Three weeks before the Mayor's Task Force on Housing Affordability issued its interim report, the task force was in a celebratory mood. "High fives all around the table," was the way it was described. The occasion was Royal Assent given in Victoria to Bill 41, the Miscellaneous Statues Amendment Act (no. 2) 2012. It was one of those grab-bag bills that included amendments to everything from the Forest Act to the Local Government Act.
But the brief amendment that caused the good vibes was a change to the Land Titles Act. Specifically it was an amendment to clarify the legal status of the party wall. The party wall is the single wall that separates two row houses. Before this amendment, British Columbia was probably the only jurisdiction in the western world where row houses were required to have strata titles. And that meant all of the cumbersome and annoyingly invasive stuff that goes along with that, not the least of which is a strata council that will dictate what colour your drapes should be, or (I kid you not) how much your pet can weigh.
Now row houses can be built that are fee simple, which is to say they come with their own piece of land and their own title.
For years planners and developers have been stymied by the lack of such an amendment. You can thank Olga Ilich for oiling the provincial wheels on this one. The former provincial Liberal cabinet minister returned to life as a developer specializing in affordable housing projects and is co-chair, along with Mayor Gregor Robertson, of Vancouver's housing affordability task force.
This change is only one small piece of what was proposed in the task force interim report this week. It has a few things in common though with all the other recommendations ably detailed by Mike Howell in Wednesday's Courier.
For one thing it is not new, and neither are the ideas of using city land by creating a community land trust as a way of keeping housing prices down, setting up a housing authority to oversee this whole ambitious project, or streamlining and creating more certainty and clarity in the regulatory process.
These ideas have been used and succeeded in other places on the planet dealing with the issue of affordability. Our city is doing what others cities have always done-selectively borrowing from elsewhere.
The fact is Vancouver has fallen behind and finds itself in what many see as a crisis. In the past few decades the city has focused its muscle mostly on building social housing and has partnered with the province to shelter the poorest among us.
If we thought the market would take care of the rest of us, we were wrong. In spite of a boom in condo construction in the city's inner core, in Yaletown and Coal Harbour, prices did not go down. As we know, they went up driving people of modest incomes to the suburbs.
Fundamental to all of the proposals presented by the array of consultants, developers, politicians and activists on the task force is the belief that this city must provide housing for a diversity of people if it is to realize its true potential. The focus here is on those single individuals whose incomes start at $21,500 and goes up to include those whose family incomes combine to $86,500.
If you believe the market place should set the price on dwellings, that government has no role in using its assets and influence to shape the population of a city by affecting the cost and availability of housing, you will find this an anathema.
And even if you are not in that camp you may well be pressed to ask just how much of the public treasury will be dedicated to this exercise.
What is undeniable though is the obvious thirst for affordable housing, which is neither unique to Vancouver nor easily quenched even with the best of intentions.