Loading...

Let's play another round of the No-Win Game, City Heritage version

/, History & Heritage/Let's play another round of the No-Win Game, City Heritage version

In the ‘You can’t win’ file this week, Barbara Yaffe’s column in today’s Sun:
Sun

.

The Sun’s columnist has previously highlighted the City’s failure to address the loss of pre-1940 character homes, particularly on the West Side:

Barbara Yaffe: Vancouver becomes increasingly insipid on the streets where we live

City must save our heritage by making old homes easier to protect

Published: Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Other media have also featured Disappearing Dunbar and Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouveras well as the many calls for action by Elizabeth Murphy and others active in the Vancouver Neighbourhoods Coalition.

.

Murphy

 .

Sooo … in response to community demand, the City takes some interim steps to discourage demolition.  You can probably guess what happens.  From Yaffe:

City Council earlier this year ordered restrictions on demolitions after public opposition to the widespread tearing down of character homes on the city’s west side. The measures “to identify and encourage retention of pre-1940 character houses” are intended to be temporary as the city was already reviewing its heritage practices, according to a June 2014 report to City Council. …
Now any pre-1940 home with “character merit” ­— based on criteria such as roof form, front porch, exterior wall materials — is subject to the new, restrictive rules to discourage demos.
But such a designation is a kiss of death, automatically causing property values to plummet.
That’s because any new purchaser of a character-designated house cannot easily knock down and build anew, which is what most buyers these days want to do with older homes. …

Here’s the part I love:

Clearly the city’s new character home policy is poorly designed, having been fashioned and implemented without community consultation. Even the Vancouver Character House Network, which opposes demolition of character homes, criticizes the city for failing to consult: “The public needs to be involved.”
The city’s interim measures also reek of unfairness and may have unintended consequences. …
When the many owners of character-designated homes become aware they face a situation similar to that of the Todds, the city is likely to face a backlash, perhaps strong enough to convince a new council to revisit this onerous policy.

As with so many issues, there’s a belief that somehow if there was only more consultation, policy that pleased everyone could have been crafted, with no deleterious effects, no unfairness, no unexpected consequences.  Like calls for tax reform, it’s so easy to do – unless you actually have to make a decision about who benefits and who loses.
The problem with the Yaffe column is not that criticism of the choice is unfounded; it’s the failure to recognize that choices involve trade-offs .  And that this was a response to a demand that the City must take action, and quickly, before hundreds more homes were lost – a demand that she herself made.

Comments

  1. I’ve submitted this to the ‘letters’ column of The Sun:
    Barbara Yaffe’s column on October 30th (“City of Vancouver likes your home, so now it’s worth $500,000 less”) follows years of columns and articles about the unexpected windfall of a million or more awaiting sellers of west-side homes due to the recent demand for huge luxurious houses.
    The old city policy that created the windfall went as follows: carrots for demolition, sticks for any poor sap who tried to renovate. The new one seeks to reverse that, arguing that the values of heritage and greenness (that is, keeping old buildings going and adding to them) trump individual profit.
    This new policy came after much public input and stories from people like Yaffe herself detailing the loss of character in the city’s west-side neighbourhoods.
    Yaffe’s story reminds me of the one where a guy plans on winning the lottery and when he doesn’t he claims he’s lost a fortune.

    1. As noticed by M. Geller,
      you can protect heritage house stock and still preserve the house value assesment::
      A way to do it is to allow
      – to build bigger laneway house on heritage house land.
      -allow transformation of heritage house in multi family housing
      so yes it can be a win-win game

