the short version is that we all realized this was going to be a big and disruptive piece of construction, but recognized that the end result was going to be a great addition to our Riverfront. The developer and their construction contractors have had some challenges with the alternative pile driving strategy, and there were two incidents where the contractor on site violated the agreement they had with the City around construction timing, and both times Bosa was fined. They have subsequently worked with city staff to resolve the scheduling conflicts that resulted in the fines, and have taken efforts to reach out to the Downtown business community and residents. Meanwhile they are adapting their construction plans to address challenges as they arise in what is an incredibly challenging project – both in its technical nature and in the jurisdictional challenges.

The current secant pile work will be going on until March, and it is possible that the impact drivers will be operating one or two days a week during regular construction hours during this time. Bosa are working with the City to maintain accessibility to the River Market and the Pier Park, and have set up a project website to communicate with the community, and are even holding a community meeting next week (follow that last link for details) to let the neighbourhood know what is going on.

Royal City Taxi Ltd./Queen City (Bonnie’s) Taxi Ltd: Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw No. 8091, 2019 to Add Vehicles – Bylaw for Three Readings
Once again the local taxi companies are applying to the City and the Passenger Transportation Board of the province to add vehicles to their fleets so you won’t have to wait a half hour for one to show up. Royal City Taxi was permitted 9 new vehicles, none of which is required to be an accessible vehicle. Queen City Taxi was permitted 2 new vehicles (they applied for three). Neither of which is required to be an accessible taxi.
The justification of the Passenger Transportation Board for the lack of new accessible taxis was, essentially, that 17% of the local fleet is accessible, and both of these operators have 17% or more of their fleet accessible, which is perfect circular reasoning. Unfortunately, it did not address the concern raised by this Council last year (brought to our attention by the Access Ability Advisory Committee) that the local accessible fleet is inadequate. Council even wrote them a letter to the effect, asking them to increase the accessible fleet next time they g o through this exercise.

Clearly they were no compelled by our letter, so we are going to send them another one, asking them why not. Because that would be the polite thing to do.

Short Term Rental Regulation: Proposed Approach and Next Steps
The issue of Short Term Rentals (AirBnB, VRBO, and the such) has been bubbling along below the surface for a couple of years. I even hosted a Metro Conversation in New Westminster on the topic two years ago, where we talked frankly about the opportunities, and potential problems, related to this “disruptive” industry and the regulation of it.

Vancouver recently passed a set of regulations for STRs in their community, and a few other communities from Nelson to Victoria have taken somewhat different approaches to the regulation. The City of New West has decided to take the Vancouver model, and use that as a framework to be adapted through a public consultation process in order to make a modified set of regulations to fit our situation. This will be going out to the STR operator community and the public, so watch this space!

Restorative Justice Committee: Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Motion for Support of the Indigenous Court System
Council is taking a motion to the UBCM asking the federal government to invest in a restorative justice and community based court system for indigenous peoples, as part of a larger effort to address the systemic flaws in our existing justice system that sees indigenous people incarcerated at an unbelievably higher rate than the rest of the Canadian Population.


We read a bunch of Bylaws including adoption of the following:

Bylaw Notice Enforcement Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw No. 7960, 2019 and
Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw No. 8077, 2019
These Bylaws that clear up our ticketing bylaws and update our fines for a variety of offences, including some of the ones that make our pedestrian spaces less safe, as discussed at the January 28 meeting, were adopted by Council.

Bylaw 8078

The Public Hearing on Monday was well attended, with a couple of dozen people presenting on both sides of the issue. We received a significant amount of correspondence going into the public hearing, and some media attention after. I am going to try to outline here what decision Council made, and talk about my motivations for voting the way I did. You might want to put on some tea.

The Bylaw being debated, Zoning Amendment [Multi-Family Residential Rental Tenure] Bylaw No. 8078, 2019, changes the zoning of 18 properties in the City to a new designation called “Residential Rental Tenure”. This new zoning type was recently permitted by the provincial government to provide local governments another tool in addressing housing affordability. Twelve of the properties are City-owned lands, and no one raised any concerns with this. However, the remaining 6 are multi-family buildings that have always operated as rental buildings, and though each building is owned by a single entity (Corporation or Limited Partnership), they have carried Strata title for many years. This detail is important to what the City is trying to achieve here by this slightly clunky method, and that requires some background.

The City has had a moratorium on stratification since the mid-1970s, which means buildings operating as rental in the City have not been able to shift their title to Strata and convert to condos. This was enacted to protect the affordable rental housing stock in the City, and has been largely successful. Last year a building in the Brow of the Hill that had operated for 40+ years as a rental was sold, and the new owners renovicted the tenants and sold off the condos as individual units. When the City looked into this apparent violation of the moratorium, it was discovered that the building had always been titled as Strata, though all of the units belonged to a single owner who had operated as a rental. The moratorium did not apply, and there was nothing the City could do to prevent (effective if not literal) stratification of this rental building.

In doing this research, staff discovered that there were 6 other buildings in the City, representing about 250 rental suites, where a building was built as purpose-built rental before the Strata Title Act was implemented in 1966 or was stratified at the time of construction and has operated as a rental building since that initial construction. These six buildings could potentially do a similar conversion to condo units, violating the spirit of the moratorium, and the City would not have any ability to prevent this.

