The question for all mayor and council candidates — “what would you do different” —was in itself not without some controversy. (See “Vancouver Candidate Survey on Kettle-Boffo Project: What Would You Have Done to Close the Gap?“)

Ultimately, the premise of the question was based on the idea that, as the project team stated, Kettle-Boffo “enjoys Council support”. Reliving the imminent failure of the project Groundhog Day style, we wanted to know how a prospective mayor or councillor might expect to work with staff and the applicants, and within the rules of established policy, to ensure project viability, and thus possibly a successful application.

We also felt it was a way for declared candidates to clarify their positions, especially given the degree of complexity in the topic, “the #1 issue” this election year.

Beyond positions, reasonable explanation of some of the core, underlying issues may serve voters. The presumption is some candidates have done their homework, and are figuring out how to bridge the knowledge gap with the electorate. Some at Price Tags are not too humble to admit we too can learn from the responses.

And this goes for not just the issue (“What moves housing forward in the city? What are the possible systemic problems?“), but also the candidates themselves (“Who thinks about housing the way I do? Who has ideas I’ve never considered?“)

Lastly, we were careful in our introduction to not position Kettle-Boffo as having claimed in their statement that there is something ‘broken’ in city hall, which they did not. Nor do we believe our representation of the City’s claim — that they extended every concession they felt they could to enable a successful re-submission of the development application, which ultimately Kettle-Boffo chose not to do — is not to be taken at face value.

With that, we present the first six responses submitted to our call-out; we will continue to publish submissions if and when they come in.


The original question, for candidates and incumbents:

What would you have done to close the gap between the City & Kettle-Boffo?

Or, knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Responses, in the order in which they were submitted:

 

Adrian Crook (Independent)

excerpt – see Adrian’s Facebook page for his complete response, including a pic.

“…As a City, this is the most valuable community amenity we can offer today: allowing our most vulnerable residents to stay housed in the areas they already live and care for – where their friends, social networks and strongest bonds already are.

We can bicker about capturing land lift value accurately or whether CACs really make a project infeasible. But the plain truth remains that in our current housing crisis, a unique project that offered not just market housing, but so many community amenities for those in need will no longer be built because the City insisted on an additional cash contribution of up to $16 million.

When it comes to the construction of non-market housing – whether it’s purpose built rental, social housing, seniors housing or supportive housing units like these, the community amenity is the housing itself.

In this case, Kettle Society was getting a new drop-in center, 30 units of supportive housing and the ability to retain ownership of their land (so they could borrow against the improved land in the future, invaluable for a non-profit). In Vancouver’s current climate of extreme need, felt disproportionately by those also burdened by mental health or basic shelter issues, what the Kettle Boffo partnership offered was the community amenity in and of itself.”

Graham Cook (Independent)

“The gap between the city and project team seems to surround the extent to which the 30 units of supportive housing and the new facility for The Kettle Society offset the Community Amenity Contribution amount.

What is needed to bring the stakeholders together is a clear, universal judgement on the societal value of included amenities that is applied to each and every project. This would allow developers involved in projects that contain a mix of supportive and market housing to know what will be expected of them when dealing with the city.

The arbitrary nature of the current CAC process and formula feeds into this gap of understanding, especially given the turnover all three parties involved would have faced over a seven year timeline. Overall, this is a tragic end to what would have been a fantastic project for the community and my heart goes out to those who would have benefited from the much needed supportive housing units.”

David Chen (ProVancouver)

“While projects that provide rental housing are desperately needed any recommendations on how to close a gap requires detailed information of what transpired in the application process.

This question is difficult to answer without the exact proposal on the table prior to the developer walking. Without knowing the build costs projected and the expected market rents to be charged, financing costs, etc. it is difficult to calculate if there was indeed a financial gap that made the project unviable.

From the information at hand, it does appear the city did in fact make concessions including height and percentage of affordable rental vs market rental units (20% being typical and the 30:200 resulting in a 15% amount that is below that typical ratio).

Given the existence of the Rental 100 incentive program, we can assume those benefits were also extended in the development negotiation.

