Operation Richmond

  1 May 2006

A confirmed urbanite and lover of tall buildings and crowded streets, your correspondent typically approaches excursions beyond downtown Vancouver as quasi-military campaigns. An objective – irresistibly cheap racks of lamb at some cavernous superstore, perhaps – is identified; intelligence – in the form of transit websites – is gathered and the incursion route meticulously mapped out; an exit strategy is developed from these same sources; a swift, pin-point strike and the prize is secured and an orderly retreat to the urban fastness beaten. No spectre of a Rumsfeldian quagmire is admitted.
It has to be said that this get-in-get-the-loot-and-get-out attitude occasionally exasperates suburban friends, but it is, I hope, a minor and harmless idiosyncrasy. Certainly, it could not be recommended for anything as serious as, say, a housing strategy. But it seems to be all that Richmond has.
“We need affordable housing in Richmond,” says Neil Smith, the NDP candidate for Richmond it was my mission that day to meet, “but nobody’s building it. Nobody’s even planning it. We need a federal affordable housing strategy.”
Withdrawing to Vancouver on the 98B bus, I could see what he means. If the biggest Tim Hortons in Canada is not on the #3 Rd, perhaps someone could correct me by return of post, but I am assuming for now that it is. Interspersed with such giant retail outlets were condo buildings, some new; others just holes in the ground with cranes and hopeful, pastel-tinted marketing signs. The dollar figures following “Homes starting from…” were enough to make even a Vancouver veteran’s eyebrows rise. Where, I wondered, do all the people working the low-wage service jobs in those outlets live?
Not, according to Neil, in any of the big new developments springing up throughout Richmond, where there is no provision at all for affordable housing. Many people, he tells me, live in aging and sometimes inadequate rental stock. And there’s not enough even of that. “The population’s growing and they can’t all afford condos. The NDP supports a new federal housing program because if we don’t have one, where will they live?” Neil asks. Unless we get a housing strategy – a long-term plan for everyone, not a short-term dash for growth – it beats me.
I’ll be asking all the candidates I meet if they have a better strategy for housing than I do for bargain hunting. But I’ll be keeping my “Mission Accomplished” banner firmly under wraps until the smoke clears from the electoral battlefield and the final bodycount is in.