Peter Ladner’s latest in Business in Vancouver – and his most strongly worded column on this topic.  

 
Ladner
 
As I watched the round-the-clock outrage that followed recent Globe and Mail revelations of “shadow flipping” in the Metro Vancouver real estate market (nothing illegal, mind you), it struck me anew why people feel smacked by the soaring Vancouver real estate market.
The flipper buying the sucker property, be it a real estate agent or whoever, had access to a market of buyers unknown to the selling agent or the seller. The price went higher because of shadow buyers playing by different rules.
This piles onto the palpable frustration of renters, newcomers and growing families watching the region’s most prized real estate – multi-bedroom detached homes in desirable locations – shoot out of range. Yes, we all know that there are affordable homes of various sizes and shapes out there beyond the Most Preferred Location zones. But the preferred properties are going to people with capital, often not people dedicated to living, working and raising families here. That’s what our current rules dictate.
And then the wannabe homeowner does the quick math: limited land base, growing population, our “world-class city” reputation on too many top-three real estate market lists, clean air, stable government, OK economy, housing supply that can’t keep up, stagnant wages, average prices 10 times local incomes, and we’re still cheap by global standards. It all adds up to a whole new swath of local people who aren’t already in the game, or who don’t have rich parents or an inheritance or a suitcase brimming with cash from another country, being left behind. They know it and they feel powerless.
Even surviving in the rental market has become a new challenge. A friend got 90 responses to her ad for a basement suite in Kitsilano. She said choosing a tenant was like picking a Rhodes Scholar. What do ordinary people do? When investors pay what one expert called “insane” prices for rental properties in the West End, rent increases can’t be far behind.
This is growing inequality moving in with shackles: more people having less chance of climbing the equity ladder. The deeper frustration is being sentenced to a commuter existence to make room for someone who may not even live here or pay income taxes here.
Sure, there’s a sense of expectation and entitlement at play here, but the anger and anxiety among young working people vital to the health of our economy and society are real. Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, who depends on such people, wrote recently that “Vancouver risks becoming an economic ghost town, a city with no viable economy – other than the service industry catering to wealthy residents and tourists.”
These valued young people are getting the message: live somewhere else where your skills and education deliver more than your inheritance.
It’s true that low interest rates, quantitative easing and faltering supply are making housing similarly unaffordable in many other cities around the world (Vancouver is only the third most unaffordable city in the few countries surveyed by Demographia), but that doesn’t make our pain any less real.
Whether it’s a surtax on luxury homes offset by income, as proposed by a group of University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University economists, or a stamp duty on foreign buyers (as in Hong Kong and the U.K.) or outright restrictions on foreign ownership of certain properties (as in Australia, Alberta and Prince Edward Island) or different property transfer tax rates for non-residents or a progressive property tax rate, it’s past time for a co-ordinated government effort that gets beyond the delusion that a $280,000 annual increase in average property value is “painstakingly” earned.
More supply alone won’t do it.
We can’t stop the demand to buy property in this city, but we can at least try to slow it down, subdue it with stricter tax enforcement, extract more from non-resident investors and send a message that this province is open for business, not speculation.

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PT: Is it just a matter of time before, in the absence of local government action (much less from a provincial government that seems to care only about retaining asset value for existing owners and a steady flow of revenue from the Property Transfer Tax) that some Vancouver version of Trumpism will take the lid off, exploiting a  toxic combination of resentful inequality, the stink of corruption and latent xenophobia?

Comments

  1. There is a simple fix for this. The province should make this practice illegal. The public is outraged, yet the province refuses to make changes.

  2. Peter what to do ? I personally know of a west side property sold for 2 million last year “assigned” by the buying agent and sold several times off shore with no paper trail. It is now listed at 4 million by the SAME agent. In one year. Someone is pocketing the two million equity. Is this real?
    Once these properties leave the local real estate market and pricing, they are not affordable to the local market and don’t return to the local market. I would like to think the future of the region is not empty houses owned off shore and local people and their families pigeon holed in apartments due to the money making and transferring wishes of another country’s cash. But that is what it is. I don’t notice an outrage at City Hall or the Province. At the start of Mayor Robertson’s tenure he was concerned with housing folks living on the street. That street just got a whole lot longer.

        1. The investment notion will work for the wealthy, but not for overall society. One approach could be to continually create so much housing (apartments, townhomes, including rental) that prices will drop and then remain stable. But this is not compatible with the housing as investment notion.

