The city of Vancouver crowdsourced ideas through a citizen participation platform in order to find innovative responses to the housing crisis.
Problems and Purpose
This project was set up to help the City of Vancouver crowdsource innovative ideas to tackle the housing crisis and involve citizens in this process.
Background History and Context
Vancouver's housing crisis
The City’s Housing Vancouver Strategy is part of a government attempt to counter Vancouver’s skyrocketing property prices and rents. Various initiatives aim to increase the supply of rental homes and to return empty or under-used properties back into the renting pool to serve as living or working spaces.
The most notable of these government measures was perhaps the Empty Homes Tax, which subjected said properties to a tax of 1% of their assessed value. Ultimately, 4.6% or over 8.481 properties were declared to be liable.
Solution: Generating And Reinvesting Funds
In the first year of its operation, the Empty Homes Tax generated an estimated $30 million in total revenue. After deducting the initial implementation costs, all net revenue is reinvested towards affordable housing options.
In the spirit of democracy and civic engagement, citizens were invited to submit their ideas and weigh in on how to take on the affordable housing challenge.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
This project was funded by the City of Vancouver, who worked with the external company CitizenLab to build a citizen participation platform. CitizenLab brought the software and built the platform, with input from city officials regarding content.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participation was open to all Vancouverites, meaning there was no participation selection. The aim was to increase participation as much as possible, so the city advertised the platform on its own channels and efforts were made to increase visibility of the project. One of the critical success factors were involvement of local politicians - the city's mayor tweeted about the platform, which helped increase awareness and participation.
Methods and Tools Used
The platform is a citizen participation platform where users can leave ideas, comment other participants' ideas and vote for the projects they want to support. City administrators can read and moderate comments in real time through an interactive dashboard.
The platform also features machine-learning and Natural Language Processing algorithms capable of processing unstructured citizen input in real time. The comments are classified, clustered and located on a map, making it easy for administrators to understand what topics are being discussed on the platform and how this differs across geographical areas.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Citizens left their ideas on the platform for the city to consider. The city’s call for input received over 650 registrations, 5.500 votes and 450 reactions. The voice of the people mainly called for more co-op housing, the increase of purpose-built rental accommodations and buying more land for affordable housing.
In the final phase, CitizenLab assisted the city of Vancouver in processing the input by clustering similar ideas and extracting valuable insights on voting behaviour.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Citizen ideas have influenced the attribution of revenue from the Empty Homes Tax, and some of the ideas - such stronger enforcement of rental by-laws - have now been picked to be implemented by the city.