Vancouver City Planning Commission under fire for “one-sided” housing panel

The Vancouver City Planning Commission is being accused of pro-developer bias after the City of Vancouver advisory body set up a panel exclusively of real estate supply advocates to answer the question “is Vancouver building enough housing?”

Last night’s panel discussion saw a supply-only panel consisting of controversial UBC sociology professor Nathanael Lauster, his colleague Jens von Bergmann, and Abundant Housing Vancouver director Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw[1]

“A one-sided echo chamber with “experts” whose testimony suggesting the foreign buyer tax was “racist” was thoroughly panned and tossed out by multiple judges,” tweeted housing activist and Housing Action for Local Taxpayers (HALT) founder Justin Fung. “And a housing activist who has no trouble accepting political donations from developers. Should be riveting.”

“Who is taking this seriously?” asked Vancouver resident Judy Rudin. “If you want to discuss this ‘provocative’ topic where are the voices who won’t be in lock step with this ‘panel’?”

“Do you actually recognize how pathetic this is?” asked Vancouver resident Craig Minielly
“Hang your heads in shame.”

“Talk about picking an absolute toxic mess of people with abhorrent ideas to talk on a panel,” Vancouver resident Jason Seaforth said. “Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?”

Nathanael Lauster and Jens von Bergmann had to offer public apologies in 2019 after being accused of promoting eugenics for proposing a “expected life year votes” – a system where the value of an individual’s vote would be weighted by their life expectancy.

Disability advocate and scholar Ashe Grey condemned the “thought experiment” as eugenics.

“So, like Gattaca but worse because at least in that movie judging people by their health and life expectancy was technically illegal (if not enforced), but sure create an entire government database that ranks people’s inherent value this will have no genocidal repercussions,” Ashe Grey tweeted.

“What happens if you outlive your life expectancy?” Ashe Grey asked. “I mean this is clearly eugenics but I still have questions about this proposed dystopia.”

“This is a harmful conversation to have,” author Adam Pottle said. “It dehumanizes elderly and disabled people by questioning their right to full citizenship. What you call fun, we call dangerous. Conversations like this—and I’m not exaggerating at all—led to the deaths of 275,000 people in Nazi Germany.”

Professor Lauster offered an apology following the public outcry.

After initially dismissing the criticism as people being “too sensitive,” von Bergmann also offered an apology and denied that he ever intended to imply eugenics against “eugenics against seniors, disabled, or other disadvantaged groups.”

Lauster also testified in a lawsuit aiming to repeal British Columbia’s foreing buyer tax calling the role of foreign money in Vancouver’s real estate market exaggerated and arguing that the tax was motivated by ”moral panic”[2]Li v British Columbia, 2019 BCSC 1819 (CanLII), , retrieved on 2021-07-06.

But it later turned out that Lauster had made millions selling his condo at three times its assessed value to China money lobbyists[3]

BC Supreme Court dismissed Lauster’s conclusion “…the Foreign Buyer (sic) Tax impedes the immigration process of a significant portion of those who immigrate to Canada.”

“The cross-examination of Professor Lauster showed that he did not have direct empirical support for that conclusion,” the justice ruled. “He agreed that he had not directly shown cases where the Foreign Buyers’ Tax has had an impact on someone’s immigration process. He also agreed that he resorted to the phrase ‘significant portion’ as an imprecise judgment call because of his discomfort in attempting to quantify the impediment in any empirical manner.”

The court also dismissed Lauster’s conclusion that the foreign buyer tax “perpetuated or provoked any historical stereotypes or biases against immigrants”.

“Whether the Tax is discriminatory within s. 15 of the Charter is one of the ultimate issues for the court to decide and not an expert. Furthermore, the discriminatory aspects of the Foreign Buyers’ Tax do not appear to fall within his area of expertise,” the judge ruled. “Even though he is not an economist, Professor Lauster also opined that the impact of foreign buyers on the market has ‘likely been exaggerated’ and that foreign buyers have played ‘a minor role’ in house price increases. In cross-examination while acknowledging the importance of empirical evidence he said that he had not read the report of Dr. Von Bergmann which quantified the number of foreign buyers.”

BC Court of Appeal last week affirmed the lower court’s decision and agreed with the Supreme Court judges decision to throw out parts of Lauster’s testimony.

Jennifer Bradshaw is the director of the “yes in my backyard” (YIMBY) advocacy group Abundant Housing Vancouver, who are pushing to make all areas of Vancouver available to developers to build condos.

Bradshaw also acted as the financial agent for former AHV director Adrian Crook’s campaign for Vancouver city council in 2018, which was bankrolled by Vancouver’s real estate developers.

Vancouver City Planning Commission has kept mum about how the panel was selected.

But one recently elected commissioner boycotted the event.

“I am a new commissioner,” disability rights advocate Gabrielle Peters said. “I played no role in the organizing of this meeting. I don’t feel it would be a meeting I would wish to attend despite being very concerned with the issue of housing in Vancouver. I do not feel it would be a safe place to express my concerns or learn.”

Peters had previously accused Lauster and von Bergmann of eugenics over their “expected life year votes” proposal.

“I feel that the opinions and views that will be expressed at this meeting are well known to me and most people in Vancouver,” Peters added. “I would like to find ways to work with those who are less often heard from and who face particular risks and challenges around housing.”

Meanwhile, Vancouver City Planning Commissioner Robyn Chan refused to divulge how the panel was chosen, labelling the question as an “attack” and an “insult”.

References   [ + ]

2. Li v British Columbia, 2019 BCSC 1819 (CanLII), , retrieved on 2021-07-06