Sandy Garossino: independent solutions to partisan problems

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Affordable housing: the off-shore elephant in the room

Like many other candidates, one of Garossino’s top priorities this election is around the topic of affordable housing. But while others have focused on homeless counts and new development, she’s been vocal with her views on how foreign ownership distorts housing prices – a problem she said her political independence gives her the freedom to address.

“The parties generally are extremely reluctant to touch that issue,” she said. “Because I’m prepared to touch the issue, and because I’m conversant in a lot of the influences, it’s easier to differentiate myself.”

Garossino has certainly taken a clearer stance than the major parties when it comes to “absentee ownership” and its impact on the broader community. While she’s hesitant to suggest a limit on off-shore buyers, she said she’s at least willing to bring the discussion to the table.

After a question from Monday night’s mayoral housing debate, both Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor Suzanne Anton said they would not support such a limit.

“It’s remarkable to me that both of the mayoralty candidates were dismissing out of hand any sort of solution around non-resident ownership or global capital,” said Garossino.

As a professional who continues to do business with interests in Asia, she understands the complexities that have so far prevented politicians from taking a stand on the issue.

“If we had U.S. buying in Vancouver to the extent that we have buying from other locations globally, I think people would be very, very angry and they’d be demanding some sort of a response. It’s been the anxiety over the perception that a lot of this capital is entering from Asia that has, I think, prevented us from really engaging in the debate.”

To tackle the problem, Garossino believes the first step should be obtaining adequate information about the level of foreign ownership and how it’s driving the market. After that, she said the city could consider potential alternatives – like zoning parts of the city to be ineligible for foreign investment, or making public housing available for renters at rates not driven by external factors.

Garossino said she understands the potential for investment to bring positive change to the economy, but emphasized the fact that it needs to be channeled in different ways.

“There are also positives to the influx of capital here. The problem is that it is pooling in a single asset class, in residential real estate. And it’s damaging our local economy.”

On the Occupation

Attending Monday’s debate on housing and homelessness, Garossino commented on some of the “very strong feelings” coming from both stage and audience.

“I found that debate to be an absolutely intriguing exercise,” she said, referring to the passionate and repeated disruptions caused by Occupy Vancouver protesters. For her, the event signaled something very important that’s happening both within and outside of our current political discourse.

“What I take seriously is the fact that young people feel so disconnected from the traditional political process that they feel that their only voice is to overwhelm and disrupt it,” she said.

So what does Garossino think about the City’s handling of Occupy Vancouver? 

“As someone who has been a prosecutor in the criminal justice system, I see at least two – maybe more – major challenges that face the City,” she said.

One of those challenges is the precedent set by the ongoing Falun Gong demonstration, which has been protesting the Communist Party of China outside the Chinese Embassy for several years.

“We seem to be, as a community, much more tolerant of people who protest other governments than our own,” said Garossino.

Another significant challenge with Occupy Vancouver, she noted, is the potential for violence if action is taken to shut down the encampment.

“Regardless of the charter issues and how those are resolved by the courts, as a practical matter, I’m very concerned about an effort to either remove or displace the Occupy movement,” she said. 

Choosing her words carefully, she made note of the risks associated with inserting government authority into the situation.

“It’s notable that none of the more than 1,000 cities worldwide have removed their Occupy movement without violence. And I’m very doubtful that Vancouver can be the first one to do that,” she said.

“Attitudes are hardening at exactly the moment when we should, as a community, be reaching out to one another. It’s forcing people into extreme positions. And it’s also provoking more extreme responses.”

When asked about the City’s alternatives, Garossino said her strategy would attempt to engage in a more thorough discussion with those directly involved. 

“I’m very skeptical that this can be handled peacefully by authorities once they move to physically remove protesters, and for that reason my approach would be to remain calm, and keep a measured response, and to build relationships as much as possible with those who can be influential inside the movement, on the site.”

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