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Victoria Adams

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  1. REVISITING THE AFFORDABILITY PROBLEM: Leslie Campbell’s July/August editorial, Developers of luxury condos can’t fix the affordability problem, presents an informative, insightful assessment of Victoria’s housing affordability crisis, and offers options re the City’s future needs. Observations and Reflections: The recent gathering of prominent building-boom players and politicians who enable and protect their interests at the expense of the public good, is aptly characterized as simply a venting of grievances against new taxes and regulations standing in the way of ever-greater development. Like most risk-taking entrepreneurs who rely on leveraging other people’s money, they’re content when they can have their cake and eat it too! Not surprisingly, stakeholders had precious little to do other than hand over the City’s keys to those who build premium-priced homes; this, to fulfill a vision of perpetual growth, unlimited prosperity, and enviable progress. Their allies, from mayors to council members, premiers to prime-ministers, all sing the same song of praise about the glory of the Gilded Age. They play their parts well in this orchestrated pageantry of profit-making. By approving a stream of land use and development deals to guarantee lucrative housing projects, they keep the capital flowing. Behind closed doors, other experts launder the gains, or transfer their financial returns into off-shore safe tax havens, away from the prying eyes of Canada Revenue Agency. Commitment to public engagement, scrutiny and accountability seems only a fig leaf as politicians and property interests collude to keep the zero sum shell game alive and well for a handful in the winners’ circle. The growing list of losers in this profitable global housing market, includes not only the homeless of our society, but indebted households who barely make ends meet; many are renters facing eviction and displacement due to demolition of older affordable rentals and redevelopment of housing stock as expensive condos and townhomes beyond their ability to pay. What’s clearly revealed here is that none of the urban planning policies and strategies embraced by municipal politicians has yielded positive and enduring outcomes. Despite their campaign promises to build decent, affordable housing, the facts say otherwise. Their pledge is to protect and enhance property owners’ interests. They sacrifice the benefits of development to acquire needed public amenities, or provide millions of dollars worth of tax- exemptions to hundreds of downtown heritage property owners, all of which are paid for by the remaining taxpayers of the City. Likewise, Council’s decision to remove limits on housing unit size, reduce parking requirements, eliminate rezoning requirements to build garden suites, fast-track rental-housing approvals, or regulate short-term rentals to protect the existing affordable rental housing stock. None of these has eliminated homelessness or ended the housing crisis. As one irate taxpayer recently said, Council’s deliberations and decisions have more in keeping with the time-honoured skill of putting lipstick on a pig, rather than addressing the interests of the public whom they serve. Data Tells a Different Story Victoria’s Official Community Plan (2012) states, it is a “very compact and complete community” with the highest population density in the Capital Region. The provincial capital is also the seventh most densely-populated city in Canada, with 4,405.8 residents per square kilometer. In James Bay, one of its oldest neighbourhoods, it is three times the density for the City as a whole. The OCP (p. 25) indicates that: Over the next 30 years, Victoria is forecast to need designated housing capacity to meet demand for an additional 13,500 apartment units and an additional 2,700 ground-oriented housing units. Zoned land capacity analysis prepared for this plan indicates that there is sufficient zoned capacity in 2011 to just match this demand. In other words, increased densification and rezoning is not required to accommodate the anticipated long-term population increase. In fact, the 2009 Urban Futures Report, Managing Growth & Change in the City of Victoria 2008-2041, indicated that since the middle of the last century, Victoria’s housing stock has grown faster than its population, with an exceptionally high proportion of multi-storey, high-rise dwelling units in relation to the rest of the Capital Region. Far from a housing supply shortage, the City has increased the total number of residential dwelling units by 24.3% from 39,590 in 2001, to 49,212 in 2016. The City’s population increased 15.6% from 74,125 to 85,792 between 2001 and 2016. These figures suggest that the City has, in fact, been overbuilding to the point that according to the 2016 Census, there were 3,450 unoccupied dwelling units in Victoria (equivalent to 7% of the City’s entire housing stock). To put this in perspective: if these unoccupied homes accommodated the average household size of 1.8 persons, the City could house an additional 6,210 individuals (which exceeds the population increase in Victoria between 2011 and 2016). So who is on the short-end of the stick for housing in this City? The data also points out that the proportion of City tenant households has been declining from a peak of 63% in 2001 to 59% in 2016. For the past two years the City has not published housing statistics indicating the number of new housing units built—including affordable units and social housing units, number of demolitions, and the total number of tenant households displaced as a result of redevelopment. Nor has