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Have YIMBYs won the development debate?

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Canadians keep having to earn more to rent or buy a place to live. Nowhere is that issue more prominent in Canada than Vancouver or Toronto, two of the world’s most expensive cities.

Although unaffordability has affected Canadians for years, this year’s municipal elections have seen overtly pro-development and pro-affordability, or YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard), candidates take centre stage. 

It’s a marked change from the past, where the conventional wisdom has assumed that homeowners, who make up the majority of voters, will always oppose development out of self-interest. Now some candidates are betting that a political sea change is underway and are hoping to ride the first wave of pro-development votes.

Mark Marissen, a long-time federal Liberal strategist, is running for mayor in Vancouver as the candidate for Progress Vancouver, a party he helped found in 2018. Progress is also running a full slate of candidates for city council. 

In a plan called “Housing for All”, Progress declares changing Vancouver’s zoning laws as crucial to new developments aimed at boosting supply and lowering the cost of renting and buying property. 

The average cost of a house in Vancouver is over $1 million, which Marissen says drives younger generations away to the suburbs. 

“The average young Canadian family that doesn’t have access to an inheritance, they’re never gonna be able to buy one of these homes,” says Marissen. “We need young families in our neighbourhoods.” 

Progress wants to end a municipal ban on six-storey rental and four-storey strata buildings in parts of Vancouver currently zoned for single-family homes, specifically around schools and transit hubs. 

Upwards of 75 percent of Vancouver is zoned for detached, single-family houses, leaving little space for densification outside the downtown core. 

Their goal targets 15,000 new units per year, half rentals—a goal to be aided by a streamlined development approval process. 

A recent 25-storey tower proposed for Vancouver’s downtown was originally pitched as a rental development, but the proposal was altered last week to become solely condominiums. Marissen says a lack of new rental housing resulted from the federal government’s scaling back of incentives for developers to build them. 

“This is a legacy of 30 years of housing policy that hasn’t been working,” says Marissen. “The last time we built a lot of purpose-built rentals was back in the sixties.” 

Marissen says cooperation between different labels of government is required to solve the housing crisis, and that process will require pressure from the municipal level to begin. 

“I think more and more people are becoming aware of how important this is,” says Marissen “It’s been ground zero here in Vancouver, so it’s understandable that we are a few years ahead of people on this stuff.” 

In Toronto, incumbent mayor John Tory is facing challenges from Gil Peñalosa, founder of the non-profit 8 80 Cities, and Stephen Punwasi, an entrepreneur and founder of Better Dwelling, a housing news website. Both Peñalosa and Punwasi have made affordability central to their platforms, though Punwasi has a history of criticizing YIMBYs and proposes alternate plans

Sushil Tailor is a YIMBY advocate in Toronto. He says both Vancouver and Toronto face the same problems because of their existing zoning laws. Toronto recently outpriced Vancouver as the most expensive city in Canada. 

“These cities are primarily facing the same issues as it relates to housing: there is not enough supply to accommodate demand,” says Tailor. “Municipal regulations ensure we are not allowed to build net new housing on about 70 percent of land in both Toronto and Vancouver.” 

Tailor says people long-believed housing was a bubble, and that managing demand was the solution, like tighter restrictions on development. However, Tailor calls that approach a “charade”, and that new regulations made it much harder for new housing. 

Marissen says candidates can no longer reliably win municipal elections by running on stopping development and building new homes. 

“That just shows how much the scene has changed and how especially for young people, young families, anybody under 40,” says Marissen. “That kind of rhetoric that people used to use to get elected municipally is Boomer rhetoric that doesn’t appeal to them.” 

In 2018, Marissen wrote an op-ed stating that YIMBYs would dominate Vancouver politics in the future. According to a poll last week where he placed fourth, Marissen faces an uphill battle to win the mayoral race. 

Vancouver’s incumbent mayor Kennedy Stewart has called for 220,000 new homes in Vancouver over 10 years, while Toronto mayor John Tory has promised reform and increased density in Toronto. 

Critics have pointed out both mayors had years to help boost the housing supply, but say it is a positive sign they are talking about it. 

“It feels like the wait is over, long-running debates have been settled, and public opinion is beginning to accept that if we want housing affordability we first need to be able to build new housing without hindrance,” says Tailor. 

