Housing
January 15, 2021

Is Vancouver a City for Renters? – Jan 21

The second event of The Future We Want: The Change We Need series, hosted by the City of Vancouver in partnership with SFU.

 

How must the City of Vancouver think differently about housing and the housing market to better meet the needs of its residents, ensuring priority for those with the greatest need?

What is required of a new city-wide plan to ensure the urgent and transformative change necessary to establish an equitable housing system?

Speakers
  • Evan Siddall – President and CEO, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • Khelsilem – Squamish Nation Councillor
  • Barbara Steenbergen – Member of the Executive Committee, International Union of Tenants
  • Leilani Farha – Global Director, The Shift
  • William Azaroff – CEO, Brightside Community Homes Foundation
  • Andy Yan – Director, The City Program at Simon Fraser University
Moderators
  • Meg Holden – Professor and Director, SFU Urban Studies
  • Kerry Gold – Journalist and Globe and Mail Housing Columnist

Register here.

 

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It’s only mid-January, and already we have a nomination for ‘Article of the Year.’

Doug Ward’s long-form analysis in The Tyee of the No. 1 story in this town is a must-read if you want an informed perspective on the particulars of the housing challenges in Vancouver, what actions and proposals have been taken, and where the various factions on council stand.  It’s the best read so far of the political players, their motivations and critiques of each other.  It’s a lot of material to pack into a single story, and this one is as good as we’ve seen so far.

Here’s Doug’s conclusion:

The politically low-friction days of filling brown fields with new developments are over. And nowadays, almost all densification in established neighbourhoods happens on the east side of town, while on the wealthier west side, says (Andy) Yan, “The homes have become larger and emptier. It’s getting less dense.”

Something’s got to give….  (But) Stewart and his councillors have yet to forge an agenda that reflects the mood of crisis that delivered them to their posts in the first place. They have until the fall of 2022 to demonstrate otherwise.

My thoughts:

The housing challenge cannot be met within the boundaries of Vancouver.  Housing is, at minimum, a regional challenge, involving every level of government.  City of Vancouver politicians should never be so presumptuous as to think they have the levers to solve it between Boundary Road and the UEL.

Also unquestioned (even in Doug’s piece) is the presumption that the City should replace the market as the short-term determinant for housing supply and affordability.   Let’s leave aside the question as to whether that’s possible (it isn’t), the fact is that most citizens, including immigrants, would be distrustful of an ideological solution unless it manifestly benefits them directly.

It could be that city government won’t have to intervene in any major way (rezoning the city from one end to the other or budgeting to build thousands of units) so long as it can affect marginal supply at a time when more global factors align (especially interest rates and health of the economy – which influences immigration rates, domestic and foreign).  By assisting the market to strategically supply an ongoing expectation of new units (which is happening now, especially in the rental stock) in a sufficiently short period of time, the overall market may be moderated in price and scarcity to remove the issue as a political imperative.  The pandemic might do the same, but likely won’t make much of a difference in the medium term.  (It hasn’t so far.)

The hope being placed on the Vancouver Plan was naïve to begin with, and unachievable in the time left in this council’s term, especially given the disruption of the pandemic.  Trying to accommodate a visionary or ideological model of change for every neighbourhood simultaneously, especially when it involves the character or scale of a community, is simply not doable without having to pay too high a political price (assuming there is a disciplined majority willing to take the risk).

Such a city-wide plan cannot on one hand provide an overview of how growth will be accommodated (along with infrastructure and amenities) in a way that is accepted as equitable and, on the other, inform citizens on what can literally be built next door to them (which is the real purpose of zoning: to give assurance, continuity and control over the rate of change).  The Vancouver Plan has no chance of doing that, and so will be compromised into mush or deferred into the future if it isn’t abandoned.

Vancouver will muddle along, spot-rezonings and all, and manage to still end up with a remarkably successful (if expensive) city.