the City provided the latest homeless count conducted in spring 2018, or measured the negative impact of home-sharing businesses on the chronic shortage of affordable and available long-term rental units in the City. The absence of data portends a growing humanitarian crisis in which the majority of residents without title to property, are sacrificed in the name of prosperity made possible by the rental economy, or monopoly exploitation afforded by the sharing economy. In the meantime, the profitable building boom has been underway for eight years. Developers, helped by City politicians, have erected high-density downtown condo towers the City does not need. But housing is a profitable business for investors and government who are working hand-in-glove to ensure deregulation of the markets, preserving low interest rates, and doing little to stem growing household indebtedness. This is happening, while global capital finds new opportunities to satisfy the demand for luxury real-estate investment units and vacation homes which cater primarily to homeowners, corporations, and financial institutions. The data reveals and conceals this fact: the housing crisis is man-made. It reflects conscious choices taken by those in positions of power and influence to serve the interests of property owners and their aim which, before all else, is to maximize profit. Questions Without Answers When it comes to provincial government measures, residential property-owners receive annual home-owner grants; yet, tenants receive nothing, even though both pay property taxes. It remains to be seen whether all the new provincial levies, including property transfer taxes, foreign property surtaxes, speculation taxes etc., will be sufficient to meet the growing demand for both affordable market rental and social housing units. Neither providing easy financial credit to home-purchasers, nor tightening it, has solved the question of how to put a roof over everyone’s head. How is it that spending $75,000 to house a vehicle is considered a necessity, but providing a decent, safe lodging space for a modest-income person is beyond the ability of taxpayers? How is it that owners of multiple properties feel they should be exempt from paying their fair share of taxes, when those who own but one property or rent a unit, must bear the burden of the property-owners’ entitlements? If the City invites civic engagement, professes respect for the democratic process, and upholds majority rule, why is it that Council ignores the compelling needs of renters who comprise the majority of its households? To whom do they owe their allegiance? How does this conduct serve the public interest? Additional Food for Thought As French economist Thomas Piketty pointed out in his magnum opus, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the dynamics of wealth-making, the deep structure of capital hasn’t really changed since the 18th century. The only noticeable shift has been from a society of predominantly wealthy rentiers (those who own enough capital to live on the annual income from their wealth) to a society of managers, (who live on income from labour), many of whom form the backbone of a stable, income property-owning middle class. The components of the system have not changed, only their relative proportions. It wasn’t until the end of World War II, and the long period of economic stability, that the value of housing assets increased significantly to comprise almost half the national wealth of Britain, France, Canada and the United States. And, progressive taxation was as much a product of two world wars as it was of democracy itself. The most difficult challenge? How to balance competing demands and special interests. Consideration needs to be given to exploring these matters further, without demonizing those who do not share accepted assumptions—narrow points of view, and ways of doing business that fail to address reality, accommodate changing needs, or resolving apparent economic contradictions and social injustices. Repeated cycles of war, oppression, and exploitation mean that the time has come to regulate capital in the 21st century. If our democratic institutions are to survive, we need to rethink progressive income tax, a global tax on capital, the question of public debt, and the need for greater openness, transparency and accountability. Victoria Adams Victoria, BC
  2. Mr. Miller, reflecting on time and space, paints a confusing picture of irreconcilable global, social and political contradictions. He seems to be entangled in James Kunstler’s waves and cycles in history. He mixes metaphors, inviting us to pedal, rather than coast, through ungentle shocks. At the same time, he refers to Victoria as a lifeboat which maintains its cultural coherence during rough and threatening times, but has a genius for inertia. His characterization of Victoria’s most valuable skills, continuity and mutuality, is fragrant to the nose of people who have the power to write their own version of this civic narrative. Why would modern citizens wish to revere Victoria’s exploitative, imperial past? Why would they pay lip service to the un-ceded territory belonging to indigenous people who settled this ancient land long before colonial settlers arrived? Whom do the skills of social continuity and functioning mutuality truly serve? In this zero-sum game, global capital is the winner; those who are subjugated by its rule remain victims of the wars to plunder resources. Or, the victims of injustice to perpetuate privileges of the few at the expense of the many. I have always been circumspect re those who benefit from great-power domination. They come to Canada telling us what to value, how to get along with the powers that be. It’s