  3. I think we need to confront the true causes before we can make progress in finding solutions. I have a very hard time believing that it has anything to do with foreign investment. The patterns we’re seeing now are too similar to what hundreds of other cities experienced 2004-2008.
    Off the top of my head, we have: a decade of record-low interest rates which have ballooned our debt in general but specifically for mortgages, tax benefits for home ownership, very low barriers to purchasing (low down payment requirements, subprime mortgages to help when we don’t have a down payment), rampant speculation fueled in part by media and banks which tell us that houses never drop in price and Buy Now or Buy Never, a new generation of adults who have never known interest rates above 3% and have never seen a decline in house prices, an aging generation of adults who have become wealthy due to their houses who are advising their adult children to do the same, parents who are actually bankrolling house purchases for their adult children allowing them to pay more for units, long mortgage terms (was up to 40 years, now pulling back a bit), deceptive/obscure housing figures (eg: no details reported on relistings, proprietary “melded” figures for houses), a stock market crash which scared people out of stocks and into “solid” investments, loose requirements for qualifying for mortgages allowing people to take 2x or 3x the size of mortgages compared with a generation ago, the ability to include possible rental income when applying for a mortgage, artificially lowered strata fees (with the risk of large special assessments), a reluctance to rezone neighborhoods to allow greater density which just increases scarcity, changed tax incentives which no longer encourage building dedicated rental units and on and on. Collectively, these all make it easier to pay more for a given unit which increases demand while hindering the development of supply to match.
    Sure, maybe foreign investment is in there somewhere. But anyone that tells you that foreigners are the sole or even the major factor are pulling one over on you. At best they have no clue, at worst they are looking for a scapegoat.
    Ultimately: what causes any bubble? What caused the dot-com bubble? Many factors, but ultimately they’er a mania that is primarily internal. Perhaps this time is different (ha! How often have we heard that?) but I think the smart money is to bet that this bubble is fueled by us – Canadians – and not something that has been inflicted upon us by the Chinese (or the Irish or the Mexicans or whatever other group we’re hating at the moment).

      1. MB, except its not “well said”. Alex claims “I have a very hard time believing that it has anything to do with foreign investment”.
        Really.
        Strange because every other factor he mentions applies to every other city in Canada, the USA, Australia and much of Europe. So what special factor put Vancouver in the company of a mere handful of other cities that have seen such a phenomenon?

        1. bob – there are some factors that are global, some that are Canadian, some that are unique to Vancouver. And how would you describe Chinese investment – that sounds like the very definition of a factor that affects many countries. I’m sure you can come up with some story for why we’re a special case but I don’t think it passes the sniff test.
          But yes, some factors like the credit bubble and the bandwagon effect (where high prices make a few people rich, which just attracts more people looking for a quick buck, which attracts people who believe that real estate never drops and is a guaranteed path to wealth) are global. Indeed. And that’s why so many countries were impacted in 2008. And that’s why the countries that were not in full bubble mode in 2008 are frothing now. Most of Canada is inflated – Vancouver is just an extreme edge. But so is Australia, and the worst of Oz is concentrated in its big cities.
          Are foreign investors really drawn to us so indiscriminately? Are they ignoring the higher rent to price which they could get throughout the US? Are Canadians not also investing in Florida and outside the country?
          It may be _a_ factor. But just one of many and I haven’t seen anyone even attempt to argue that it should be a major one, and certainly no one is trying to rank the other factors. In general, people who are keen to blame the Chinese won’t even acknowledge other factors.

          1. In chemistry, you have catalysts, where adding a little bit creates a big acceleration of a reaction (or creating one where there wouldn’t have been one to begin with) … I wonder if we have all the same reactants as everyone else, we just have some of these additional catalysts that other cities don’t, or at a higher ratio than others do.
            I just hope my generation (and similar) isn’t simply a reagent in the reaction.

      2. Bob & Arti, it could be said that ultra low interest rates have more power to affect housing prices than foreign buyers. So does zoning that keeps the supply of land limited when demand is high.
        Though they do have an effect primarily on the West Side and luxury condos, wealthy foreigners are not exactly beating down the doors or participating in bidding wars in my neighbourhood and points further east. There isn’t one Lamborghini or purposely abandoned house anywhere that I can see in areas east of Oak. It’s all ordinary demand buying up the listings with folks with significant help from family or inheritances, or folks mortgaged to their gills.

