Jane Seyd in the North Shore News  describes the unusual policy of allowing local people to buy into a new condo project that will be built by Westbank developers on land owned by Sewell’s Marina in North Vancouver.  Responding to concerns about affordability and attainability of units by local people, Westbank reconfigured their marketing strategy for Sewell’s Landing which had already included an open house in Hong Kong before being offered on the local market. They pulled their permits from the District of West Vancouver and relaunched the three to eleven storey 159-unit condo complex in six buildings with an unusual requirement.
That requirement meant “condos be marketed to local residents first, and that would-be buyers sign a declaration that they or their family members intended to live in the units. So far, about half the units in the project have been sold to people in the Metro Vancouver area.”
People will question the affordability of a project to locals located on Horsehoe Bay, Westbank marketed only to local residents for one month last year. The next month the project’s marketing extended to North Vancouver residents, and in January to all Metro Vancouver. After February of this year the project was open to buyers from any jurisdiction, but the “buyers must still sign a declaration that they or a family member intend to live in the unit.”
Enforcing the declaration may be difficult.  “West Vancouver Councillor Mary-Ann Booth said she felt Westbank did make an effort to address concerns that the project not end up merely as a luxury investment vehicle for foreigners.”  With prices working out to an average of over $875 dollars per square foot on the units, the pricing may be for an international market. “If you set international prices, it doesn’t matter how long you give people to buy”.


  1. Though these units will no doubt be expensive, Westbank is to be commended for changing to a local marketing program. No doubt they reacted to the recent expose of the practice of reserving entire buildings for foreign market flipping during the construction period before presales have even been opened to locals.
    Now is the time for other developers to show their commitment to local buyers in their upcoming projects. If local or provincial governments do not act on this, then perhaps a public shaming program just might crop up along with more investigative journalism on key projects.

  2. I think it’s inevitable that foreign buyers will buy up most supply. If local buyers can only afford $1M for a 2 bdrm and the world buyers are willing to pay $1.5M for that same unit, then the developer will (rightly so) price that unit at $1.5M. It’s just simple economics. Even if you give locals a 30 day window, that price is well above the local demand. So, I don’t know what any of these “locals first” programs really accomplish other than make it look like “something is being done”.
    Can we eventually increase supply enough that the price will come down to the $1M level that the local buyers can afford? I highly doubt it. There’s so much foreign demand that it will likely never happen. It’s like claiming that we could eventually build enough roads and bridges so that everyone can drive a car without any congestion. It’s just not physically possible to build that much that fast.

    1. This is an exclusive corner of one of Canada’s most exclusive cities. The median price of condos in West Van is very close to $1M (April data from MLS). So, no. This one’s about location, and supply is relative.
      However, the median price of condos in Vancouver West is $718,400. Van East is $480,300. The Metro is $554,100, which is pretty well where both large town centres in Burnaby rest. (Latest MLS data.)
      Moreover, according to Doug Saunders in his Saturday Globe column, most of Canada’s population now reside in condos, not single-family detached homes. They are building new schools in both downtown Vancouver and Toronto. A new generation of condo kids will grow up to be natural-born urbanists.

      1. This project’s approval required the “locals first” clause, and my point is that the clause didn’t really solve anything in terms of keeping this project affordable for local residents. If the clause said “locals ONLY, always”, then I think prices would be cheaper. I wouldn’t agree with a clause like that though.
        The median $554,100 price is unaffordable for the median local income, vastly unaffordable when using the 30% of income metric. I worry that it is too late to house locals like Vienna or Singapore (ie our land values are already too high and we can’t turn back time to buy and build affordable density now). I worry that we will end up housing ourselves like Soviet housing or NYC ghetto projects — I would even go so far to suggest that many Vancouver families are already forcing themselves into sub-standard similar living conditions.
        I don’t have a G&M subscription, so I can’t read the Doug Saunders article. That said, I don’t (yet) agree that most families prefer living in small condos vs SFHs. I do agree, if that’s the argument, that the new generation of condo kids will likely end up preferring condos over houses (but, the caveat is what I said earlier about kids in ghettos).

      2. The median price is just that, the midpoint between the high and the low. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of apartments that are listed between $300-400K east of Main and west of the New Westminster waterfront, and a good percentage are close to transit.
        I still say that thousands of units of non-profit rental housing should be built by all three levels of government to act in counterpoint to the outrageous market prices and rents out there. Literally, take a piece of the private developer’s otherwise captive market away. As an urban designer I have to say there are many proven ways to design public rentals that are the antithesis of Soviet tower blocks or subsidized 60s North American public housing sites. Decentralize them into mixed use and mixed income neighbourhoods and keep them at or below below mid-rise in scale. A well-managed rental building will provide the stability that people need because the rents would be set below traditional private profit margins, but high enough to maintain a replacement reserve fund and to cover management fees and maintenance, with everything else indexed to inflation with a cap and a floor. The tenants would sign a standard lease and will able to rest easy with the knowledge the site will not be sold from under their feet.
        I also do not have a G+M subscription, but enjoy the Saturday paper edition. If there’s a good ongoing series I’ll buy mid-week editions. It’s available free online from the VPL Web portal, and all that’s required is for you to punch in your library card number and code. The Globe has its critics, but I find the economic op-eds in the Report on Business are usually well-balanced, non-ideological, very informative and factual. Saturday’s Focus section often contains no ads and is flush with meaty editorial and investigative content. In my view the Globe has long surpassed Postmedia’s Vancouver Sun, which has become a walking ad and talking mouthpiece for its libertarian owners, with the exception of the volume of local content and the informed views of the few long-time columnists they have left.

      3. A bit more on incomes. What these figures usually omit is offering the opportunity to increase incomes by building in flexibility in all forms of housing to bring in rent on top of a working income.
        SFU Burnaby Mountain offers lock-off rooms / suites within suites with separate doors to the hall. Quite ingenious.
        The Atelier on Robson x Homer offered “mingle” units where the larger locked off bedrooms are ensuited and private, and the LR + kitchen / dining rooms are held in common. VanCity offered mortgages for two singles to purchase these units, no doubt with a contract for managing the common spaces.
        Co-housing is becoming more popular where a group acts as its own developer and eliminates probably 15% profit off the top from the beginning. The key is jointly managing common spaces, but you still end up with a private unit from a list with a wide range of sizes. And there may be an opportunity for mixed use zoning to bring in rental income to the organization from a commercial space at ground level, therein offsetting common operating costs.
        There are other examples that we’ve discussed before, like rowhouses with basement suites. Yes, they are more expensive than condos, but again they are 1/3rd less expensive than a detached home. A two-income family with an additional rental income most definitely increases the overall family income well above the average rating. With a future build-out of the Missing Middle, there is ample evidence that the demographics will attract more businesses, support more schools and address the needs of all age groups.

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