Vancouver, B.C. As A Public Landlord: One Hat in a Two-Hatted City?

A 1045 fog obscured photo of a old ocean liner-type vessel being towed out of the industrial gloom of False Creek
HMS Menestheus being towed out of False Creek in 1945 photo by James Crookall is in the public domain
Once an ocean liner, then a minelayer, refurbished as military "amenity" ship complete with brew pub(!!!) HMS Menestheus is towed out of False Creek in 1945.

The City of Vancouver, BC has, as a responsible landlord, found itself going head to head with the authority tasked with extracting the most profitable solutions for the development of resources. That authority is . . . Vancouver, B.C.

This two-hatted, conflicting set of responsibilities has come to light thanks to an historic city decision to exercise more control over residential land use. (Vancouver is well known for, among other things, being regularly listed as the world’s second-most expensive city to live in, losing the dubious honour of “most-expensive” to Hong Kong.)

By the mid-twentieth century Vancouver found itself the owner of a tumble-down industrial district lining the shores of an inlet called False Creek. Some 50 years ago the city made a decision to explore housing development beyond the traditional sale of city land to developers. It exercised long term control of some 80% of the False Creek lands by retaining ownership and allowing only leasehold development.

Activists might hug themselves, imagining that Vancouver’s capacity to preserve the residential development around False Creek is as good as gold — indeed, a responsible municipal inevitability.

A winter morning, False Creek, 2014

But not so fast! Yesterday’s city tenant-lovers are not necessarily today’s city economic growth visionaries.

Particularly in the case of public housing, there is a misguided assumption that public ownership goes hand and hand with perpetual support of, and commitment to, affordable housing. But are cities themselves inevitably the best champions of housing affordability? Even today, with more and more people at teetering on becoming homeless in the face of rising house prices and rents, can a city be guaranteed to act on behalf of even its middle-class tenants, let alone those with low and no incomes?

The future of Fall Creek leases that will be coming due is now under discussion. A recent article considers dilemmas presented in the supposed “negotiations” between the city and itself. Read more in the Georgia Straight:  The City Of Vancouver’s Flawed Public Engagement at False Creek South

The conflicts that are driving the controversy over the future of False Creek are rooted in a 1970’s reluctance to redevelop the area all-in with massive, and massively dense, high rise residential complexes. That in turn led to the “accidentally successful” mixed use development that included both luxury and more affordable housing in what became a very liveable neighbourhood.

Today? massively dense high rise development with its attendant swelling of the city tax coffers is back on the table again. Read more in The Vancouver Sun: David Hulchanski: False Creek South is a community, not just a cluster of buildings

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