I have to wrap up my mid-August long read, as labour day is fast approaching. It’s been so gloriously nice outside, as it always is after the PNE rains pass, I have really been putting this off. I have some more time this week, so here we go. This is Part 4 of the City’s response to the Declaration for Sustainability in Canadian Cities that Council approved early in the month. The final section are ideas that arose during local discussions that seem to be gaps in the original declaration, or are particularly relevant to the Metro Vancouver / New West context. As these are not part of the original text, this section will only have the staff-suggested additions, with my comments after – as always, speaking for myself and not on behalf of Council or the City.
Provide funding, land, and regulatory environment to increase the supply of affordable rental housing and non‐market housing in all neigbhourhoods, particularly in transit‐oriented locations.
I expressed a bit of concern with us opening this section (and others below) with “funding”. In the plainest language I can offer – non-market housing is a senior government responsibility to fund, and municipal governments, with less than 9% of all tax revenues and already suffering from a significant infrastructure gap in everything from roads to sewers to recreation facilities and parks, municipalities cannot take on the financial burden of providing housing because senior governments got out of the business of building it in the Great Austerity Shift of the 1990s. If paying for building housing falls on us and property tax revenue, it will be inadequate and ultimately a failure.
That said, I do not think Cities can turn their backs on the desperate need for supportive housing, and we have a supportive role to play – assuring our regulatory and policy environment doesn’t prevent the building of affordable housing in all of our neighborhoods. Most of us can also provide public land (which New Westminster has been doing, even with our severely constrained land base), and we have been stepping in and providing capital funding and a tonne of staff resources, both of which are a financial burden on the City, but one where we have to step up if any supportive housing of any type will get built in the City. We also need to cajole and/or shame (whatever works) the provincial and federal governments to bring some of their significant resources to the table to address this ongoing crisis.
Increase housing supplement though income assistance or implement Universal Basic Income.
This is 100% outside of municipal jurisdiction. We are limited to advocating to senior governments to make this happen.
Require all municipalities to provide shelters and other services and supports to homeless populations.
Again, our role in the City is to assure we have space and coordination to provide shelter support to all of our residents. As we are on the “front line” of the living experience of the unhoused in our communities, we are probably best positioned to do this. But until senior governments provide the housing and health care supports to address the problem, this will continue to be an inadequate approach.
Develop culturally sensitive and inclusive policies to protect tenants, maintain and enhance existing purpose‐built rental housing and non‐market housing
This is an area I think New Westminster has truly showed leadership, both before I joined Council and in the last few years. The first step in addressing homelessness is to prevent people from losing their current housing. We have aggressively taken action on demovictions and renovictions, have created and supported a rent bank program, and have dedicated, hard-working staff in City hall coordinating the efforts of local non-profits and provincial programs. We have also brought a region-leading number of purpose-built rental on line in the last few years, and are leveraging non-market supportive housing in new developments.
Support the provision of mental health, and addictions services in all communities.
I’m going to stay on my picky point here and say support: yes; provide: no. Again, as the front line for many residents needing these supports, the City has a role to assure health care and services are available in the community through coordination, assuring our policies and Bylaws support them, and even providing space if needed. However, the services themselves are primary health care services that must be provided by the provincial government through the local health authorities and funded through the Health Act. Municipalities do not have the authority, the staff, the expertise, or the funds to provide this kind of primary health care.
Take action in responding to the provincial overdose crisis and require all municipalities to provide overdose prevention sites and safe drug supply programs
Again, this is a health care issue that fits squarely within the Provincial mandate – they have two ministries funded and staffed to address this. The City should support and absolutely not get in their way. These are primary health care concerns that we clearly need much more of in our community. We have been in a crisis state with a poisoned drug supply for too long, and we need accessible safe supply and provision for safe consumption in New Westminster immediately. We also need to advocate both levels of senior government to make these things happen.
Support the development of local and sustainable food systems including improving local distribution systems.
Support the development of long‐term food security plans that build capacity in the faith‐based and non‐profit sector, who are on the front line in supporting the food insecure.
Food security systems are things we rarely think about except in crisis, and COVID was one of those crises that demonstrated how tenuous our food supply systems are, and how many people’s personal food security is tenuous. I could go on at length about this, and have in the past and have a detailed answer when people ask why we pay more for domestic milk and butter in BC when there are cheaper alternatives across the border, and why we need to support Farmers Markets and local food systems.
