Passionate letter on affordable housing triggers big response in #NewWest

It’s not often a letter to the editor in our community triggers this kind of response, but Stephanie Clark seems to have tapped into a growing sense of  concern in New Westminster. With countless new expensive condo towers under construction [with even more expected to get unanimous 7-0 approvals from the mayor and council], Clark openly discussed how she may have to move out of a city she loves dearly.

The lack of affordable housing is not a new issue in our region, but for the longest time New Westminster seemed to have been less impacted – with core cities like Vancouver and Burnaby bearing most of the brunt. The approval of yet another pricey high rise condo tower may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for Clark who wrote an eloquent letter to the New Westminster Record.

Another local resident voices concerns over renovictions

Incredibly, in only a week she had over 740 Facebook likes which by all accounts catapults it to near viral status in our city.

As a result, I thought I’d share with you her letter in its entirety as it speaks for itself. Please feel free to leave a comment if you want to add to the discussion.

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My name is Stephanie Clark, I am 35 years old, have lived in New Westminster my entire life, and now I think I have to move.

Let me be clear: I don’t want to move; I love this city, I love being surrounded by family and friends that also call New West their homes, and it offers a convenient location for me and my partner’s jobs. Now we have a one year old daughter and had hoped to raise her here. Sadly, I see my beloved city turning into a place that feels like it is turning its back on young families and many of us being priced out of both owning and renting a home here.

Both my partner and I have good jobs – I am in a senior role at another municipality and he is a dev/ops engineer for a tech firm downtown – and yet the cost of living here is getting to be too high for us to stay.

Council approved two new pricey condo towers for New Westminster waterfront which includes 24 hour concierge service

Because of how attached I am to this city, I accepted that my family will never own a house here. My daughter will never have a yard to play in, we won’t have space for a family dog, and we will not be able to have the same living conditions that we did growing up, despite higher levels of education and income. I have to draw the line, though, at not even being able to afford a small condo that I can expect won’t be in a sardine-packed area with no green space, no parking, schools with portables instead of play spaces and year-round noise and air pollution of constant construction. While I recognise that some of this is the reality of living in an urban area, I also expect city council to ensure this is well-balanced with the preservation of our community.

When this article came out about council’s decision to approve the development at Sixth and Carnarvon, it felt like a last straw of hope that we could stay.

Project aside – which in itself makes me want to leave to avoid the imminent construction, parking issues, traffic congestion issues, additional pressure on our school catchment area and eye sore for those of that want to see river, not building – the quotes in the article are infuriating. To suggest that people don’t want houses and prefer condo living for the convenience is simply false. Those of us living in condos with children are primarily doing it out of necessity: we want the house, but we can’t afford it, townhomes are hard to come by, too expensive and often anti-family with age restrictions of 40+, so we buy or rent apartments. And that’s if we’re lucky.

The condo we currently live in increased in value by 48 per cent this year after increasing by 32 per cent the year previous. What that means is that, if we were looking today, we would not be able to afford our home. And while the increase in equity seems nice, in reality it translates to nothing more than higher property taxes and equity that we could only use to make a lateral move.

Mayor Cote and his District Labour Council slate regularly vote 7-0 in support of new highrise condo developments

The other suggestion by the development team member in the article is that young people will be able to stay in New Westminster because of this and similar developments. I take issue with this as well because the chances of young people being able to afford units in the brand new building are extremely thin. If my 1995-built, two-bedroom condo is valued at just shy of half a million dollars, how much will a brand new one go for? If we look at the rental prices of the recently completed Novare building located across the street, I’d say most of us are priced out before the developers even break ground. The new mortgage regulations make it difficult to afford older, less expensive homes and impossible for this type of new build real estate for middle income families. So to say that, as council members noted in their decision, the townhouses and two- and three- bedroom units are needed by families becomes moot when young families can’t afford those units nor would they even qualify under the new mortgage regulations.

I recognise this reasoning is just two peoples’ opinions, but it makes me question if there is similar sentiments among members of city council, which leads them to approve this type of proposal. This area, like most in New West, doesn’t have the space or infrastructure to support the density without significantly decreasing the quality of life for residents. This is only one development, but speaks to a trend in our city (like the proposed development by the Glenbrook ravine that seeks to buy out existing owners to redevelop the area).

I would also ask that council look at family expenses as a whole. The publication of the article above came out the same day I was advised the day care center that our daughter attends two days a week was raising fees by $100 a month, an increase of over 17 per cent. With the cost of full-time childcare often being more than rent, but without the regulations in increases that apply to rent, such an increase is not manageable for families with limited extra cash.

When you consider this, the rising property taxes, utility rates, and strata fees, the unattainable prices of detached houses, frequent “reno-victions”, new buildings far too expensive and often too small for families, allowances for age restricted town houses, and new mortgage regulations, living here becomes untenable for those of us who have seen no comparable increase in income.

My roots are deep in this city: my grandparents raised their family in Sapperton, my parents raised me in Queens Park, and I want to raise my daughter here. I really hope that becomes a possibility.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. This is the first time anything has meant enough to me to write in like this so I appreciate any time and consideration.

NOTE: To learn more about who contributed to the election campaigns of our current elected council, click on this link.

 

A tale of two very different campaigns for New Westminster School Board

A number of people have approached me of late to ask what it would take to win a seat on the New Westminster School Board.  Some ask how many hours they need to set aside each week if they were elected. Almost all have inquired as to how much money they would need to raise in order to mount a campaign against the District Labour Council (DLC)/NDP endorsed slate a.k.a. “the machine”.