There are proposals to simplify the CAC system on secured market rentals and commercial-only rezoning applications. It would be important to know if some of these proposals had been extended.

Without these numbers, any conclusion or suggestion of what could be done would be potentially premature and divisively misleading information.”

Pete Fry (Green)

“The issue here —and fundamental area for reform— is transparency around how we negotiate CACs.

At the suggestion of Ken Paquette from the Kettle I met with Daniel Boffo in 2015 to discuss community resistance to the project and possible solutions to the impasse. I suggested that given the issues of scale and density, and the question of public benefit relative to the value of public land being used in the project (the city-owned alley and parking lot represent about half the proposed floor plate) full disclosure of the pro forma might mitigate (or validate) public concerns.

Mr. Boffo was quite incredulous and uninterested in the idea of disclosing his profits and business model. This is certainly his prerogative as a private businessman, but when public land and public interest is at stake, I believe there is an obligation for more diligence and transparency.

Thus, given that many of the previous decisions around the pre-application and in camera meetings, it’s impossible to have an informed opinion on this development. Any assumptions are further complicated by the divergent stories we are hearing from the city on one hand and BOFFO-Kettle on the other.

For these reasons, I feel what needs to be done differently is the process by which we negotiate CACs: it needs to be predictable and fair, and most importantly it needs to be transparent and readily defensible in the public interest.”

Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE)

via press release
“Governments at all levels should step up to expand Kettle Society’s services and build truly social housing. The model of counting on profit-seeking developers to supply public services has failed.

COPE and its City Council candidates, Jean Swanson, Anne Roberts and Derrick O’Keefe, are urging all levels of government to work with the Kettle Society to help them get a new, larger facility and to build quality social housing that their users can afford. The City is claiming that they offered to contribute a grant or $12 million toward the project, while the developer is criticizing the process without themselves being transparent about their expected profits margins.”

“These negotiations go on behind closed doors so the public has no idea if Boffo is making reasonable demands for profits,” said Anne Roberts. “In projects like these, Vancouverites deserve to see the details of all public contributions and developer profits.”

“The Boffo project included 200 condos and retail space on the ground floor that would have gentrified the neighbourhood and pushed up rent in neighbouring lower rent stores and apartments,” said Swanson. “We can’t rely on developers to provide social housing if it means higher rents for surrounding tenants and having the city forgo much needed revenue.”

“One way to get the money we need for the Kettle expansion and for more social housing would be to have a mansion tax on homes worth over $5 million,” said O’Keefe. “That would allow us to expand city revenues to get more of the housing we need, rather than always being subject to the whims of developers and their profit margins.”

“The city doesn’t need 200 more expensive condos,” added O’Keefe. “What we desperately need is housing for homeless people and people earning under $50,000 a year – in order to deliver that we need to break with the broken model of relying on the market and scale up the building of public housing.”

OneCity Vancouver

via joint statement
“The Kettle Society provides vitally important services in our community, and desperately need a new building and new housing for their clients. They seemed close to getting it – until Boffo Developments cancelled the project this week. Apparently Boffo doesn’t want to sit down with the city to negotiate community contributions (CACs). More likely, Boffo Developments simply didn’t see enough profit in the equation.

Our current system uses CACs to ensure that the public receives a portion of the profit and benefit that a developer gains through rezoning. There are many valid criticisms of the CAC process, foremost among them the lack of clarity, certainty, and transparency. But that’s not the main problem here. The main problems here is housing being viewed by developers as a market commodity, and the Vision council’s belief that developers could be trusted to provide affordable housing.

If retained, the CAC process needs to be transparent, and dramatically improved. Whether through CACs or other taxation tools, the public should see significant real benefit, to accurately reflect the wealth gained from land speculation and development in Vancouver.

The city was willing to provide the land of an adjacent city-owned parking lot as a contribution to the project. We’d love to see the city partner with a non-profit developer to get it done, and to ensure that this public portion of the land remains public. The failure of this project underlies the failure of private-public partnerships. For private developers, profit is always going to be the underlying reason for building housing. That’s the problem that’s gotten us into this crisis, and developers aren’t going to be the way out.