amazing how adopting the abundant mind-set of a ruler, allows one to see win-win situations everywhere. And guarantees one a share of growth and dynamism. Obviously Mr. Miller has read few Grimm fairy tales—tales which may have given him another perspective on reality. One has to wonder whether Mr. Miller’s lifeboat is yet another biblical tale which has more in keeping with Noah’s ark. In an epic storm, it would be helpful to know if there’s an experienced person at the helm; anyone capable of navigating without a map or compass. Relying on a divine source to perform a miracle and save this island paradise and its much maligned common good from extinction, may not be what the current and Mayor and Council are capable of doing for Victoria. It’s wise to remember three important lessons about community development: – Life is a one-time offer, so it’s best to use it well. And, a comfort zone, like a safe harbour, may be a beautiful place, but nothing lasts forever. And, while Andres Duany, an American architect, planner and evangelist of “New Urbanism” suggests, “a rising tide lifts all boats”, he conveniently overlooks the fact that a tsunami destroys most ships. So, in the end, what you do with what you’ve got is the test of whether, as an individual, civic community or planet, you’ll survive turbulent times.
  3. Victoria Civic Election 2018 Victoria needs…who? – Slates are readying for council jobs that few may actually want, by Ross Crockford This election needs the best candidates to step up. Who they are is just as important as the people they’ll serve. Like municipal staff, elected officials are paid by taxpayers to serve the public interest. What exactly is the job of elected Council members? Some say their job is to balance public and private interests. This is likely to be a contradiction in a world ruled by ambitions and needs of global-finance capital. Others say that the public interest is just another fig leaf—to justify the enhancement of private interests, primarily corporate entities; this, at the expense of the health and well-being of citizens. Is municipal governance a framework to reward only favoured, private interests? And primarily through civic authority over land-use and taxation? The loudest, most influential voices in municipal affairs are property owners (both commercial and residential). Although tenants may represent six out of ten households in Victoria, and pay taxes like homeowners, they can be ignored by decision-makers. Rental tenure remains insecure. The presence of tenants is now diminishing in a City that places greater value on high-end property owners and speculative investors. Many, many questions face voters and candidates in this election. How do electors choose from among the incumbent members of Council or new candidates? By their fine words and promises? While they overlook whose interests and what decisions they’ve made? Can electors rely on loyalty to partisan interests – green, blue, or rainbow, to decide for them? Or toss a coin? If you’re not immersed in high competition of coliseum gladiators, or mired in the minutiae of local political spats, you may be reflecting on the big picture—the big picture which asks how a candidate serves the public interest? Where the common good lies in an economic and social environment dominated by private interests hungry for entitlements from the public purse? Who enjoys most benefit from an increasingly deregulated environment? Who bears the heaviest burdens? Public Scrutiny? Mr. Crockford suggests that Victoria gets plenty of scrutiny in a town that eats and breathes politics. If so, where’s the strong evidence of investigative reporting? Or even critical comment by the media in Victoria, other than Focus Magazine? That Victoria is home to the Provincial legislature and City Hall, is no guarantee any genuine public consultation exists. Or that openness, transparency, accountability which form the foundation of democracy are upheld. Judging from the number of in-camera meetings held, and stymied Freedom of Information requests, trust by decision-makers is in short supply. What if we demanded that candidates or elected representatives reveal their monthly income and expenses? Their investments? Political donations? Potential conflicts of interest? Meetings with lobby groups or individuals? Those seeking public office might demonstrate public trust by disclosing such information. What does Victoria need? Mr. Crockford concludes as follows: Victoria needs articulate people with common sense, experience handling employees and questioning consultants, practical ideas about how to improve the City, and the determination – and the time – to see them realized. These important qualities are expected of an elected official. What is critical, however, is whom these elected officials intend to serve among the special interests and power brokers? Will such individuals disclose their personal beliefs and any biases that frame their choices? Have they ever disclosed publically an error or misjudgment, and if so, what have they done to remedy the matter? Where are the candidates red lines? How easy it is—in our island paradise City—to drift with the flow. What takes courage is challenging the City’s prevailing narrative, being open to criticism; welcoming new ideas which may undermine our comfort levels. Individuals who can manage this kind of courage are rare. But they’re worth their weight in gold. We need elected candidates of this calibre if we are to build a healthy, inclusive and sustainable City. And, as informed and engaged citizens, we need to do our part to see that such candidates present themselves, earn our trust, and be held to account as valued members of Victoria City Council.
  4. STRs another Fairytale from Fantasyland Pamela Roth’s article on Victoria’s short-term rentals dilemma presents a balanced view of this controversial topic; however, it fails to consider why STRs appear to be exacerbating the housing crisis in every major city around the globe. The Context for our Tale The new internet-based, unregulated ‘sharing-economy’ business model lies at the heart of the issue. Few governments have been able to exercise their regulatory control or taxation authority over this online lodging-booking platform. The massive expansion of the deregulated global economy over the past two decades, proliferation of off-shore tax free-safe havens, and the rampant growth of investment in a highly speculative asset class such as real estate, has concentrated wealth in fewer and fewer hands; this has eliminated the possibility of earning the decent living required to put a roof over one’s head without assuming intolerable debt levels. Before Airbnb, (the premier “online marketplace and hospitality service” established in 2008), all bed-and-breakfast operators in the City of Victoria were required to obtain a commercial business license to operate as a lodging supplier; and, to pay appropriate taxes as hoteliers do. The disruptive digital technology home-sharing enterprise said their business model was simply an intermediary tool to link property owners willing to rent unused space to guests interested in alternative, if not cheaper accommodations, than those provided by hotels. At the crux of their argument is this: data on host properties and transactions is confidential information which cannot be shared with any regulatory agency. Consequently, if said authorities wish to exercise control over the home-sharing economy, they must assume the costs of regulating and monitoring the property owners and housing units listed. The convergence of a new technology offers the means to book temporary use of a room or a home offered by property owners to guests at a suitable price; this, together with the rapid growth of new high-end condos downtown, serves the interests of developers who sell the units as income-generators. And, prospective owners stand to benefit, especially those who seek a financial investment property and part-time personal use. To suggest that Council , who approved the downtown development permits over the past decade, were unaware that the new units were being used for this purpose, is at best a red-herring. Or, perhaps just another excuse, like the Johnson Street Bridge fiasco, to remind everyone of their incompetence. Victoria’s Spin on the Home-Sharing Tale For several years, senior city staff and Council have refused to obtain STR data by any credible third-party monitoring service. In fact, they’ve relied on a brief, cursory real estate development report by Vancouver-based Coriolis Consulting Corp. suggesting that STRs were an inconsequential factor in the housing market. These same parties had nothing to say about the City’s 3,450 unoccupied dwelling units which, according to the 2016 Census, were likely used on a short-term accommodation basis, and comprised 7% of the city’s total housing stock. No wonder one of Union Building condo owners was dismayed at the sight of “a wall of black windows…altering the structure of the City”. This was done to justify doing nothing to assess the potential negative impact on housing from other non-homesharing downtown condo owners, hotel operators, or renters who comprise 60 per cent of the City’s households—in a City with a near zero vacancy rate. Unlike many other cities facing STR regulatory issues, Victoria ignored the problem, and did not bother to conduct any extensive community-engagement surveys, public workshops, etc. All this took place while two Council members and the Mayor recused themselves from Council discussions to consider the matter, or listen to concerned citizens speak to the issue of noise and security concerns in buildings where STRs were operating. While few Councilors addressed these matters in public, the Mayor had no difficulty speaking as a panel member and featured speaker in a real estate investment network meeting held in early 2017 to promote real estate investment in the City, particularly short-term rental properties. There is no level playing field in this City when property ownership determines the entitlements and benefits in the real estate game – be it corporate or individual owners; while tenants simply don’t count. Almost 80% of the STR units are for entire residences; and more than half of all listings are operated by multi-unit commercial operators. These are from the much media-hyped, social-enterprise fairytale that was being spun about a Fernwood single-mother using her spare bedroom as a mortgage helper. There are more than 3,339 lodging units in the Inner Harbour and downtown area (Catalyst Consulting, July, 2017). When you add in the estimated 1,500 short-term rental listings to the mix, this means STRs represent 31 per cent of the total accommodation sector, whereas they comprise only 14 per cent of the total rental units in Victoria. Last year, 16,661 purpose-built rental apartments existed in this City, 361 more than in 2016 (CMHC Fall 2017 Market Rental Report). Currently 12,693 condo units exist in the City, 140 more than in 2016—most of the stock built over the past 15 years. The same CMHC report reveals that 25.6 per cent of the condo stock, or 3,253 units, are in a rental pool. What the report does not indicate is what proportion of these housing units are rented on a short-term versus a long-term basis. Judging from the presentations to Council by some higher-end lodging operators, there is a growing market for temporary accommodation: executives; contract employees; consultants working on major projects in the City; health care professionals on locums; foreign students; families awaiting completion of new home construction or renovations; respite care individuals, and winter snow-birds. Competition between diverse and expanding housing accommodation-user groups, favours the higher-profitability short-term guests over long-term tenants—many of whom are city workers, students, and modest-income retirees. Little exists to suggest that the City is serious about addressing the growing displacement of thousands of long-term tenant population; this, due to costly renovations, demolitions and replacement with condos, or the conversion of older hotel properties into owner-occupied units or high-end rentals. The City’s own Market Rental Revitalization Study is already earmarking 10,000 aging purpose-built rental units (more than 35 per cent of the City’s rental housing stock) for potential demolition or costly energy and seismic upgrades. Who will benefit from these renovated or replaced housing units? Visitors willing to pay premium short-term rental rates? Or long-term residents in need of affordable accommodation? Who Benefits from this Fairytale? Question—why is Council turning homes into micro-enterprise hotels, rather than providing much needed accommodation for those who live and work in this City? Answer?— for developers, real estate investors, financial institutions, and building contractors who stand to reap the lion’s share of the booty from the booming housing economy, in which STRs play a starring role. Taxpayers are about to spend $500,000 a year to monitor about 800 short-term rental property owners and hosts who want the right to conduct business untaxed, without regard for neighbours, or the health, well-being and sustainability of the City in which they live and do business. Are these citizens entitled to more than their fair share of the pie? Should we support and subsidize their home-occupation business? Or, are we just the unwitting recipients of the so-called “unintended consequences” of elected officials and senior staff who will be long gone when the irreparable and harmful impacts of these ill-conceived plans and measures are felt by us all? “Semper Liber”, (Latin for “always free”), may be the motto of our royal fairytale city, but the proverbial “free lunch” is available only to those who own a piece of property in this island paradise of privilege.
