For the first time this election season, all five Vancouver City Council candidates participated in a debate together. The candidates considered issues facing Vancouver at the League of Women Voters candidate forum Thursday evening.
For the most part, the candidates agreed on solutions to problems such as rising housing costs and increasing congestion.
Sarah Fox and Mary Elkin said the city has already embarked on one solution to combat rising rents with the policy that mandates landlords have to give residents a 45-day notice for rising rents and a 60-day notice for lease terminations.
“I think right now we have a pretty good program in place to protect our renters,” Fox said.
Maureen McGoldrick said that since the state doesn’t allow rent control, the city could at least prevent landlords from evicting residents for three years if the resident has lodged a complaint related to safety or delayed housing repairs.
Laurie Lebowsky, a current city councilor, said the next step for the city is to ensure more housing is built.
“Vancouver has some of the lowest vacancy rates in the country,” she said. “We need more (housing options) at every level of income in our city.”
The fifth candidate, Adam Shetler, did not have any comments on the issue.
He did, however, say the city is putting its Proposition 1 funding to good use.
“It’s helping people, so I believe it is effective,” she said, noting that the city has 1,200 units coming online in the near future.
Lebowsky added that she would support forming a cottage village to help provide more affordable housing.
Elkin said she wants the city to focus on moving forward with private-public partnerships.
“So we can leverage this money and make it more effective,” Elkin said.
Fox said it’s too soon to gauge how effective the program is a mere one year in, but she expects the grants to community partners, such as the Housing Initiative, will prove most successful.
McGoldrick was the only candidate to speak negatively about the way the city has used its Affordable Housing Fund.
She argued it’s illegal to enforce any of the affordable housing projects that received funding because the stipulation is not in writing. Projects that receive funding are required to provide affordable units for 20 years.
“This program needs a more comprehensive plan,” McGoldrick added.
Candidates were also asked about police funding and if the department meets the needs of the city.
Elkin, who’s endorsed by the Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild, said the city is lucky to have the officers it has, but acknowledged that the department has a tough time keeping up with hiring demands due to delays in the state training academy. Shetler said he agreed with Elkin.
Fox, Lebowsky and McGoldrick said the city needs more officers.
“I would support lobbying and working with our state legislators to have a police academy located more closely to Vancouver or in Vancouver,” Lebowsky said.
She added that while the city is actively considering revenue streams to continue expanding the police force via Vancouver Strong, a community advisory group tasked with proposing sustainable revenue sources, Vancouver cannot rely on just one revenue stream.