‘If you don’t trust me, then fire me’: More Hub readers respond to the work-from-home phenomenon

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Here at The Hub we are convinced that delays in getting back to the office and now the rise of so-called “quiet quitting” risk having significant consequences for individual Canadians, the economy, and our broader society that need to be better understood and debated.

We recently ran an editorial that made the case for getting back to the office, but we don’t want to have the last word on the subject. We put out the call for Hub readers to respond with their own experiences and are delighted to share the latest sample of comments and feedback. We will continue to share your feedback as it comes in.

If you would like to tell us about your own empty office experience or contribute to this discussion, please email us at editorial@thehub.ca or contact us anonymously via our online submission form.

If you don’t trust me, then fire me

Working from home is the best thing since the invention of the wheel. Productivity IS increased tremendously. I feel very conscious about being a good employee and not taking advantage of the situation. I do stuff on Saturdays and Sundays now as a matter of course, which I didn’t before.

But not having that miserable commute is the best. Happy to come in if needed for meetings in person or events, but otherwise leave me home. Check on me any way you wish if you must (but really if you don’t trust me, then fire me). The peace of mind from being home and being able to do a quick laundry or clean up while waiting for an answer to an email is priceless.

My weekends are happier, my spouse is happier, and my animals are happier. It’s better for my mental health and the environment. There is no downside. If managers can’t figure out how to manage this new trend, then they either have the wrong people and this has just highlighted it, or they are in the wrong job. I will not go back to five days in the office ever. Not happening when it is so unnecessary.

More sleep—enough said

I was a tech worker in the office (i.e. not a manager etc.), and we were asked to work from home twice in 2020 and 2021. I have to admit that I preferred working from home, and for two good reasons too:

1. There were fewer distractions when working from home and I was far more productive.

2. I got an extra 90 minutes of sleep each day, and there was no rush to get to work. So from my own experience, I would have to say that working from home was far less stressful, and from a health perspective, I never felt better. We had daily meetings using Microsoft TEAMS, which worked really well too.

I can understand at least some workers being somewhat reluctant to return to the office.

Work from home has worked for many years

I own a small business. A house painting company. I have operated from home for 25 years. Except for disruptions because people would not let us in their house, COVID had no effect on my (office) work environment. I have not had to commute in rush hour for 25 years. My 2015 VW Jetta has just under 70K on it because I only drive it to sales appointments. Occasionally I can price and sell a house painting job using Google search and Google maps to see the house without seeing the actual building. I don’t even go to the bank anymore. Everything is electronic.

It definitely takes discipline but I have intentionally created a system of advertising and so on that forces me to work. In other words, I generate leads I have to follow up on. If I had to sit and cold call all day I’d be bankrupt. I’d never do it. So while I am entrepreneurial, I am also lazy and that has to be factored in when working from home.

I am not sure if this is right for everyone. In a business that requires group input or collaboration, it might be hard. In a job someone hates, the office at least provides discipline and routine. You lose that at home. Hence I have discipline built into my system so that the system is my boss. And yet, I can sit around in my pajamas until it’s time to go look at a project.

What about a balance?

I  work in a small organization in Toronto. I never thought I’d like working from home but I do! It is lonely at times and it is annoying to have an office in a small apartment, but the cost savings and freedom make up for it. It is so freeing not to have to stand frustrated, sweating sardines in an ever-more decrepit and unreliable subway; to not have your footwear ruined by being forced to go out in rain and snow; to be able to work out in the morning or to run errands during the day; to get dinner started, thereby eating like a civilized person. To name just a few of the benefits. Any time I used to run an errand I give back by working at odd times, e.g. while dinner is cooking, Sunday evening, or immediately first thing in the morning to get a head start.

Let’s face it. No one is super busy every hour of every day. We are just good at looking busy when the boss walks by. Why should we be chained to the desk on slow days? Just like we put in extra long hours when things heat up, so we should be able to have coffee in the sunshine when things are calm. If you hire the right staff, there will be no abuse.

I realize, though, that for the economy it is better that we all are in the office so we can buy stuff. I also realize that for a young person making her career, face-to-face time is valuable. We will be going into the office twice a week from now on. I think that is a good balance—and gives us an opportunity to again wear smart clothing like adults!