We’re grateful for the work that Kettle does, and we believe the city can be a stronger partner for non-profit agencies like them – particularly now that we have a provincial government open to investing in housing. OneCity Vancouver Councillors Christine Boyle and Brandon Yan for Vancouver City Council will fight for the Kettle building and others like it across the city to be built, with city support, on public land when possible, for the public good.”

Comments

  1. My response

    “The withdrawal of the Boffo project at Commercial and Venables is yet another indication of how our system of planning by spot zoning is broken. Without a binding zoning ordinance tied to a city plan every development proposal is chaos, leaving proponents, advocates, opponents, and even city staff confused and adrift. We need a binding city plan with fixed and transparent CAC and DCL taxes known in advance. Absent this proponents have no idea what their final costs will be and thus no idea of what price to pay for development land. This lack of clarity only fuels speculation, as land owners have every reason to ask top dollar when anything goes.”

  2. The case of Kettle-Boffo does emphasize the increasing importance of the public sector taking over the building of public rentals and subsidized housing on public land. Clearly with land prices as high as they are, private developers will become even more reluctant then ever to build them. There are many forms of rentals and having them developed and owned publicly will help ensure the rents are stable over the long run, even when not subsidized.

    Though the private development industry does need a large influx of public rentals as a counterbalance to achieve stability, Patrick Condon’s idea of using the Vienna Model is questionable to say the least. In addition, he calls for one plan for the entire city and an onerous wholesale revamping of CACs, DCCs, taxes and rent controls when moderate recalibrating of the status quo would suffice. The central premise is to eliminate speculation by wealthy foreigners, as though that is the only cause of our high housing prices.

    The idea of implementing one city plan should make most experienced planners cringe because it is a radical change and would be as subject to just as many biases and ideology from a new city administration as the old. It would also add a dimension of economic naivete. It can also be highly formulaic with respect to

    limiting urban form to a few building types instead of encouraging a diverse cityscape
    remove the ability to practice discretionary judgement and utilize flexibility when negotiating on individual special sites or larger developments (e.g. CD zoning)
    confuse and complicate the CAC policy and local area plans which would inevitably be constrained by a single city-wide plan
    apply a static lock to a dynamic growing city, therein encouraging the building up of tectonic strain on urban economics over time
    further the distrust of planners inherent in Condon’s thesis, as though staff don’t care or understand what the public good really is in the context of their real on-the-ground experience with record development levels, an affordability crisis, political pressure, land supply constraints and a number of other serious challenges

    Then you’ve got the economics. The Vienna Model is costly. It used almost CAN$900 million (yes, a skinny billion) in public money in 2017 alone, the vast bulk of it from the national government of Austria. It existed over generations, so the cumulative historic funding is tremendous. It is financially inconceivable that this model can be applied even in part here in Vancouver. It’s clear this is just an academic and theoretical fantasy that looks good as a report abstract. Let’s see a realistic, independent feasibility study first. Condon treats public transport with the same disdain for detail.

    I believe it is most feasible to build public rentals incrementally and coordinate their implementation over a long period in the Metro (at least a decade) with well-thought out milestones that are actually achievable financially, and funded by multiple levels of government. This is what is already proposed; I suggest the process needs to be both speeded and beefed up. Several tens of thousands of public rental units with stable rates will go a long way to counter unaffordable private condo prices and a dearth of private rentals.

    The forms rental buildings assume should be appropriate to the location (e.g. larger near transit stations), and be build to rigorous structural and energy standards. They should be dispersed into the neighbourhoods, not concentrated into large single-use complexes. Continuous commercial sidewalk retail and other forms of mixed use zoning are key to creating stable, walkable communities, and these need to be considered with rental development policies. All middle and lower incomes should be accommodated with a range of subsidies balanced with break-even market rental rates indexed to inflation. The management models could range from co-operative to contracted private companies or non-profit organizations.

    This is not nuclear physics and doesn’t require radical change to the city’s planning, taxation and zoning regime to realize.

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