 

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Great Britain’s “High” or main streets are seeing  purchases for things other than food drop by 24 percent in shopping areas, with an overall decline in sales being the worst since record keeping started in 1995.

As The Guardian’s Richard Partington writes closing down “non-essential” shops never recovered from the online spending takeovers.Total retail sales increased 1.8 percent from November to December and surprisingly food and drink sales were the highest recorded for holiday spending. Credit card company Barclaycard saw online retail spending increase over 50 percent in December.

Canada has not had as many strict pandemic closures as in Great Britain but this study undertaken by  Vancity, Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB), and the Canadian Urban Institute shows that from September to December visits to main street businesses decreased 35 to 70 percent compared to 2019, with nearly 60 percent of businesses making less money, some garnering half of the revenue made pre-pandemic.

Retail Insider’s  Mario Toneguzzi  reports that the interim President of Vancity says it clearly~

Local businesses form the backbone of the Canadian economy and they have shown determination and resilience during the pandemic. Given the extraordinary measures and investment they have made to continue operating, they are now counting on us to get behind them.”

Concentrating on main streets in communities in Ontario and British Columbia, research shows that small businesses directly attached to the local community performed better. Up to one quarter of all businesses were doing more business online. Sadly in Victoria and in Vancouver (the survey was conducted in Vancouver’s Strathcona) the majority of business owners reported increased safety issues in their location as keeping customers away.

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Passing the Torch: Lessons Learned for Future Generations of Women Advocates~A conversation with Shirin Ebadi at Simon Fraser University

Shirin Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first woman appointed as judge in Iran, she was subsequently barred from her post after the Islamic Revolution on the basis of her gender. Returning to the courts as a private lawyer to defend controversial political and human rights cases led to her own incarceration and 25 days in solitary confinement. Despite these challenges, Shirin Ebadi continues to dedicate her life to fighting for human rights, especially the rights of women, children, and political prisoners. She will join us to talk about the hard-won lessons she has learned, to pass the torch to future generations of women advocates.
A zoom link will be provided to registered attendees via email.
About the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies
The Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies has been established at Simon Fraser University to encourage the academic discussion and public understanding of the cultures and societies of Muslim peoples in the past and present.

Date: Wednesday January 27, 2021

Time: 12 noon Pacific Time

You can register by clicking this link.

Images: VanityFair,LessonPlanet.com

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There is a large flashy ad on twitter. A new development is being announced in Metro Vancouver. It  is at the crossroads of three different rapid transit routes,  a new transportation hub to everywhere in the region and there are only 176 lots available to savvy investors. There’s a great pre-sale, there are real estate agents available at the development site to sign you up, and even better one of the purchasers of the limited number of lots will also win the lot that has an original farmhouse that had been built twenty years earlier.

This is not a current offer for sale, but one from 110 years ago when “Montrelynview, Greater Vancouver’s Tram Car Centre” was created for property sales. In 1911 the large advertisements started to appear in The Vancouver World newspaper~”Montrelynview! Greater Vancouver’s Tram Car Centre Sale Starts with 176 lots only!”


Charles Gordon, a real estate speculator had acquired Wintermute farm which is at 7640 Berkley Street  in Burnaby near Canada Way and Imperial. He then devised a plan to whip up public interest in selling the subdivided lots from the farm property and created a clever marketing campaign.

Mr. Gordon hosted a competition to name his new development and offered a first prize of $50.00 which is worth about $2,800 today for the winning name.  He wanted a moniker that would reference the mountain view, the fact you could see Burnaby Lake from the location, and that also noted the proximity to the three streetcar lines.

There were over 5,000 potential names submitted in the contest, but none satisfied Mr. Gordon. Awkwardly, he devised  his own brand for the development, calling it  “Montrelynview”which he felt recognized the mountain view, the lake view, and the proximity to transit. The prize of $50.00 went to the person that suggested “Tricarlocheights” which meant “mountains and omit(s) view”.