83% of Michael Ewen’s campaign funds in 2014 came from trade unions

I decided to look back at the campaign disclosure forms of four candidates to give me a better sense of what people might be up against. Two of those school trustee candidates were endorsed by the DLC, while two were not.

I’ve previously written about Michael Ewen noting he has served an incredible 38 years as an elected school trustee. Apparently he is planning on running again, and if elected will have served 42 years as a public official. No doubt this likely sets some sort of record among Commonwealth nations. But I digress…

So how much did Ewen raise and where did the money come from? In total, he raised $6469.84 in funds to pay for his campaign. According to his Elections BC disclosure, he raised a paltry $583.50 from individuals [$246 of which he personally contributed], $500 from corporations [all came from Agentic who gave to most of the DLC/NDP candidates] and an eye-popping $5386.34 from trade unions.

That’s right…83% of Ewen’s campaign was funded by trade unions.

A whopping 90% of James Janzen’s campaign contributions came from trade unions

A similar story emerges when you look at Ewen’s DLC colleague James Janzen. He raised a total of $7341.84 – of which only $295 came from individuals, $500 from corporations [Agentic] and a whopping $6634.84 came from trade unions.

Janzen collected even a greater portion of his campaign funds from organized labour compared to Ewen. 90% of his campaign funds came directly from unions. This certainly gives new meaning to running a community-based “grassroots campaign.”

Now let’s have a look at independent Casey Cook who is serving his third term as school trustee. If you look at his disclosure forms it reveals he chose to self-finance his entire campaign [something that is now banned with the introduction of Bill 15]. He spent a total of $2328.92 – of which a portion was $400 for the reuse of some old campaign signs. He accepted no corporate or union contributions.

Grassroot campaigns may prove more effective during the 2018 civic campaign

Finally, former school trustee MaryAnn Mortensen [she resigned mid-term] raised a total of $2316.09. She gets the gold medal for running a grassroots campaign as she declared 39 contributors gave her campaign less than $100. Mortensen also contributed $841 from her own funds to help her secure victory and accepted no union or corporate donations.

The recent passage of Bill 15, legislation which bans financial and in-kind campaign donations from corporations and unions will have a huge impact on our upcoming civic election. This is especially true when you juxtapose it against previous legislation which now sets strict limits on expenditures and imposes a new $1200 per year cap on contributions from any single person – including the candidate.

From what you can see above, it really has been a tale of two campaigns over the last while. However, some civic politicians are about to learn that the rules of the fundraising game have significantly changed – and this may serve to level the playing field – at least somewhat. I guess we’ll all find out what transpires in about 8 months from now!

PS The opinions posted on this blog are my own – full stop!

Capacity crowd of 70+ attend inaugural New West Progressives Networking Night

It was extremely rewarding to be part of the New West Progressives (NWP)  inaugural Neighbourhood Networking Night last evening. There truly was a real positive energy in the room and a sense that if we work hard, we can build the momentum needed to defeat the 7-0 political monopoly currently governing city hall.

To learn more, I’m sharing what was posted on the NWP website earlier today. If you want to get involved or make a donation, please drop me a line today!

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After months of work, it was great to see over 70 people gather for the inaugural Neighbhourhood Networking Night on January 18th. There was a real buzz in the room as the group assembled for a big announcement by Daniel Fontaine, Chair of the New West Progressives (NWP) steering committee.

“I am pleased to announce that as of a few hours ago, I received an email from the Province of BC that we’re now officially a not-for-profit society,” Fontaine told the crowd. “We have an amazing group of individuals who’ve come together to start this grassroots political movement and in nine months we hope to see some real change take hold at both city hall and the school board.”

Daniel Fontaine, Chair of the NW Progressives announces to the crowd that the New West Progressives have become an official not-for-profit society as of January 18th

The NW Progressives have scheduled a founding meeting on Thursday, February 1st. In the spring, the NWP will also establish itself as a formal elector organization and announce an exciting group of individuals who will be taking on the District Labour Council endorsed slate of incumbents during the October 20th civic election.

“Our founding constitution calls for us to remove the influence that provincial and federal politics can often have on our municipal politicians and their decision-making process,” says Fontaine. “Our locally elected politicians should be making decisions which are in the best interests of local citizens, not political operatives in Victoria or Ottawa.”

Once the candidates are announced this spring, the NW Progressives will release a platform document which will detail how we’d like to improve and strengthen our city and schools. Over the course of the new few months, New West residents and business owners are invited to get involved with our local Neighbourhood Networking Nights and contact us through our website to inform us of what they believe should be the key priorities of council and our school board.

Over 70 people gathered to participate in the inaugural NW Progressives Neighbourhood Networking Night on January 18th

“I can’t believe what you guys pulled off in such a short time,” said one of the attendees. “If this type of momentum continues, you may have a David and Goliath battle on your hands, but you just might do it!”

The NW Progressives launched as an organization last November and made front page headlines in the Record newspaper. Since then, we have launched a new website and have been active on social media engaging with local residents.

“We were hoping to get 20-30 people out for our inaugural event,” says Lisa Falbo, Vice-Chair of the NWP. “We actually had to cut off registration due to the fact we were over subscribed. That’s an amazing problem to have when you’re a new political organization.”

The next Neighbourhood Networking Night will take place on January 31st. Additional sessions will be held in neighbourhoods throughout the city. Be on the lookout for a flyer promoting the event which may come through your door slot or in the mail in the coming weeks!

“Thanks so much to everyone for coming out and supporting us,” said Danielle Connelly, Chair of Communications. “It was great to see so many people here tonight who are encouraging us to develop a positive alternative.”