For the past three years, housing has consistently topped the charts as the most important issue facing most cities in Metro Vancouver. Aside from Surrey, where crime and public safety are regarded as a more pressing concern, all other municipalities are primarily worried about housing.
Earlier this month, 67% of respondents to a Research Co. poll in the city of Vancouver said housing is the top issue facing the city.
The proportion has been strikingly similar in Burnaby and the adjacent communities to the east, as well as on the North Shore.
The discussions related to where people will live affect all generations. In Vancouver, 74% of residents aged 18 to 34 and 71% of residents aged 55 and over are concerned about housing. Millennials who rent desperately want to get into the real estate market. Baby boomers who own their home are not ready to see their equity disappear.
Housing anxiety has not been accompanied by a rejection of the policies coming out of the provincial government. The recently introduced housing taxes have been very popular, even among voters who are traditionally critical of the governing BC New Democratic Party (NDP).
Just where residents place the blame for the housing crisis depends on several factors. Politically, residents may be upset with previous or past governments for perceived setbacks and evasions of responsibility. Foreign owners have also become a favourite scapegoat for many residents. But there is another group that has patently fallen out of favour with Metro Vancouverites: real estate developers.
Earlier this month, only 31% of Metro Vancouverites said they had a positive opinion of real estate developers, while 58% outlined negative views. In stark contrast, the rating flips for building contractors, who have a positive rating of 51% and a negative rating of 39%.
One of the issues that have played a role in the sudden loss of esteem for real estate developers is the perception of cosiness with sitting municipal administrations. This becomes clear when Metro Vancouverites are asked a simple question: who has more influence on the look and feel of your municipality?
Across the Lower Mainland, only 24% of residents believe their municipal government is the deciding authority when it comes to the future of neighbourhoods. A slightly smaller proportion (22%) believe the community itself has more influence.
Who is regarded as the most powerful voice when it comes to how our neighbourhoods look and feel? Developers, as stated by two in five Metro Vancouverites (39%). Men (44%) are more likely to express this opinion than women (34%), but all generations agree that governments and communities are taking a back seat in these discussions.
The public is also particularly critical of the idea that, in an effort to build, the character of their municipality is being abandoned. Three in four Metro Vancouverites (74%) feel that developers are too quick to demolish and rebuild when existing facades and structures could be kept.
The results outline two problems for incoming city councils. One is the perceived lack of consultation from members of specific communities, who may find it difficult to attend meetings or have a voice in traditional forums. The other is the feeling of powerlessness when the relationship between developers and municipal politicians is as entrenched as it is in some cities.
Taking big money out of politics motivated a wide range of people to seek seats in councils all across the Lower Mainland. In the early stages of the municipal campaign, it would seem that the councils that will take over in most cities will be considerably different from the ones they will be supplanting.
In Vancouver, only the Non-Partisan Association nominated enough candidates to control council and the mayor’s chair, if the stars align in their favour. In Surrey, the complete domination of the agenda by the Surrey First party could come to an end.
In this new context, the relationship of communities with the incoming councils and mayors will be crucial. Right now, people feel left out, with many looking at their serving municipal politicians as catering to the wishes of developers. It will take a change in culture, and in the way the relationship works between those who want to build and those who issue the permits, to repair this lost trust. •