Governance & Politics
November 16, 2018

The End of the Housing Crisis As We Knew It

Okay, the headline is clickbait.  The housing crisis is not over.  But its causes are being addressed in a substantive way.

Here’s the latest evidence on the supply side:

This is the first set of housing projects selected through the B.C. government’s $1.9-billion Building B.C.: Community Housing Fund established to construct more than 14,000 affordable rental homes for independent families and seniors.

It’s part of a larger $7 billion commitment by the B.C. government to build 114,000 affordable homes over 10 years.

Were you aware of these announcements in the last few weeks?  Did you think it was ‘a landmark investment’?  That this was an ‘historic’ commitment?  That’s how it was described in the press release.

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This week, the City of North Vancouver posted an opening for a new management position — Manager, Central Waterfront Public Realm.

The successful applicant would be responsible for the planning, programming and operations of the city’s Central Waterfront Area, which has quickly become one of the go-to family-friendly public spaces in the Lower Mainland.

A specialized degree and 10 years of related experience are being sought, as well as passion for placemaking and shared values. And a whole bunch of other stuff – check out the posting here.

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Petard, meet Hoist.

Dan Fumano at The Sun did a nice job reporting on Colleen Hardwick’s desire to quickly reverse the duplexing bylaw passed by the previous council.

She asked (Gil) Kelley, (chief planner), if she was correct in understanding it would be possible to get the duplex zoning reversed in as fast as 60 days.

Kelley replied that if council wishes, staff could get the matter to a public hearing as early as mid-February, “but that would skip the consultation process that we would normally do.”

“It is unusual for us to do that, but we would do that if that’s what the council’s desire is,” Kelley said.

“The risk, of course, we’re once again, in some people’s eyes, doing something without consultation. Just so you understand that risk.” …

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle piped up: “Can I just clarify? The suggestion is that we would do less consultation in rescinding this, even though the critique of the decision was that there wasn’t sufficient and meaningful consultation in the first place?”

“I’m not keen on that,” she said.

“And I don’t see how we would publicly justify that without falling into the accusation that consultation wasn’t really why people are against duplexes,” she added.

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The  New York Times has written about the crumbling stone building in Ottawa  at 24 Sussex Drive. This  was supposed to be the residence of the Prime Minister. The building, a huge stone house with over 35 rooms on four floors was originally built in 1868 by a lumberman for his own use. It was expropriated by the government in the mid 20th century, and underwent a very unfortunate renovation in the 1950’s that took off its original gingerbread trim and cladding.

Unlike 10 Downing Street in London and the White House in Washington, the purpose of 24 Sussex Drive was to be only a  residence. The spaces are not large enough for state dinners or formal functions, and many of the rooms as they exist are quite small. Located on a cliff overlooking the Ottawa River the location is stunning, however the house has not had good maintenance or stewardship for over 60 years.

Asking for tax payer funded  renovations of the house~and 2015 estimates valued the work at 15 million dollars~is not that good a look for any political party in office. The house has a leaky roof, knob and tube electrical, is riddled with asbestos and  has boxy air conditioning units plugged into the windows like a cheap hotel. There is an antiquated  horrid heating system that costs over $50,000 a year to run.  There was a reason that the current prime minister said no thank you, and tucked his family into a smaller residence at Rideau Hall, where the Governor-General lives.

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Council may soon be dealing with the motion presented by NPA Councillor Colleen Hardwick to reconsider the duplex rezoning passed in the last days of the previous council:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Zoning and Development By-law No. 3575 and related changes to Strata Title Polices for RS, RT and RM Zones and RS-7 Guidelines, and RS-7 Guidelines be referred to public hearing for reconsideration by Council at the earliest date possible while giving the minimum required notice under the Vancouver Charter.

What we learn about the alignment of votes and the messages sent will be more significant than the motion.  Each councillor will be sending a message about how seriously they take the housing crisis.  Is process more important than outcomes?  Is the housing crisis not so severe that we can delay or even avoid action?  Is preserving neighbourhood character our real priority?   (What are you watching for?)

Then there are the power dynamics of the new council.  Who will align with whom?  What is the new working majority?  Is the mayor part of it?

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I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of transportation professionals and policy-makers yesterday, with an agenda devoted to new technologies.  Including autonomous vehicles, of course.

If there was a consensus, it was that AVs aren’t ready for prime time – and may never be in some conditions, like complicated urban environments.  Or under adverse conditions.

That’s confirmed by a guy who should really know.

From CNET:

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This summer Price Tags wrote about the fact that 200 new measures meant to cool the housing market in China has had little impact.  Bloomberg News reports that up to 22 percent of all China’s units are vacant, representing fifty million apartment units. Even the Chinese President has gone on record stating that homes should be for living. But  real estate still has an allure in a country where home ownership was suppressed in the 20th century, and where young men raised under the One Child Policy buy units to raise their prospects of attracting a marriage.

When restrictions on housing speculation in certain cities and provinces were established, real estate capital went to places without the restrictions. Price increases have meant that many people are priced out of the market. Of course the fear is that the data about the empty units might spark a selling frenzy, sending property values crashing. Entire cities have been built anticipating future inhabitants and luring property investors. These largely uninhabited places are  called “ghost cities”.

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Can small housing do more to solve our housing crisis?

It’s just one question that will be asked at the Small Housing BC Summit, a full-day conference taking place this Saturday at Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.

And it’s also a springboard to what could be the more important question: Can we change the way we build homes such that small housing — which SHBC defines as 200-1500 square feet — be the driver of this conversation, rather than just a passenger?

In the current Vancouver context, perhaps there’s no better debate to be having.

Tickets are still available – register by Nov. 15.

In addition to panel discussions and small housing showcases, the Summit will feature two Small Housing Challenge case studies:

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Durning picked this feature by Chris Bruntlett in the Brisbane Times:

Bike city, great city: How Vancouver can inspire a better Perth

In 2008, when Vancouver’s newly elected mayor proposed taking out a general traffic lane of a busy city bridge and replacing it with a protected bike lane, some pundits predicted it would be the end, not just the beginning, of his political career.

Television helicopters were sent to capture the impending “carmaggedon”. A prominent business leader declared it would “choke the lifeblood out of the downtown”.

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A tweet from Chris and Melissa of Modacity, touring Australia:

When Perth’s new 60,000 capacity Optus Stadium opened earlier this year, the state government decided not to build *any* public parking (patrons are offered free transit).

Instead, they built the Matagarup Bridge: a spectacular $91.5M. walking/cycling crossing of the Swan River.

 

 

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