Housing top concern for Vancouver’s new city planner

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 Vancouver’s new city planner is determined to make it a city for everyone — and that means making sure people of all incomes can afford to live here.

Gil Kelley, who started work as Vancouver’s new chief planner Sept. 15, said affordable housing is the city’s biggest challenge.

“Part of the job of planning is making sure we’re bringing on a supply of housing that’s not simply trickle-down theory but actually locking in a substantial portion of new housing as long-term or permanently affordable,” he said.

Kelley said he’ll be looking at what the city can do to increase housing for the middle class — particularly rental housing for families.

“Most of the market housing here is being built as condominium or strata units. It’s very interesting for me to observe that because in U.S. cities — especially since the recession — most of the new housing has been in the rental arena.”

One of his goals, he said, is to see what’s motivating Vancouver developers to focus on ownership and not rental housing.

Experience from San Francisco

Kelley, who was formerly the director of city-wide planning for San Francisco, said his work in that city — which faces many similar problems as Vancouver when it comes to housing affordability — could inform his work.

Gil Kelley is Vancouver’s new chief planner and head of the city’s Department of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability. (City of Vancouver)

For example, he said the federal governments in both Canada and the U.S. have “stepped away from the housing agenda”.

Despite having robust economies, he said, both Vancouver and San Francisco are having troubles making up the difference.

However, Kelley said he sees more hope for Vancouver.

“I think the difference between Vancouver and San Francisco is that a tidal wave has completely overcome San Francisco … San Francisco could not build its way out of the housing crisis if it tried.”

Kelley added it’s too early for him to offer specific examples of how Vancouver could do this, as he’s still in the exploration stages of getting to know the city.

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