Vancouver's Affordable Housing Task Force

Mike Howell Vancouver Courier
February 10, 2012

So you may have heard Mayor Gregor Robertson announced the members of his so-called housing affordability task force this week.

This is the task force that he and former B.C. cabinet minister Olga Ilich are heading up in an attempt to make one of the most unaffordable real estate markets in the world affordable for some folks.

Yep, good luck.

That's my comment, my encouraging words. But how about this perspective from Peter Simpson, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association:

"Although I applaud the mayor's commitment to addressing this critical issue, I can't help but reflect on the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, in which comedian Bill Murray's character, a frustrated weatherman, wakes up each morning to find he is repeating the same day over and over again."

Housing affordability has been studied over and over again, says Simpson, adding that "eminently qualified commentators -- brilliant scholars, industry leaders, respected think tank organizations --have all contributed thought provoking data."

The people, he adds, who served on previous housing affordability panels, task forces, forums and workshops would occupy all available seats in Rogers Arena, maybe B.C. Place Stadium.

"And I wonder how many reports filled with reasonable recommendations related to market housing, rental housing and homelessness are piled on shelves, never to see the light of day," he went on. "The people who contributed much time and resources to those reports should feel choked by this dead-end outcome."


Simpson's comments didn't come courtesy of an interview.

Nope, I simply reprinted them here from a column he wrote Dec. 17, 2011 in the Vancouver Sun. Simpson wrote it two weeks after Robertson announced his plan for a task force in his inauguration speech.

Now, guess what?

The mayor appointed Simpson to the task force.

So, was it a case of the mayor saying, "OK wise guy, let's see what you can do?" Or did the mayor even know Simpson's take on the task force?

Since the mayor seems to be chronically unavailable whenever I need a few minutes of his time over the phone, I contacted Simpson for insight on his appointment.

As he tells it, he didn't put his name forward to be on the task force. And he's not sure whether the mayor was aware of the sentences he crafted in his Vancouver Sun column.

"I was surprised as anybody when [the mayor's office] asked me to be on this committee," he said.


"I'm opinionated. That's just my mentality. Sometimes I say things that people don't like to hear."

So what approach will you take with this task force?

"I'm going in with an open mind. I'm not going in there to preach. I'm probably going to listen more than I am going to talk, which is hard for me. I'll probably very quickly figure out if this is going to be yet another exercise in futility."

Other members of the task force include former city planner Nathan Edelson, Leonard George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Marg Gordon of the B.C. Apartment Owners and Managers Association, Eric Martin of Bosa Development Corp. and Karen O'Shannacery, executive director of Lookout Society. Architect/planner Michael Geller will head up a separate working group on "how the form and design of new housing affects affordability."

A full list of task force members can be viewed on the city's website. None of them will be paid, according to the mayor's office. An interim report is expected March 12.

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