        1. Another false assumption. Where do you think those people selling west side homes to offshore money go? Do they conveniently shuffle off their mortal coil leaving no impact on the market? Not likely.
          From my experience this summer, they either go back into the SFH market (some East Van, some South Surrey and North Van) where they compete with families trying to move up, or they go into the Vancouver condo market. In both cases they are flush with cash, making it hard for young families to compete with them when bidding for properties. They are also a desirable market for developers who build to cater to wealthy empty nesters looking for all the bells and whistles rather than first time buyers on a budget.
          All ultra low interest rates do is allow local buyers to even remain in parts of the market. I don;t why some posters have this need to deny the evidence that anyone shopping for real estate will see every weekend at open houses. I guess they either work in the real estate industry or are terrified in a most Canadian way of being labelled racist.
          Oh and PS, Australia’s real estate market is deflating, coincidentally just as their anti-foreign ownership rules are starting to bite.
          http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/international-business/asian-pacific-business/australias-booming-real-estate-market-slows-amid-commodity-price-slide/article27571608/

          1. Indeed foreign money plays a significant role in Vancouver but so does lax tax law enforcement. Too many winners in this game: provincial government with $1.5B collected in land transfer taxes in 2015, GST and PST on home renos, demolitions or new construction , development levies, and jobs for lawyers, realtors, plumbers, architects, city planners, interior designers, electricians, painters, moving companies, furniture industry etc …
            Like Australia the UK’s market too dropped around 10% after introducing a 15% luxury tax (“stamp duty”) on homes for foreign buyers, many Russian and Saudi, although of course the low price of oil have an impact there too I’d reckon.

  4. Not just an economic ghost town, but a social one. Inner city communities vanish as familiar neighbourhoods are demolished, one house at a time, and replaced by vacant soulless mini-mansions. Schools empty while the VSB faces a financial and demographic crisis it can’t solve.
    The Great Urban Resort (# 3 in the World!) becomes the Great Urban Wasteland, filled with Ferrari fuerdai, drag racing on the empty streets, past homeless and hopeless spectators.

    1. I agree. Vancouver has been transformed from a modest gumboot paradise by the sea to a ghastly cesspool of greed and avarice and Lamborghinis. Political will to address the situation is completely absent because so many politicians and so many constituents have a vested interest in the high-stakes Vancouver real estate speculation game. Vancouverite speculators and their stinking rich accomplices with flight money from China have successfully flushed Vancouver down the toilet. Vancouver is no longer survivable for someone who earns their salary in Vancouver. Working Vancouverites have progressed to being second-class citizens in their own city, betrayed by their own government and their neighbors who are speculating on real estate. Vancouver is the only city in North America that creates its own refugees!

    2. Good christ. That prose is so overheated I half expect both of your to have smokin’ hair and bloodshot eyes. My neighbourhood and others around it look nothing like your bombastic imagery. Sure, there are issues with affordability, but Lamborghinis would rip their mufflers off on the cracked roads.
      Maybe you should go back and read Alex T’s post and come back down to earth.

    1. @Jolson: no, if there was an INCENTIVE to fix it, it would have been fixed by now. It is an INCENTIVE that “the people” need to come up with if we want it fixed, not a solution or a rationale. The state has all sorts of fearsome powers that it can mobilize if necessary. The trick is in asking how to make it necessary – necessary enough for elected officials to take the political risk.

  5. @ Karen Litzcke; no need to YELL. Yes, you are making my point. There is no incentive to fix this! Not sure who the “people” are or who the “state” is or what “fearsome powers” might be mobilized.

    1. There are no italics in WordPress comments, so emphasis requires capitals. The necessary distinction is not just between “incentive” and “way” but between what the people can accomplish among ourselves and what we cannot. These interminable conversations among the people of the best “way” are an entire waste of time because we can come up with the best possible answer and yet nothing will happen unless we create incentive. Far better we just mobilize to create incentive.
      The people are those to whom elected officials have a duty – a fiduciary duty, a duty of care, however it’s put. The state is the nation, the province, or the city, depending on the division of powers and duties. The fearsome powers? They include the ability to appropriate property, to seize other assets, and to de-register various entities, among them an industry that has become a racket. They include favouring citizens over non-citizens, residents over non-residents, and prioritizing competing rights, for example youth over old age.
      In Norway, at the moment there is a scandal over the state’s ready and excessive use of child apprehension – this is where the concept of a “fearsome” power comes from. It is a situation similar to Canada’s history of removing children to put them in residential schools. What that serves to do is put into perspective the emotive wringing of hands in the face of a reality in which 89 people who would like an apartment in Kits cannot get one, and one in which the creation of housing is an impulse of capital and not of political will – a corollary effect of development, not its intent. Housing for the soldiers returning from WWII was not achieved thusly, nor was their education left to the vagaries of institutional mood. In all of these situations, good and bad, governments used their powers to ensure that what they wanted to have happen, happened. While those powers in Canada have been modified by the Charter, they remain intact “where justified in a free and democratic society.”
      The city is, first and foremost, an economic entity in which people must be able to live because if they can’t, the city cannot be an economic entity. It is the job of the city, supported by the province and the nation, to ensure that housing is available and affordable. If it’s not doing its job, there are many ways to create incentives to do it. Personally, I favour court action to get politicians to do their duty. But others might favour other tactics. Let’s say, for example, that a property tax strike was organized for this July. Or let’s say that the idea of a city-wide “buy-nothing” day was used. Or… the possibilities are endless. But like the labour movement, it requires collectivization, organization, leadership, and risk. In the absence of existing political will, that is.
      It’s not just the politicians who have become a bit flaccid. The rest of us, earnestly discussing solutions while doing nothing to impel their use, are equally so. That’s all I’m saying, whether I’m yelling or not.

      1. There are no italics in WordPress comments …
        Oh really?
        Here you go:
        http://www.w3schools.com/html/html_formatting.asp
        I agree that cities are economic entities, but they are also rife with the manifestation of human qualities, like a living organism. A healthy community is a diverse community. A healthy economy is a diverse economy. Suing the city / state will not necessarily result in automatically lowered housing prices because punishment itself is not an incentive.
        Alex T above elucidated the large cluster of effects that collectively worked together to create our affordability crisis. But I think getting back to basics, economically speaking, has merit in helping us understand this issue better. Supply and demand is the common denominator, and it’s complicated by all the other stuff like speculation at a time of record low borrowing costs and greater household debt and risk. Blaming foreigners alone, as so many are doing now, is a fool’s game. It will not produce more supply of housing or land. There is no proof (or even enough data to make an educated guess) that banning all foreign money and speculation in the real estate market will have anything except a minor downward effect on prices outside of the West Side and luxury waterfront condo market. Raising interest rates may have a greater overall effect.
        Our housing stock is not very diverse. We have detached homes on wide open lots covering a huge amount of land, then we have condos. There is no real array of choices in between these price extremes. Therefore we have a shortage in a period of high demand.
        Drilling deeper, this situation is a reflection of the lack of new land to develop in the Metro, given the constraints of mountains, ocean and protected agricultural land, and intransigent councils and planners who cannot bring themselves to address the gross inefficiencies of zoning bylaws that preserve large lots and low density and therein perpetuate a shortage of land. Opening up the ALR will only continue these inefficiencies and delay the inevitable reckoning regarding increasing density and transit options sensibly and gently outside of the rapid transit station capture areas (town centres, downtown).
        It sounds a little dry, but promoting land use efficiency could be one of the strongest keys to opening up a selection of real solutions and relieving some pressure. Merely upzoning large lots to allow subdivision of the land and higher floor area ratios will work wonders in doubling the supply of less costly housing and may even kill off the excessive demolition (or abandonment) of character homes. Providing incentives for more rental housing in the medium price range is another key. Subsidized housing can help provide more stability on top of these other measures.
        There are answers and they require political courage.

  6. Peter Ladner raises some good points. At least the BC government in their budget last week increased the land transfer tax to 3% over $2M and now require buyers to declare who they are and what citizenship they are. I wonder, why not sellers ? But a step in the right direction to track it and enforce existing taxation laws as much tax evasion is happening in Canada.
    To get more impact, send letters to your MLA, Vancouver Sun or BIV (Business in Vancouver where Peter Ladner is a co-owner/editor). Here is what I sent on Feb 11, 2016 to David Eby, MLA in Point Grey (ground zero of Asian capital onslaught) which is my riding.
    or send it directly to the decision makers, Finance Minister Mike DeJong and Christy Clark. Their emails are premier@gov.bc.ca; mike.dejong.mla@leg.bc.ca
    ===============================
    To: David Eby, MLA Vancouver – Point Grey
    Cc: Christy Clark, Premier, BC
    Mike DeJong, Minister of Finance
    David:
    I truly appreciate the publicity you received on highlighting some shady areas of house flipping in MetroVan. Allow me to comment.
    A realtor does a service, for a fee, and like any business some folks give excellent and some sloppy service. No seller is forced to accept any contract nor any price. If the realtor gets a fair price he/she deems fair after reasonable marketing efforts, and a buyer then assigns this contract to someone else for a fee, why is this immoral or even fraudulent ? This is done in the stock market on a daily basis, tens of thousands of times. Why not real estate ? Real estate is not only housing or shelter, but an investment also.
    The core issue as such is NOT assignments per se, but first and foremost if assignment profits are declared as business income and taxes are paid, and secondly (or perhaps primarily) if housing for non-Canadians should be taxed far FAR higher, on acquisition, while holding and on exit ?
    The overarching, unaddressed, issue is general over-reliance in our provincial revenue model on income taxes as opposed to consumption or real estate related taxes. We overtax incomes but under-tax consumption, including housing. Housing, beyond mere basic shelter is consumption. Why is it taxed so low ?
    As such, affluent immigrants and foreigners do what is rational and legal: do not declare incomes in Canada but take advantage of healthcare or education services for themselves, kids, parents or spouses, while buying the biggest house they can afford, plus flip one or four while paying little in property taxes or consumption taxes.
    As such we ought not to make this illegal, but monetize it, i.e. tax it. Our income taxes are far too high, and our consumption and real estate related taxes far too low. And yes, there is the odd shady realtor, but most are honest.
    The core issue is NOT flipping, but lack of taxation of acquisition, holding and gains on resale, for both residents but especially for non-residents. Our tax code needs to reflect this new reality, but it does not today.
    Imagine the job and investment boom we could create here in BC if we did it like Texas: no state income tax, but far higher property taxes and higher consumption taxes ! We’d encourage working hard and making money, but tax locals and foreigners alike on excessive consumption, including homes. Add to that perhaps a foreign owned land transfer tax of 1% per $1M, to 15% and we’d monetize foreigners’ desire to park their (legal and often illegal, but hard to track) cash here !
    Real estate is the new gold. Don’t stop foreigners investing here, but MONETIZE IT !
    Yours Kindly,
    Thomas Beyer

    1. The corporation is based there as I used to live there.
      I now live in Vancouver.
      I am also a German immigrant who came here 30 years ago.
      So I can give some perspective.

  7. I can’t help wonder (with a sense of irony) that the Burrard Bike Lane championed by Peter went ahead with so much less opposition than when he was a councillor precisely because of what he is lamenting. There are just so many fewer working upper middle class people on the west side than there were in the Nineties. Those neighbourhoods are now populated with astronauts more concerned about the route to the airport, or their wives and kids whose only concern is navigating the BMW SUV a few blocks to Crofton or St Georges.

    1. Nice theory but more likely is that because it’s now being done better than the first try. Also it’s not a new “unknown” thing anymore. People have seen them now and they know that they’re okay.

  8. Regarding the largely tax-free St Georges, you’d have to wonder how the premier’s attitude toward these issues are influenced by her son’s enrollment in that school, such as it is plunked down among all that inflationary West Side low density real estate.

  9. Alberta, eh? That letter should go to Notley. Transfer tax in sales-tax free Alberta is a paltry $111 regardless of property size and value.

    1. Plenty wrong in AB, of course. No PST. No land transfer taxes. Far too many and overpaid civil servants apparatus. Highest teachers wages in Canada. Overly dependent on oil royalties. Minimum wage too high. But since this is a Vancouver, BC focused blog I will not elaborate here on Alberta as a BC resident & BC tax payer !! Since I live here and vote here and pay taxes here I send opinion letters to elected officials here, and only very occasionally in AB as a corporation.
      Like many Asians who live here I also realize that working FROM Vancouver is a great situation, but deriving money elsewhere. But we did buy a Cranbrook, BC based mobile home park last week. See http://www.facebook.com/prestprop if you wish to learn more.

  10. More questions for Karen;
    Who are the “people” that want this fixed? Surely not home owners, landlords, real estate investors and speculators all of whom are profiting enormously by doing absolutely nothing. Add to this group the facilitators; developers, builders, sales and marketing people, bankers, insurers. Add to this the supporting cast of professionals; architects, engineers, planners, accountants and bureaucrats of all stripes. Add to this the bountiful flow of transfer taxes. This is Van Corp, the greatest money making invention since sliced bread.
    So it would seem that the only “people” who want this fixed are the ones who are not profiting from Van Corp, a group that is clearly in the minority. Sour grapes I say! If my neighbour wins the lottery should I wallow in misery or should I be happy for his good fortune?
    There is no fix for this situation. It is also why you will find increasing numbers of people quietly living in recreational vehicles all across the City, because shelter like food and clothing is an essential of life.

  11. How do you post images on here? Anyways, if you have a look at a map of Metro’s ALR, there is shockingly little land left over for development. I would guesstimate around 450 sq miles (minus Burns Bog as well). Is there a major city in the 1st world that has so little land to work with? Hong Kong, but where else.
    The main culprit for our skyrocketing housing prices has to be our refusal to upzone single detached homes to row-house. I’m not talking just the CoV, but the entire Metro. Once you get past Surrey, there’s not much land left to develop. 80% of Langley is ALR.
    See map here – http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/regional-planning/agriculture/about/Pages/default.aspx

  12. Agree very much re land use efficiency and large lots. My partner and I happen to have a large 50 ft lot and a very small (under 1000 ft) SFH in the much-favoured Main/Fraser area. This is a great neighborhood for schools, services and transit. A truly central “family” neighborhood. To be frank, we are getting older and really don’t need such a large garden/lot. However, we are equally reluctant to leave our great walkable neighborhood. Plus we have pets. And pet restrictions are a huge issue for renters (and even most condo owners) in Vancouver in particular! Also, having experienced crazy strata boards and bizarre and arbitrary strata rules in the past, we certainly have no intention to “downsize” to a condo ever!
    We have casually approached COV a couple of times over the years to see if we could perhaps subdivide our large lot so 2 small, modest family homes could perhaps replace our current one (e.g. 1600 to 2000 sq ft max). We would live in the one, and hopefully age in place in a better-designed accessible home that would also allow us to retain some of our trees and garden. The other house would be smallish too, but could be an ideal SFH for a young family wanting to stay in Vancouver proper. But the COV zoning folks say “no”. Oddly, not because it would create two 25 foot lots from our existing 50 foot lot. There are several of these on all the streets around us. So it’s not a “precedent” issue re lot sizes. But they say we can never subdivide because the two newish “built to absolute maximum size” neighboring properties/houses to the west of us are also on 50 foot lots. And the COV mentioned they like to keep large lots that are grouped together (e.g. ours make-up 3 in a row) non sub-dividable in case of future rezoning. Would that mean COV fully expect to someday approve condos on our typically small RS1 side street? Like they have done in recent years along Cambie and Oak? After all, once the developers have built-up as many condos as they can along all the main artery roads, one can only presume streets like ours will be next in their sights. Is that the “unspoken” plan? Only the COV (and probably the developers) know for sure.
    Meanwhile, just about every other property on ours and surrounding streets are modest and on a 33′, 30′ or 25′ lots already. It just seems odd. We would happily sell (at fair price, not developer/flipper/bidding war insanity prices) and give up (effectively “share”) half of our property/lot in the hope that we could welcome a nice young family as neighbors back to our quickly “greying” street of retirees. And no, putting a $350,000 rental laneway house is not the solution! We don’t want to be landlords in retirement. And we don’t want to take on a new mortgage this late in life. But as per the COV, it is not to be. So, for the foreseeable future, we’ll just keep residing in one of the last little “granny” houses on an excessively large lot in this great family neighborhood. And there is potentially one less “right-sized” house not available for a young family with children and pets. It’s baffling and discouraging. It really is.

    1. Forget about the Planning Department and talk directly to the Mayor. There is no public policy preventing you from subdividing.

      1. Look into the project the late Art Cowie made happen. I think it was fee-simple townhouses, if I recall correctly. I seem to recall some compromises had to be made from his pure vision, but I think it got done in the long run.
        As for zoning, there’s a racket if I’ve ever seen one. It won’t ever get resolved unless the city is challenged in court about how it uses its powers. I haven’t yet gotten around to reading the Vancouver Charter, but whatever it says, when you can smell a rat, there’s usually one around somewhere. In fact, they just told you outright what it is. It’s density their way, not yours, and their way aligns conveniently with that of people who, well, you know – put money in all the right places.
        It’s one of those things that as a citizen, you think “this HAS to be illegal.” And only a motivated citizen will ever take the matter to court to find out. There is no public interest advocacy group that wants to know what the extent is of little people’s rights to participate – actively, as you want to do – in the evolution and design of the city.

    2. As a follow-up, we even like the thought of perhaps having 3 (or if smaller, up to 4) modest attached/side-by-side “row” or townhouses on our 50 foot lot. Ideally they would be “freehold”. Nobody really likes to be under the thumb of strata rules, after all.
      Admittedly, the prospect of shared walls can be a little scary if privacy and noise are a concern, compared to a true SFH. However, if the walls were extra-soundproofed between the 3 or 4 units, we would gladly consider going that route too. Hell, we would even sign a “covenant” or whatever-they-call-it, confirming we were not doing it as developers and for profit purposes. e.g. We would promise to reside in our own unit for at least 15 or 20 years to prove we were not “flippers”. Believe it or not, we want to see our neighborhood get better with a lovely mix of young, old and pets too.
      But we were advised by COV that this is also out-of-the-question in our RS1 zone. And to think, 3 (or maybe even 4) families (us being one) could feasibly all have modest but self-contained homes of their own with front porches and back gardens and off-street parking in our great central neighborhood. Oh well…..

        1. Yes, I recall reading many interesting articles about the headaches and hoops Art jumped through just to get those 6 homes built. I pass them regularly and think they look beautiful. Here’s a link about the project.
          http://www.cambierowhouse.com/CambieRowHouse/Cambie_Info.html
          I believe Art Cowie (along with many others) spent significant time, energy and money advocating for and eventually getting approval to do that project. Sadly, I understand he passed away before they were even completed. And I don’t think very many similar projects ever got built. Art’s row houses look rather “high end” from the outside. And maybe he had to go that route because of that neighborhood’s demographics/demands. They definitely look a lot more luxurious than the modest style designs we (and many young families) could happily call home.
          In truth, except for our good fortune in actually owning a nice property in a wonderful neighborhood, my partner and I are people of modest means. We also have equally modest retirement prospects, never having held jobs with pensions etc. So the prospect of us ever being able to come up with the time and money to jump through current COV hoops to do something equivalent are pretty slim.
          Maybe there remains a fair amount of truth to the old adage “You can’t fight city hall”. So we’ll continue to despair for younger families up against the COV and developer forces that insist on mostly just permitting and putting up luxurious condos, oversize SFH’s and air b’n’b laneway homes. 🙁

    3. Indeed creating skinny in-fills or 3-5 townhouses would make a lot of sense as many folks prefer a townhouse with a yard over a condo. It would make Vancouver more affordable for young families. My brother lives in such a houses with three kids, for example, on 3 floors (plus basement) in a 4m wide TH with 5 BRs. So on a 50 foot or 15M lot one could put 3 THs and one two of them probably 7 or 8 even, tripling to quadrupling the density without creating a lot of extra height or neighborhood distortions.
      Why is this not allowed in Vancouver ? Who is blocking this common-sense approach ?
      Of course, we should meter street parking and not give it away for free like today so people and UBC export their parking requirement onto public land, like squatters in Victoria routinely do.

      1. Yes, that’s precisely the right term…skinny infill houses. Not everyone needs to go the full “HGTV” route by living in largish “abodes” with granite countertops, dual bathroom sinks and media rooms. Well, speaking for myself, I know we certainly don’t. Maybe it really comes down to KISS. Our COV should just learn to “keep it simple silly”!

      2. At the ‘Early Council’ this morning, it was made quite clear that there won’t be a push for townhousey type things that are in the developmentally-vocal areas of town (ie. RS1-land) … this comment was made specifically about the turning of corner lots into townhouse lots facing the side street and not the Ave., but I think it is safe to say it would hold fairly generally. Its not a fight that is seen as being in anyone’s interest to make just yet.

      3. There are skinny houses all over Vancouver. They were being built when – hmm, let me think, maybe when Art Cowie was on council. Coincidence? Maybe not. There must be a way to get an inventory of them and take them to council as a precedent.

        1. I would also think it was interesting to know how many corner houses have historical ‘coach houses’, which are essentially the same size/bulk as the corner house itself, so that instead of a tiny laneway house, you have a ‘real’ house facing the side street. Its always kinda odd to have all the houses with a north-south axis when you’re driving on a N-S street – all you get are side-yards mostly, rather uninteresting I find.

  13. I never understood why the City of Vancouver dragged its feet on allowing fee simple row houses. The city bureaucrats said it was due to the ‘legalities of a party wall’ if I remember correctly. I commended the late Art Cowie for his efforts on this initiative. I like to think that municipal bureaucracies are not as passive/aggressive as they were twenty years ago. Neighbourhood opposition to this type of row house could be more problematic than the legalities. One false move and the city is court.

    1. I suspect it all becomes very clear if you do the math. The math on both property taxes and party coffers. Also, stratas may be easier to regulate and to govern – they create another layer of bureaucracy between the city and the people, making things like “city is in court” all the more unlikely. The more housing is collectivized, the more commodified it becomes; people are less engaged with where they live – if they don’t like it they just move to another box in the sky. It’s always about the land, and if you can get the people off it, there will be less opposition to bureaucratic decision-making, which serves political masters, which in turn… old story.
      Not that I’m cynical or anything – in fact, far from it. But we have to recognize just how cynical our political leadership has become if we are going to retain any of our ideals, because we have to understand the degree to which we are being manipulated. And that includes by functionaries who wrap themselves in the mantle of our ideals and take them to the bank. The people can’t trust ANYONE to do this (ie build neighbourhoods) for them. We need to do it ourselves. And it is when someone has taken away our capacity to do it – via zoning in this case – that it is time to take the city to court. Again and again and again, if that’s what it takes – and it will. Eternal vigilance and action when necessary = the price of democracy.

      1. So, it is about development levies and campaign contributions as skinny house developers do not pay them ? Who decides this ? Mayor ? Council ? City planning manager ? People/groups/unions that fund the mayor and “Vision” ?

  14. I just went online and saw several beautiful examples of skinny houses being built in established older neighborhoods in Edmonton. Apparently the City Of Edmonton has expanded the zoning so they can be built in most neighborhoods. Here’s a link to a recent Globe article:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/home-and-garden/real-estate/infill-housing-brings-skinny-breed-of-housing-to-edmonton/article25420173/
    I find this section of the article very enlightening…
    “But city council recently voted to amend bylaws to allow them in RF1 (single-detached residential), so long as the lot is 50 feet wide or greater. Overnight, the number of eligible lots across Edmonton nearly tripled to 55,000.”
    So if Edmonton can do it, why can’t Vancouver? What exactly is the problem with skinny houses?
    From our own point of view, If we could find a nice young family (ideally with kids and pets) who were interested in buying/building a skinny house (and we would build the same), then we would be happy to subdivide our existing 50 foot lot. It is a corner lot too. Logically, this would instantly double density in the ideal family neighborhood with virtually no impact to our street or neighbors. But as I’ve already mentioned above, COV planners have indicated the answer will always be “no” in the case of our 50 foot lot. Apparently this is because our property is situated beside 2 other 50 foot lot houses. And COV are wanting to “save” these wider lots for future re-zoning opportunities. Would that be “consolidation” opportunities for the developers when they have used up all the main artery streets? I suspect so. We live on a typical RS1 Main/Fraser street where 90% of the lots are in fact 33′ and under. It’s just so maddening! It was obviously not a problem to have small lots and skinny houses in the past. So why is it a problem now?
    BTW, Thirdstone in Edmonton seem to design beautiful skinny homes, like this one:
    http://www.houzz.com/projects/27292/lg-house
    My partner and I would love a nice modern home, similar to this, that could have “aging in place” features designed into it. We’re not panning to leave our neighborhood in retirement. We would definitely aim to keep it simpler (and less expensive) in terms of materials and amenities compared to the one that Thirdstone has designed because we really don’t need to live in “luxurious” surroundings. Comfortable will do just fine. But it is interesting to see that in other Canadian cities they are able to create homes that are modern, functional and “skinny at the same time. And so perfect for families!

  15. Subdivision is not a zoning issue. You have stated a perfectly logical design rationale for subdivision. As far as I know there is no rule that prevents you from applying for sub-division. The mandate of the planning department is to regulate development not to play at development which is certainly what they are doing when they attempt to facilitate land assembly. Take your proposal directly to Council because it is certainly in the spirit of RS-1 zoning.

    1. My partner and I regularly get “knocks on the door” from realtors enquiring if we want to sell. We always say “no”. But a couple of years ago, a realtor knocked on the door and I happened to mention that we may want to subdivide some time in the future. After all, we have seen this happening throughout our neighborhood in recent years. There are plenty of properties on nearby streets where one older house has come down and magically 2 houses have appeared a few months later.
      When I mentioned subdividing to her, that realtor very quickly replied “you can’t”. Which got me curious as to why not? So after she left, I called the COV planning dept. That is when they mentioned that by there being 3 large size lots in a row, they would not consider a subdivision for our 50 foot lot.
      Now that I think about it, that was pretty odd that the door-knocking realtor already knew so much about our property. Perhaps what she meant with her “you can’t” response was that, being individual home-owners we didn’t have the clout to get an approval. But that’s not to say she (and whoever she was working with) couldn’t pull a few strings with somebody at COV and get approval. Very interesting! But in this town, and after reading about all the other scandals with realtors lately, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised.
      Perhaps my partner and I should put pen to paper and approach the COV more formally to get a definitive response on the matter. Jolson, thanks for the encouragement!

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