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NPA calls mayor's pre-sales policy 'a bit racist'

Mayor says local buyers-only policy has nothing to do with race, citizenship
NPA councillors George Affleck and Melissa De Genova voted Tuesday against Mayor Gregor Robertson's motion to limit pre-sales of new homes in Vancouver to Metro Vancouver residents. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Imagine yourself at a performing arts theatre.

The subject matter of what you're about to watch involves America, "the wall," racism, housing, refugees, developers, politicians and Vancouver.


I was, and I saw the performance play out—like a lot of questionable political theatre does in this town—at city hall Tuesday.

First, some background: You probably heard about Mayor Gregor Robertson’s push to have the city develop a policy that gives Metro Vancouver residents first crack at buying pre-sale homes.

You probably heard the Urban Development Institute isn’t crazy about the idea. First of all, the institute says, more than 90 per cent of multi-family housing units already go to local buyers. Also, giving locals first crack on a pre-sale is often a requirement of the banks that supply financing for developments.

That was the tame version of the institute’s criticism.

Here’s the gloves-off response from Anne McMullin, the president and CEO of the institute.

“You know as well as I do that this will do nothing for affordability,” McMullin wrote in an Oct. 7 private email to the mayor’s chief of staff, Kevin Quinlan. “Instead, the city chooses to make a political statement and in doing so further demonizes our industry, and fans an already misguided rant against foreigners. To be alerted about this by being forwarded a press release, without any discussion or consultation, is insulting. We've been working on rebuilding our relationship and trust with the city and this does not help.”

Fast forward to Tuesday—and with that email exchange between McMullin and Quinlan made public last week—you can imagine the main opposition party’s desire to take the stage when the curtain opened on the mayor’s motion.

The NPA’s Elizabeth Ball was absent, so that left her colleagues George Affleck and Melissa De Genova to deliver some quote-worthy soliloquies to the crowd.

De Genova, as she is bound to do, attempted unsuccessfully to strike and replace the mayor’s motion because she felt it presented some “unintended consequences.” She said it excluded people who moved out of Metro Vancouver because they couldn’t afford to live in the region, but may one day want to return.

“This lumps them in with foreign investors and foreign buyers,” she said. “In fact, under this motion that you have put forward, Mr. Mayor, refugees might not be able to come here and purchase a condo, or a unit, if they wanted to.”

She requested a bi-partisan committee be struck that included development industry leaders. She went on to say how the mayor’s motion would deter out-of-town tech sector workers from moving here and give the perception that Vancouver is “an exclusive resort town.”

I have two questions: Isn’t Vancouver kinda, sorta already an exclusive resort town? And how the heck can a refugee afford to buy a place in Vancouver?

Moving right along…

De Genova again: “We’re putting up walls. It kind of reminds me of the United States of America, when we put up walls around our city and say to people, ‘You cannot purchase a home here, you cannot move to Vancouver. You can rent, but don’t come here and purchase a home.’ It just kind of reminds me of what’s going on down south, and that concerns me.”

Affleck described the mayor’s motion as “too prescriptive” and said it won’t help with affordability. He also used the r-word.

“So what are we trying to solve?” he said. “I can’t help but think this [motion] seems a bit racist. Why don’t we want foreign people buying property in our city? What is the question you’re asking yourselves here today? It’s now OK today to do this, whereas a year ago or two years ago, you guys would not have touched this.”

Robertson had the final word before he, his Vision colleagues and Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr voted 7-2 in favour of having staff develop a pre-sales policy that will include the prevention of bulk purchases of units and limit the quick re-sale or flipping of units.

"This has nothing to do with race, this has nothing to do with citizenship, this has everything to do with local people—whatever their backgrounds—the people who live and work here having some priority access to new projects," the mayor said. "It's a simple as that. And those who want to politicize it, and turn it into something that it is not, that's very unfortunate. We need a lot of steps here to tackle affordability and access to the housing market at all different levels, and this is one modest tool."

But, I reminded him in a scrum prior to the meeting, the development institute is saying more than 90 per cent of pre-sales already go to local buyers.

The mayor's response suggested he didn't believe that figure.

"I'm really interested seeing the industry's data on this, and having our city staff having the opportunity to sit down and go through the numbers and figure out where is it that locals don't get access to new projects, because we're hearing that from local buyers."

I never did ask him who is going to pay for the wall.