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Friend of Price Tags and resident of Grandview, Gerry Stafford (who lives meters from the Broadway SkyTrain station) sends along a notice from the Grandview Wood Area Council – and a comment:

Gerry Stafford: Interesting the automatic assumption that everyone is against the towers at the Safeway site or indeed all towers.  I for one am ashamed that density around one of the busiest transit hubs in Western Canada has not evolved similar to Cambie and Marine or Brentwood.  Yes, this is counter to my personal interest but one sometimes needs to look at the bigger issue.

More on proposal in Daily Hive

The creation of dense pods around transit results in fewer vehicles on the road, but more to the point – with the inclusion of rental and non market housing it allows the poor among us the opportunity to live in a circumstance where obtaining work is feasible.  Those lucky enough to live beside a major transit hub, myself included, can get to most of the Lower Mainland within an hour’s commute by transit.

We need 21st century solutions to the current issues of pending gridlock and climate change.  Densification around our transit hubs is one of those solutions.

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The D. A Smith Furniture Company appears on Vancouver’s  Granville Street and moves into a “larger” premises at 931 Granville Street in 1911. Here is the Christmas advertising that was first used, with the admonishment

“Every year we notice an increase in the number of odd pieces sold at Christmas time. People are coming around to the proper idea of Christmas giving. If you feel you want to make somebody a present, why, be sure and give something that will be useful as well as ornamental”.

 

 

Even this early there is the start of a business association with co-operative Christmas advertising appearing in the Vancouver Sun in 1912 with gift suggestions for “Father, Mother, Wife, Husband, Boy, Girl and Baby”. All the suggestions of gifts were from local Granville and Hastings Streets businesses.

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Harold Steves needs no introduction to people in Metro Vancouver. He is one of the longest serving city councillors in Canada, serving with the City of Richmond. Mr. Steves was first elected in 1969, then served as an elected MLA in the Provincial government, then returned to Richmond Council in 1977 where he’s been bringing  to the forefront the importance of agriculture, sustainability, and respect of the existing natural environments.

Mr. Steves started one of the first pollution awareness societies in Canada, was a founding member of the Agricultural Land Reserve (he drafted the original motion too) in 1973. The Steves family still farm the homestead property in Richmond. His family arrived here over 150 years ago, and operated the first seed company in British Columbia and brought in the first holstein cattle. That little town of Steveston is named after this family.

But as Maria Rantanen reports in Richmond News Mr. Steves says the time is now to understand the importance of the Fraser River estuary where Richmond and Delta are seated upon, and finally develop at the provincial level a coastal zone act for all estuaries across the province.

In fact Mr. Steves had introduced a private member’s bill on this decades ago in the provincial legislature while he was an MLA..

“The Fraser River estuary is home to half of B.C.’s population but only 30 per cent of its natural habitat is currently intact, according to a recent study by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.Threats to the estuary include pollution, resource exploitation, dredging and diking, intense farming, sprawl, climate change and future large-scale industrial development.”

I have already written about  the UBC Scientific Team study that concluded over one hundred species would become extinct  within 25 years in this area if an overall governance model was not introduced for the Fraser River estuary.

While river deltas and estuaries are recognized as important, they have not been clearly identified in legislation. There’s a messy jurisdiction for estuaries, that has made co-ordinated planning and regulation difficult and stressful.

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What does the Port of Vancouver know that it is not telling us? Former British Columbia  Premier and former Mayor of Vancouver Mike Harcourt has written in the Vancouver Sun that Port executives and the board of directors “are pushing a little-known master plan that would displace Vancouver waterfront, Canadian-owned agricultural processors and grain shippers in favour of a massive container terminal.”

A new massive container terminal is also on the Port of Vancouver’s books for Roberts Bank near Tsawwassen. Everyone used to a clear and transparent process has assumed that the outcome of the huge new Deltaport Terminal was wending its way through the Federal review process. Most people also assumed that there would be some severe pushback with the huge environmental impacts this new terminal would create.