  5. Panis Angelicus Gene Miller’s New Year’s article – “Panis Angelicus – poses a question: Could Victoria be a civilizational lifeboat in these crazy, conflict-prone times?” Miller suggests that St. Thomas Aquinas, author of “Panis Angelicus” (Angel’s Bread), puts forward the notion that the answer to the proverbial question, ‘Why?’ is ‘God.’ Perhaps Miller should have added that the secular world’s answer to the same question comes from economist Adam Smith, for whom the invisible hand guiding all things is ‘The Market.’ Mr. Miller suggests that what defines, describes, and sets Victoria apart from other places he has inhabited is its “genius for inertia”. It would appear that Mr. Miller, a long-time supporter of the current Mayor, has been wearing his rose-coloured glasses far too long. While Miller, an ex-pat American, offers a modest criticism of the star-spangled celebrity TV personality in the White House, he paints an altogether different fantasyland picture of B.C.’s capital city. Perhaps in reference to Victoria’s imperial legacy, he calls the City as a “commonwealth”, a place where “all is shared,” where “we champion community” and “nurture social belonging.” But, “a civilizational lifeboat?” “Social belonging?” Anyone on minimum wage who struggles to pay soaring rents or save for a down-payment on an unaffordable home would be hard-pressed to agree that we all share weal and woe in the same boat. Victoria now boasts of being a “world-class” City; home to a new multi-million dollar mega-yacht marina to which we do not belong. Victoria is a paradise of privilege for a growing population of affluent citizens and tourists. Our municipal government and its processes are but a fig-leaf to justify the power, status and wealth that rules this City. Plundering the public treasury is part of the game, as is carving up the cake in ever larger portions to those deemed “worthy,” while those who are vulnerable without a home are expelled to fend for themselves on streets, in parks, or in unticketed cars. The fundamental question is what really matters. What are the measures of a healthy, just, and sustainable place to live? Does this City have a heart, or a moral compass? Before adopting Mr. Miller’s chaste slogan as the city’s motto: ‘Victoria, Where You Belong,’ we citizens should take a long look in the mirror—at ourselves and our City. We live in a country of abundant resources and talents. We have the means to address even the most difficult matters before us. Facing issues squarely, with an open, honest, and fair mind, means relying on courage and compassion to admit shortcomings and errors, to right what may be wrong, to reconcile past injustices, and embrace fully our differences. It is not easy and there are no quick fixes. This is our dilemma as much as our destiny as human beings. Are we Victorians prepared to say and to do what is necessary? Are we prepared to make sacrifices, provide support and care to everyone and a place to call home? This is the gift we can give not only ourselves but to succeeding generations who rely on us to bequeath them our City as a healthier, more vibrant, and sustainable place we can all inhabit. In this way, Victoria will become, ‘where you belong.’
  6. RE: Dumb questions and their (possibly) profound consequences David Broadland’s article on bad decisions, hard questions, and the need to elect prosecutors in public office, not patsies, is revealing and thought-provoking. “Due diligence” of major infrastructure projects such as the Johnson Street Bridge replacement and “the need for public oversight of council and the City administration,” seems beyond the scope of our elected officials. Councilor Madoff’s admission re lessons learned from the Blue Bridge saga is an indictment of our current civic governance—the unwillingness of political representatives to face reality, assume responsibility, be held accountable for their own role (and that of the previous Council who approved the project). All have contributed to this mess. Mr. Broadland asks, “Why do Victoria councilors ask so many dumb questions of experts?” Benjamin Franklin provides a clue: “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” Dumb questions are easier for experts to answer. Providing correct and timely information, or having to admit doubt and/or uncertainty is more difficult. Given our culture’s fascination with “bread and circuses,” our aversion to asking ‘elephant in the room’ questions that might reveal truth, is not surprising. Benjamin Franklin also said, “The first responsibility of every citizen is to question authority.” The lack of smart questions posed by elected officials re the Johnson Street bridge fiasco is a glaring shortcoming. Their collective failure to sniff out inaccuracy, under-estimation and oversell information provided by experts has real consequences for citizens who live with that failure. Taxpayers will bear a heavy burden of hidden liability, and debt which can be traced to these elected officials’ poor decisions. Shining a light on critical public policy issues—housing, public safety, the City’s liability for a seismically compromised new bridge (a result of ‘cost-cutting’ measures taken by councilors and technical experts)—has been left to investigative journalists like Mr. Broadland. The elected “illuminati” hide their light under a bushel. Excusing bad decisions as “too complex” for elected officials, administrative staff, and humble taxpayers to understand, is an attempt to justify what cannot be justified. If as a society, we can trust 12 ordinary people on a jury to render a reasonable decision in often complex and difficult legal matters, why should elected officials be abrogated of their responsibility to act reasonably in the public interest? Why should they not be held accountable for their role in the decision-making process? Those who do not wish to ask hard questions that serve the public interest should not hold public office. Those whose easy answers cater to special interests, compromise the democratic process and undermine the common good. Those who do not recognize the two active fault lines that lie beneath our City, have little interest in undertaking critical measures to mitigate the potential damage to property and loss of life during an earthquake. They are the same individuals who find no fault in their roles as elected officials. And find no problem with their decision to approve the construction of a less than fault-proof bridge. Victoria Adams Victoria, B.C.
