Geller Takes Affordable Housing to Church

November 14, 2008

Michael Geller and I got off on the wrong foot.

A complex built on St Andrew's Wesley United on Nelson St. See my Thunderbird Story for more details

A housing complex was built on property at St Andrew's Wesley United Church in downtown Vancouver

“Well yeah, you punctured me,” joked the NPA candidate when I asked if he had been hurt on the campaign trail.

For those of you who read this blog, you may remember that Geller from a couple of weeks ago. At an all candidates debate for Vancouver city council on Oct. 28, Geller commented on the (let’s say slightly less than perfect) efficiency of city workers. Shortly after, at the same debate, he also apologized. I thought it was an interesting moment in a public debate so I recorded it on my blog.

Geller quickly commented with a “thank you” for my accuracy and called for more constructive criticism. He was enough of a sport to agree to a follow-up interview.

“You’re entitled to take pot shots,” he said good-naturedly shortly after the interview began at a noisy West Point Grey coffee shop. He also assured me everything I recorded was fair game.

Our conversation lasted almost an hour, leading to my new Thunderbird story, which features one of Geller’s ideas for affordable housing, building on church parking lots.

This idea is being implemented across the country, from St. John’s to Ottawa to Saskatoon.

In writing the story, I began to see a definite need for more ethical players in the real estate game. We need strong elected officials to make sure development occurs equitably and with foresight (with minimal affordable housing requirements). In writing this story, I found that non-profit organizations and churches can play a strong ethical role, and not just in speaking out against injustice. I also wonder if there are organizations, similar to ethical mutual funds, which can invest in the housing sector and still make a profit.

As the economy boomed these last few years, land values rose across the country and rents followed. High-end condos popped up like crazy, creating maximum profits for developers. The problem is that cities still need to house all kinds of people, and not just in the far-flung reaches of the suburbs.

In Vancouver, it’s nearly impossible for a family to buy a home anywhere but the suburbs. And as Geller told me, it’s not because there’s not enough land. There has been a lack of creative solutions to the problem, and a widespread fear of creating density.

While I was living in Alberta, I was struck by the shortsightedness of certain types of housing. The widespread practice of converting apartments into condos, for instance, strikes me as myopic at best. Long-term renters are dumped, apartments are painted, and then sold as condos. No real value is added to the housing market and dozens of people are displaced into a market with few vacancies.

The bitterest thing about it is that I knew people of faith investing heavily in the scheme.



  1. Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

  2. Brent, you won me over as a reader, and I predict you will not only go on to be a great journalist, but with your background, you could ultimately help build a new community housing development in conjunction with a Church. Remember the keys to success are innovative ideas, and STRANGE BEDFELLOWS!

  3. This, for sure is going to be a mile-stone tdwaros assisting the elderly and disabled people in Canada. It becomes more significance because it’s going to help pople with low income.

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