The Tsawwassen First Nation has expressed worry about this shipping expansion as fish stocks decline.The existing terminal at Roberts Bank protrudes through an eelgrass seabed that is used by migrating juvenile salmon. I have already written about the proposed port terminal’s impact which would make extinct the flight path of the Alaska bound migratory western sandpiper, that feeds exclusively on the biofilm available only at the  proposed site of this new terminal.

To give you an idea of the size of this project, Stephanie Wood in the Narwhal notes that the new terminal “will double the size of Deltaport, creating an artificial island about the size of 150 football fields. The Fraser estuary has already lost 70 per cent of its salmon habitat, and the proposed project would deplete an additional 177 hectares'”.

But surprise!

The Port of Vancouver is already hiring an engineer to manage the infrastructure delivery of the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Procurement Process, and that has been published on the  Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia job page.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (Port Vancouver) are looking for a Manager (to report to the Director) to “deliver infrastructure projects related to terminal construction, land reclamation, and/or terminal and road/rail access. This billion dollar plus project is a design-build in the planning stage and will involve support for contract formation before transitioning to heavily technical construction management.”

You can take a look at the complete job description  which includes items like building a “high performing team”,building and maintaining relationships with Indigenous groups, partners, and other government agencies, tenants, stakeholders, and the community; including the negotiation of agreements while maintaining the port’s reputation in all matters.”

This position will be staffing up positions and working with ” Legal, Infrastructure Real Estate, and Planning Departments to ensure that land tenure and project permitting requirements are clearly understood and advanced as required.”

And perhaps my favourite metric: “Representing Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in negotiations, at conferences and conventions, and in the media as required, ensuring clear communication of the business strategy and key messages, and the presentation of a positive and professional image of the business.”

But there’s more: on December 7, 2020 Delta Council heard a delegation from Global  Container Terminals (GCT), which is the group that runs the existing container terminal of 85 hectares (210 acres)  at Deltaport. While claiming not to be unhappy with the proposal for Deltaport’s Terminal 2, they have developed another option, building an expansion off their existing terminal in Deltaport.  As they stated to Delta Council, their proposed option for expansion is in their words “the most economical way to grow the port and provide competitive offerings.”

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Bowinn Ma is the provincial Minister of State for Infrastructure.  A Minister of State, not an actual Minister (as many of her fans anticipated).  But she nonetheless has a rather ambitious to-do list.

This* is what’s in her Mandate Letter:

  • Extend the Millennium Line to Arbutus, with an eventual terminus at UBC
  • Prompt design and construction of the Surrey-Langley Skytrain.
  • Widen Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley
  • Replace the Massey crossing
  • Complete the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project.
  • Support planning for key transit projects, like high-speed transit links for the North Shore and the expansion of rail up the Fraser Valley.

In short: the biggest roads and the longest trains.  Not all on her own, of course; responsibilities for TransLink alone are split among three Ministers of various kinds.   But the part of her portfolio that she will be tested on will be getting the big road projects unstoppably underway before the next election.

So if conflict is to occur, it’s less likely to be among her colleagues than between her mandate and her rhetoric when it comes to shaping growth with big-time road infrastructure.

The implicit expectation by the Premier may be that the high-growth parts of our region – east of Langley, south of the Fraser – can become more like the region he represents (Langford and the western communities of Victoria), where working people should still be able to afford a house to drive to and won’t pay tolls to get there. And to do that we need more big roads, bridges (or tunnels), with some incidental room for transit.

Ma has argued that such a strategy is futile.  Widening highways and building untolled crossings to reduce congestion just begets more congestion.  (She made a celebrated speech in the Legislature on that very point – here.)

 

So why would the Premier appoint an MLA whose public position is that the era of big roads is (or should be) over?  The chattering classes (Price Tags division) have come up with some possible reasons:

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