  2. Well said:
    “As with so many issues, there’s a belief that somehow if there was only more consultation, policy that pleased everyone with no deleterious effects, no unfairness, no unexpected consequences, could have been crafted. Like calls for tax reform, it’s so easy to do – unless you actually have to make a decision about who benefits and who loses.
    The problem with the Yaffe column is not that criticism of the choice is unfounded; it’s the failure to recognize that choices involve trade-offs . And that this was a response to a demand that the City must take action, and quickly, before hundreds more homes are lost – a demand that she herself made.”
    I agree. Consultation is important of course, both because democratic governance requires it, and also because it will usually produce better and fairer decisions. But as you said, it’s not a panacea. It doesn’t mean everyone will be happy with the outcome.There is such a thing as conflicting interests. Consultation can often help bridge (some of) those. But when there’s a call or need for urgent action, sometimes there isn’t time.
    Perhaps the city could have done better in this particular case, and perhaps the policy should be revisited – I don’t know enough to say. But there was an urgent call for action. Further, it’s a little hard to muster sympathy/outrage for folks (speaking generally, not about these particular people) whose property is still worth almost $3 million dollars. Yes, $600,000 is about 17% of that value, which is a lot to lose in one go. But at the same time, it’s still an awful lot of money and they will now payer lower property taxes. And I’ll bet they’ll still reap a windfall the likes of which many of us will never see when they do decide to sell.

  3. Unbelievable.
    There is always an urgent need for government action, even if only to reverse formerly urgently needed government actions.
    Every two weeks we must be incensed about something new, and declaratively demand action on a new front against a new injustice.
    And there is never enough community consultation – apparently there is no such thing as an unpopular but necessary policy. What the people want, the people shall have!

  4. Gord, here is the response I’ve sent to Barbara Yaffe:
    Ms. Yaffe,
    While I understand that it makes good copy to trash the bureaucracy, and true enough it’s often justified, your Opinion piece does not give any credit to the City’s attempt to stem a flood of destruction by lazy, quick buck builders who seem to take joy in bulldozing charming, but undersized older housing and carting the debris to the land fill. This does not even speak to the environmental affront of this trend, much less the loss of neighbourhood character, to be replaced by stock, off the shelf house plans usually unworthy of a site valued at $3.5 million or the lovely, treed street onto which they will be thrust. It is correct to note that the City has done a poor job of explaining how it would intend to REWARD homeowners who would retain their character houses and incorporate them into a redevelopment of their lot, with compatible additions to the existing character house, and a new laneway house, all of which would include relaxations, under heritage provisions, to setbacks, floor area, height and any other by-law requirements needed to make the proposition attractive to those builders who actually care about their city and the neighbourhoods in which they build.
    And the City of Vancouver should do one more thing…allow stratification of the beautifully restored and added-to main house and secondary suite as well as a larger than permitted lane house (presently secondary suites and lane houses must be kept as rental only). If the City did this, homeowners, finding that these incentives would elevate the market value of their property, would clamour to have their worthy houses deemed as “character” structures and, further, creative, energetic builders, seeing the value of this exercise, would hire architects to pursue interesting designs that would have wide appeal in the marketplace while preserving neighbourhood character and increasing housing supply. Come on, City of Vancouver, complete the needed further steps in this process and provide the incentives that would make Heritage preservation a winner!
    Ralph Segal Architect AIBC

  5. As long as interior reno’s are allowed I do not see that homes will drop that much in value as some folks love older character homes, renovated, and are willing to pay a premium for it.
    Bravo for protecting some of Vancouver’s heritage, but the devil is in the detail.
    Let me state that property taxes in Vancouver are far too low and land transfer taxes ridiculously low. They ought to be 1% for every $1M, up to 15% on houses over $15M to create revenue for the city to address issues such as congestion, homelessness, bike lanes etc.
    In return, some of that increase can be given as a credit on your annual income tax filing so it is more or less neutral for smaller, say sub $3M homes for BC residents. Non-residents or non-income payers (say a mother with 2 kids here on a “get my passport” 3-4 year stint) pay far too little in provincial taxes for valuable land, yet many of them use education or healthcare services.
    ==> It is time to monetize immigrants desire to park cash here by the billions and/or attend free schools and/or get free healthcare services !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Price Tags
%d bloggers like this: