A Follow Up to Mountain Court

On July 6th, 2015, I voted in favour of the Mountain Court Rezoning Application. I shared the concerns of my Council colleagues about the loss of affordable market rental in Lynn Valley and the dramatic and disruptive impact this redevelopment will have on the seventy-five families living in Mountain Court. However after careful and thoughtful consideration, I did not think voting down the application would have saved Mountain Court nor would it have ensured any long-term affordable alternatives for the families that currently live there. Voting against the application was not a solution to the crisis of affordable housing in our community, nor was it a plan of action to assist our citizens who may be displaced by development.

Tonight I introduce a motion before Council. This motion directs staff to look at all options available to the District to provide temporary relief to our neighbours who may be displaced by development. I am confident that Council will develop sound policy and a pragmatic plan to address housing affordability. However, even if that plan is implemented in the next six months it will take years before any new, affordable homes are built and available for our neighbours that need them. Between now and the time that these affordable homes are available, we need a strategy. I have asked District staff to return to Council with a strategy that can be put into action before March 2016, which is the earliest time residents of Mountain Court can move and still receive some compensation from the developer.

The Mountain Court Rezoning Application has highlighted one of the key dilemmas that Council and our community must grapple with during this period of change: How do we balance competing priorities? How do we manage conflicting commitments?

By adopting the Official Community Plan in 2011, by completing detailed implementation plans for the town centres and by following through with transportation plans, parks and open space plans and public realm guidelines, Council has made a very clear commitment to our community. We are concerned about the consequences of the status quo. We are concerned that our younger generations will be unable to live in the community they grew up in and that our older generation will be unable to age with dignity in the community they built. We are concerned about our quality of life and we want to create a future where our citizens have the choice, the freedom and the liberty to achieve their highest potential, regardless of age, ability or income.

To realize that future, we will focus necessary growth in the town centres. We will limit growth in established single-family neighbourhoods. We will provide a mix of housing and transportation options for people at all stages of life. Those commitments are not to be taken lightly. Those commitments arise from tens of thousands of hours of staff time and millions of dollars of public engagement and feedback. Those commitments illustrate careful consideration of all the concerns expressed by our community and respond to the interdependence and trade-offs necessary to achieve our 2030 vision for the District of North Vancouver.

By voting against the Mountain Court rezoning application and delaying development of Lynn Valley Town Centre, Council would renege on those commitments. If Council wishes to delay the implementation of the Official Community Plan, a thoughtful discussion of the consequences and costs of maintaining the status quo must be had. If we delay, young people and families will face greater and greater challenges living in the communities they grew up in, communities that no longer meet their needs. Seniors may have to move away from the District because they live in auto-oriented, single family neighbourhoods and no longer have the ability to drive to the services and social activities they require every day. Businesses will have a tougher and tougher time operating on the North Shore, as finding employees becomes more and more difficult. Housing is needed to accommodate the expected growth in population. If we do not provide it through the redevelopment of the town centres, than do we develop our green spaces and our existing single family neighbourhoods? By reinforcing the status quo and delaying the implementation of the official community plan, we delay our transition to a more sustainable community. All of the challenges described above will become more difficult to address and more costly to implement the longer we delay. The best time to have acted on these issues was twenty years ago, the second best time is today.

On the other hand, there are sections of the Official Community Plan that the District has not fully developed, including a robust monitoring framework for the plan, a climate action plan and a housing action plan.  The District’s vision is to be an inclusive and supportive community for people of all ages, cultures and incomes. Those commitments, including a commitment to address housing affordability, are also not to be taken lightly. Housing is the backbone of a healthy, vibrant and resilient North Vancouver. Housing is for our families, young and old; for our businesses and their workers; for our communities and for our citizens. Availability of housing translates into the economic and social benefits of being able to support labour mobility and student populations, increase affordable home-ownership, and meet the needs of the aging population as well as middle and low income earners.

By voting in favour of the Mountain Court rezoning application without a defined plan of action to address housing affordability, Council has not followed through on our commitment to address affordable housing. Addressing the housing affordability crisis is a challenge that requires careful consideration and support from all levels of government. As a municipality, we can be leaders. We possess not only the legislative authority and range of tools to ensure affordable housing is included in our community; we also represent all elements of the community and are charged with protecting the community interest. A green paper is being prepared for Council’s consideration and I firmly believe that strong policy and action on affordable housing will emerge from dialogue at Council and the hard work of staff. However, these policies will take months to develop and even after they are implemented, it will take years before any new, affordable homes are available for our citizens.

Between now and the time that new, affordable homes are available, Council is in the position of making an unfortunate and difficult trade-off. Do we delay the implementation of the official community plan and renege on our commitment to transition to a more sustainable community? Or, do we move forward with implementation knowing full well that some of our citizens will be displaced by development? This is not a trade-off of people versus profits as one Councillor opined; it is a trade-off of people versus people. The trade-off we are forced to make is between our citizens who have the means to live in a new development and those who don’t. The seventy five families who currently live in Mountain Court versus the three hundred and twenty one families that will live in the new development.

This is not a trade-off that we need to make. We are not a community that turns our back on each other. I believe there is a middle-of-the-road approach where we can honour all of our commitments, be accountable to our citizens and provide assistance to those families and individuals most impacted by the effects of development.

The District has the financial tools to purchase property for defined community needs. The most recent example was Council’s decision to purchase the Capilano United Church and provide long needed community space for the citizens of Pemberton Heights. The Land Opportunity Fund provided the capital necessary to make that purchase and over time, staff will be working with the citizens of Pemberton Heights on a strategy to recoup that investment. The District owns and operates both residential and commercial rental properties that generate a return on investment, Lynn Valley Village being one example. The District could purchase residential properties and offer to rent these properties to our citizens most impacted in their displacement by development. With a vacancy rate that is virtually zero, this strategy could act as a buffer until such time that an affordable housing policy is in place and new, affordable homes are available. This strategy may not require new funds and could simply be a reallocation of capital assets from cash to real property. Such a strategy may provide Council with the ability to honour all of our commitments to the community while providing support to our citizens that need it most during this time of change.

This is just one idea, there may be many more. I am asking for Council's support in having District staff evaluate these ideas, complete the necessary due diligence to determine their feasibility and return them to Council for dialogue and direction.

Here is a link to the motion. Feel free to join the discussion on Facebook or Twitter.

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