Require new buildings to utilize low‐emission building heating and hot water systems including district energy and heat pumps. &
Require existing building retrofits to utilize low‐emission building heating and hot water systems including district energy and heat pumps.
In our Bold Step #3 (Carbon Free Homes and Buildings), we set the goals for 2030 for no new fossil fuel heating in new buildings or retrofits. We currently cannot mandate this, because we don’t have the authority in the Local Government Act. What we can do is require for any building going through rezoning, incentivize it for other buildings and retrofits, and finally, advocate to the BC government to include it in the Building Code or give local governments the authority to mandate it. We are working on all three.
Incentivize new buildings to utilize low‐emission cooking equipment &
Incentivize existing building retrofits to utilize low‐emission cooking equipment.
This is another big step. The era of the fossil-fuel stove may be coming to an end. Yes, there is nothing quite like “cooking with gas”, and FortisBC is looking at ways to bring non-fossil source methane and boosting hydrogen content to get the fossil out of fossil gas, but with new technology (induction stoves are pretty cool), but we are a long way from people replacing all of their household appliances. We can, however, incentivize in new builds and retrofits.
Invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure for use by the general public.
We have been doing this. I am the Chair of a significant Not-for-Profit that does a lot of this work. But I wonder if incentivizing the auto industry should really be a high priority action for Government when that same industry continues to proactively make our Cities less safe, less livable, and less sustainable. I’m going to chew over this one for a while…
Adopt circular economy practices to reduce waste.
Sure. But I’m not sure what the role of local government is here. We collect recycling because it is the “right thing to do” despite most of it going to the landfill or incinerator because there is inadequate economic incentive built into our supply chains to promote recycling. We have no regulatory authority to change how packaging occurs (the source of most of our recyclable waste) nor can we force local manufacturers, suppliers, or retailers take responsibility for the single use products and packaging they sell. We collect your trash, we are allowed to charge you for that service, we can cajole you to separate or comingle to create more distinct waste streams, but the recycling system is broken at a fundamental level, so we are pissing into the wind – and spending way too much money being cheap about it. But hey, we all feel better if our peanut butter jar goes in a blue box instead of a black one.
Support the creation of more waste‐to‐energy sources.
There needs to be a big caveat on this one. In the context of a Climate Emergency, Waste-To-Energy only makes sense if it is not reliant upon the conversion of fossil carbon to atmospheric carbon. Burning waste plastics is no different that burning coal if the source of the hydrocarbon is fossil fuels. I have talked about this in the past, and still feel strongly that WTE solves the wrong problem. There are forms of WTE that do not rely on fossil fuels, but the technology is pretty raw, and some local companies have gone broke trying to make it work. Sewer heat recovery and waste wood gasification are operating in the region as district energy sources, and are the types of WTE that should be supported.
Develop a plan to protect 50% of the land base of the region from development (currently 40%).
This is an interesting, if regional, goal. The City of New West is already developed, depending on how you define it, between 80 and 100%. There are simply no Greenfields for us to expand into. However, we have a role to play in curtailing regional development in assuring out Transit Oriented Development areas provide housing alternatives and livable communities that take the pressure off of undeveloped greenfield spaces in other communities.
Integrate natural assets into conventional asset management and decision‐making processes.
This topic was going to be the theme of a conference I was helping organize with the Lower Mainland LGA, until COVID shut us down. I could write quite a bit about this, but maybe it needs to go in its own blog post. In the meantime, look at the great work that is happening on this front on the Sunshine Coast.
Provide opportunities for voices of the marginalized to be empowered and advanced, inclusive of Indigenous people, racialized populations and lower‐income workers, ensuring all residents in the region are educated, aware and invited to participate. &
Develop a framework to ensure diversity, inclusion, equity and anti‐racism informs all government actions
These are two sides of the same coin, one outward looking (how do we get a more diverse cohort of our population to take active part in decision making in the community?) and one inward looking (are we actually listening and understanding the diverse voices of our community?). These are both things the City is supporting in policy and in practice.
So there we are, that’s the Declaration. Now all we need to do is measure up to our best intentions.