The reasoning behind applying the new zoning to these 6 buildings was to create a disincentive to the stratification of these buildings (I use that term recognizing the buildings are already strata title – so perhaps “effectively stratify” would be a more accurate description?). The property owners who delegated to Council, and their supporters from LandLord BC and the development community, argue that this was an arbitrary “downzoning” of the properties, that the City has stolen value from the property owners in a capricious way that will chill the market for future development in the City. The tenants and their supporters who delegated were glad that the City was being creative and proactive in preventing eviction of renters from their affordable homes.

But don’t let me put words in their mouth, you can watch the video here.

I have spent a couple of weeks thinking about this Bylaw and its implications, reading 50+ pieces of correspondence, and listening to Public Delegations. In this, I have compiled a long list of things I would like to say about it, but risk veering off onto a long stream-or consciousness rant about affordable housing and things that we within and outside of the City’s jurisdiction and how those often do not overlap so well with things that are within our duty to our residents. That may still happen below, but I am going to try to keep this short (Too Late!) and hit on only three points.

1: This Bylaw does not stand alone. This Bylaw is one tool the City has, and we are applying it in a very limited way to address one small part of the vast spectrum of housing affordability. It isn’t going to make new apartments more affordable and it is not going to protect all affordable apartments from renoviction. It wasn’t meant to do those things. It is going to create a disincentive for renoviction for 250 rental homes in our community. Whenever the City or another government does any small move to address a regional housing affordability crisis, the public response gets bogged down in “whataboutism” about the other problems we are not solving. The housing crises are a complex problem affecting every level or housing, and it will take a combination of tools to make housing secure for everyone in our City.

2: This action was not arbitrary. Much of the rhetoric from the development community and other opponents of this Bylaw suggested this was an arbitrary act by Council that this was applied in a random way, and would send a chilling message to developers that New Westminster was no longer a safe place to invest in new rental housing because this may happen to them. That is hyperbolic and not reflected by the reality of what this Bylaw does, or how this Council operates.

The Bylaw was applied to 12 City-owned properties to send the signal to the community and future councils that the priority for those lands should be purpose-built rental and affordable rental. It was also applied to 6 privately-owned properties that are not protected by our 40-year-old moratorium on conversion of rental buildings to condominiums. Although it does not change the tenure of the current buildings, it does remove some incentive to convert these buildings into condominiums like happened to the building I mentioned above.

We have a current incentive program to encourage developers to build purpose-built rental in the City. It has been somewhat successful, and there have been something more than 1,000 new rental units opened in the City over the last year. All of these developments occurred because the City offered the developer some incentive to make it economic for them to build the rental, in exchange for the developer entering in to a “Housing Agreement” with the City, which secures the use of the building as a rental for (typically) 60 years. We are expanding our incentives for building non-market affordable housing as part of new developments, and you see the initial results of that now. There is no reason why this more recent Bylaw to limit future use of 6 stratified buildings that have always operated a rental, has any impact on how those incentivized rental developments occur. The economics for those developers has not changed.

3: There was a reason to act. Renoviction has been the one part of our affordable housing crisis that we have not yet found tools to address, and you would have to have been in media blackout not to know how this issue has been impacting our community. If you need a primer, read this, or this, or this, or even this.

I know that the owners of the buildings impacted by this Bylaw have assured us that renoviction was not part of their plan for their properties. Thee UDI and LandLordBC representatives came to Council and said none of their members ever do renovictions. Everyone who came to Council to argue against this Bylaw said that they would never support renoviction – they all agree it is an unacceptable situation. Yet renovictions are happening in our City, in at least 15 buildings representing more than 340 units – 340 affordable homes – in the last three years. And it is pretty obvious why.

As an elected official, I hear form these residents. I live in the Brow of the Hill, these people are my neighbours. I see them at coffee shops, and they literally knock on my door and ask me what the City can do to help them. For the last couple of years, I have pointed them at City resources, connected them with our Social Planners and other support organizations, tried to made sure they knew their rights, and the responsibilities of their landlord. I tell them we are advocating to the provincial government to get more tools to help them. I tell them we are making progress, that more tools are coming, and I hope they can hold on. Looking at my neighbour Laverne when she tells me about the real fear she has about becoming homeless after 28 years in the same apartment and telling her there is nothing I could do but she should try to hold on hits me hard. This shit gets personal really fast.

I didn’t get into this job to be a housing advocate. I am an environmentalist, a sustainability guy, an active transportation advocate, someone who wants to see activation of our public spaces. Those were my fights to have. But if four years on this job doesn’t make you an affordable housing advocate, you have no soul. so now this is the fight I have to have.

Here we have a case where staff have identified affordable units that are potential targets for eviction, and the provincial government has provided us a tool to address that risk. All this during a housing crisis that is hitting New Westminster hard. We have been talking about the crisis for a few years, it is time we started acting like it is a crisis. The provincial government is taking steps, and so are we (including considering a few more bold moves at the February 4th Council meeting). The only way we will get out of this crisis situation is by challenging the status quo and taking action when it is available to us. The status quo is residents on our city being priced out of the City – priced out of one of the most affordable cities in the lower mainland. And I cannot stand still while that happens.