  7. From Parking Lot to Paradise? Congratulations Leslie! Ingenious way to leverage older public assets (downtown parkades/lots owned by the City) into much-needed affordable, workforce housing. Too bad, the City isn’t committed to affordably sheltering the majority of its citizens. Elected officials and enablers in the administration have pledged their fealty to market forces. “Trickle-down” economics propels their “trickle-down” housing myth. If the meek do inherit the earth one day, the palaces now being built will lie in ruins, their previous owners bound for a new paradise on Mars. Mayor and Council favour homeless individuals who tent overnight in Beacon Hill Park, low-income workers who stay in their cars (if they own one), and fixed-income seniors living in a closet (if they can rent one unoccupied by a student via a loan). City politicians, staff, and real estate investors have one only vision for Victoria: to create premium-priced properties that cater to millions of tourists and privileged members of society, many of whom live in their towers on a seasonal basis. Developers want lucrative projects built in the shortest time, with as few restrictions as possible. What poses as City planning is rampant deregulation re: unit size, increased density and decreased parking requirements. Zoning relaxation now permits unlimited growth of short-term vacation rentals downtown and in nearby residential areas. The City promotes secondary suites in homes and garden cottages to enhance property value for owners, many of whom see this as a boon to accommodate profitably tourists rather than offer long-term rental units for workers, students, and pensioners. The vacancy rate hovers near zero. The average one-bedroom monthly rental rate in Victoria is more $1,200. Not surprising that 59% of the city’s households (tenants) currently spend more than a third of their monthly budget on shelter. Our capital city is now unaffordable to a large number of residents. Many face displacement. Developers demolish affordable, older low-rise wood frame apartment blocks. And, erect expensive multi-storey condos for high-income retirees, well-paid high-tech workers, and professionals in government. The City now owns more than 600 properties and facilities, including the five parkades mentioned. Many of these are near the end of their life-cycle and will need costly seismic upgrading to avoid public liability. The City has allowed corporate owners of aging multi-storey apartment blocks undergoing retrofits, and an older hotel conversion to residential units in James Bay to avoid seismic upgrades. Are tenants expendable? Are only tourists and condo-owners worth saving in an earthquake? Two major geological fault lines lie beneath the City. These seem not to be a major concern to politicians, owners of rental properties, or even the financial institutions. Likely the City will try to sell their white elephant (Crystal Garden) and perhaps their parkades to developers in order to finance the new Johnson Street Bridge, and multi-million dollar amenities—segregated and painted bike lanes, David Foster Inner Harbour Pathway, costly makeover of Ship Point, and the replacement of Crystal Pool, Fire Hall etc. The City is reluctant to undertake any facility risk-assessments and serious mitigation measures to reduce liability from earthquakes, storm surges, or toxic contamination in soil resulting from leakage of industrial chemicals or fuel from old underground storage tanks. Does the City really have any assets that have not deteriorated badly due to lack of care, maintenance, and critical upgrading? What good is building high-priced downtown condo towers, decorative pathways and segregated bike lanes, when much of the City’s infrastructure (roadways, sewers and storm drainage system, and potable water pipes) need costly repairs and would almost certainly be destroyed during any major seismic event? It’s time to look beyond wonderful dreams and grapple with some hard questions: Is putting a roof over everyone’s head a universal human right, or a luxury available only to those deemed successful? What serves the public interest – what really matters to the majority of Victoria residents? Are the elected representatives sustaining a City for everyone? Or are they building a gated paradise reserved for the few? Should unvalued members of our society be considered expendable? Un-sheltered? Victoria Adams Victoria, BC
  8. Gene Miller’s rambling article “Community is Perishable” seems incoherent to me; his commentary on the declining phase of urban life lacked both substance and analysis. Without getting into heavy-duty philosophy, I think most can agree that the space and time continuum is a paradox, reflecting both a temporal and eternal state, a limited and fathomless quality. It seems to me that we’re living in a homo-sapien centered world—a modern technological age where there exist no limits to “growth” or “progress.” “Might makes right,” and the rule of law claims that “the rich are winners and entitled to get richer, whereas the poor are losers and deserve to become undeniably poorer.” Cities, hubs of humanity, are designed to facilitate economic production and distribution by providing a range of public and private services to inhabitants: jobs, housing, education, health care, transportation, justice, urban support and government services. The landscape is filled with settlements of all sizes, shapes, and structures. A precious few have survived for centuries with little change in form or function. Many have been decimated in wars or damaged as a result of natural disasters. Others serve a time-limited or single-industry purpose. When their environment becomes soiled or unable to serve their masters profitably, they are abandoned. Although the urban community as phenomenon has evolved differently over the globe, it survives the shifting tides of its life. It’s safe to say that not all tides lift all boats at the same time in each place. Some benefit from the rising tide—in protected harbours, where boats adapt to ebb and flow. Still others eschew the need to plan ahead and become overwhelmed, causing devastating consequences during the inevitable storms of change. To suggest that our City, unlike other man-made agglomerations around the planet, should be immune to problems of poverty, pain, and social turmoil—sounds naïve, like wishful thinking. If Victoria resembles a “zombie apocalypse,” that “we need to get our streets back,” it begs the question, what should be done? Would placing an authoritarian at the helm with a few hired henchmen to eradicate vermin and vagrants ensure a happy-ever-after life in paradise? Cities are not consumer products. Cities are not stamped with ‘best before dates” in order to be flogged to well-heeled tourists. Neither do they come with money-back guarantees demanded by affluent baby-boomers who purchase plots in downtown glass towers as a real estate investment to rent out on Airbnb. Yes, hotel room nights are perishable products, which is why they’re popular with the ‘home-sharing’ crowd who adore the fact they’re unregulated and untaxed money-machines. On the other hand, cities exist as complex living environments, home to students, young families, and working people as much as a place to gather for vulnerable and marginalized members of society, those with physical ailments and mental illness, those with no roof over their heads. No ticket to success is refundable should the urban experience not deliver anticipated consumer results or outcomes identified in the Official Community Plan. Risks and rewards are part of the community building-process. Anyone who tells you he or she can guarantee the outcome knows the odds and has rigged the game. So before you buy into the fairy tale of unintended consequences, ask what your “winning” ticket will really cost you. What’s the Mayor’s 21st century vision of Victoria? An exclusive enclave for wealthy home-owners and tourists flush with cash. Her recipe for success obliges us to ask—what really matters, who truly counts, and what is the full cost of building this playland for people of privilege? Is Victoria a diverse and inclusive place that recognizes, sustains and protects all members of society? Or is that just a figment of my imagination? Does this new picture of Victoria and its narrative include me? Do the actions and decisions of Mayor and Council advance the interests of only the chosen few—at the expense of the many? Every citizen has a right to participate actively in creating a common vision of the City, and contribute to turning a worthwhile dream into reality. It is up to us to think critically about key issues, not only what will be in the best interests of our present generation and our planet, but also what kind of legacy we leave the next generation. Our civic duty is to hold each other to account as much as we hold to account those whom we elect to govern our City. Unless we act with dignity and regard for each other, and take responsibility for our part in harming as well as healing our environment, we cannot ask others to do what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. It’s easy to blame a panhandler for disturbing one’s peace of mind while strolling down the street. But, before calling for a new government of billionaires, bullies, and blowhards to demand Victoria streets be paved in gold—without buskers or brouhaha—ask what premium you’re prepared to pay for the privilege. Remember. Every Faustian bargain comes with an expensive, and often unpalatable, price-tag. You don’t like the suffocating strings attached? Harumph! Shame on you! Victoria Adams
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