Business & Economy
December 10, 2018

The Party May Be Over for Chinese Investment in American Cities

As reported in the Zero Hedge, the tightening of money in China is impacting North American real estate, with the Wall Street Journal estimating that more than 1 billion dollars of property has been dumped in the United States as Beijing moves investors into debt-reduction regulations.

In the third quarter of 2018 “Chinese investors dumped $1.05 billion worth of prime US real estate in the third quarter while purchasing only $231 million of property, according to data firm Real Capital Analytics. This marks the second consecutive quarter where investors were net sellers of US commercial real estate, and the first time investors sold more US property than they bought since the 2008 crash.”

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While New York City real estate experts have suggested that anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of Manhattan’s retail space is vacant, that figure in itself may not be an indicator of good retail health of an area. A successful retail area may be more about the uses.

The writer Derek Thompson in the New York Times had a real estate broker walk 18 prime retail blocks. Out of 246 storefronts, only 13 had for rent signs in vacant storefronts, suggesting a vacancy rate in the manageable  5 percent range. But there is a change of use in retail. Food and drink categories have been the main businesses leasing retail spaces in New York City in the last three years, with what is termed as “fast casual” eateries multiplying  over 100 percent in ten years.

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It’s been obvious that the constant increase in Vancouver real estate pricing did not appear to be a locally driven construct.  Global Televison  and Sam Cooper’s team have referenced a confidential report from Police that studied 1,200 luxury residence purchases in Metro Vancouver in 2016. The study  found that while only ten per cent of the purchasers had criminal records, 95 per cent of those transactions were “believed by police intelligence to be linked to Chinese crime networks.” This means that  home purchases could have laundered one billion dollars of black/gray cash in 2016.

The house purchases examined were in the 3 million to 35 million dollar range. The study did not include housing between 1 and 3 million dollars or condo flipping due to a lack of resources to scrutinize over 20,000 transactions. Researchers felt that significant suspicious activity would be found in these purchases as well.

Evidence is appearing that the funding for these real estate  purchases is from the street proceeds of selling fentanyl, and laundering that cash. One unidentified expert stated “You know that Netflix show Ozark, about laundering drug cartel money? I always think that if those characters came up to Vancouver, they could launder all their cash in just one day.”

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South of the Fraser in Delta things are progressing just like you’d expect in a place pretty rooted in trucking related business, highways, and advocating for the multi-billion dollar oversized ten lane Massey Bridge.

At the first meeting of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation the new Mayor of Delta George Harvie (who was Delta’s city manager until May 2018) wanted to get the bridge going again, despite the fact that under the previous Mayors’ Council every other Metro Mayor had rejected it. New chair of the Mayors’ Council, Jonathan Cote reminded the Mayor of Delta that having or not having a bridge was not in the Mayors’ Council’s jurisdiction.

That Delta mayor just has to wait for the findings of the Province’s consultant who has reviewed the bridge and alternatives, and the report which will be presented to the Mayors’ Council some time soon in advance of being released to the public.

Meanwhile the City of Delta received happier news that the B.C. Lottery Corporation gave final approval to the “Cascades Casino Delta” which will be located on the site of the old Delta Town and Country Inn on the Delta side of the Massey tunnel. Delta Council has fast tracked approval of this 70 million dollar facility with 61,000 square feet and an associated 800 stall parking lot. The casino will  be located on property owned by Shato Holdings, Ron Toigo of White Spot fame. Mr. Toigo is also the developer of Tsawwassen Springs, a luxury home golf course community in Tsawwassen where the current mayor of Delta resides.

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None of this for Surrey, thank you.

 

Let’s call Mayor McCallum’s proposal to scrap the LRT L-line for SkyTrain down the Fraser Highway for what it is: an express train to Langley.

No wonder the new mayor of Langley is heartily in support.  No wonder the Surrey Board of Trade isn’t.  The benefits will largely accrue to the businesses, real-estate developers and commuters up and down the 200th-Street corridor, east of the Surrey border.  Meanwhile, Guildford and Newton will have to settle for its B-line.

As Ken Ohrn mentioned below, transportation and land use go together – arguably, the latter being more the point than the former. We rarely travel just for the purpose or pleasure of moving; it’s to get to a place to do something.  The more places where you can stop along the way, the more economic development is likely to occur, the more passengers generated.  And that was Surrey’s rationale for LRT along 104th and King George.

LRT is more about local access; SkyTrain is more about regional access.  We need both, but clearly the priority for a growing municipality like Surrey was to shape that growth to be more transit-oriented, to be denser, to have more destinations.  That’s not going to be as likely when a Langley-anchored SkyTrain passes through a large park, ALR flood plain, and lower-density suburban development like Clayton/Cloverdale.  Indeed, the only true regional centres will be at King George and Langley City itself.

Surrey’s hopes to have job-supportive mixed-use development at Guildford and Newton will be frustrated and delayed – and Surrey will have to pay more to do that.

The most likely reason why McCallum went for SkyTrain is the populist sentiment he detected (and felt) that LRT was second-class; Surrey deserved SkyTrain, damn it, since Vancouver got it.  Ironically, it’s Vancouver that will again benefit if the locally oriented LRT is scrapped.  SkyTrain will deliver and concentrate more jobs in the regional core, while Surrey remains the bedroom suburb it has been the building of the first Port Mann Bridge.

Thanks, Doug!

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Some recent stories about the impact of ride-hailing companies, particularly Uber, and the longer term implications.

First, another confirming story that ride-hailing is measurably increasing congestion – from Tech Crunch:

In San Francisco … ride-hailing services are undoubtedly partially to blame (for the rise in traffic and congestion), but not entirely to blame, according to a new study from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. …

Between 2010 and 2016, according to the SFCTA, ride-hailing services accounted for:

  • 51 percent of the increase in daily vehicle hours of delay
  • 47 percent of the increase in vehicle miles traveled
  • 55 percent of the average speed decline
  • 25 percent of total vehicle congestion citywide

So not surprising, then, that Uber wants to address the problem of congestion by supporting a mechanism that would reduce ‘free-riders’ on the streets they help congest.

From the Seattle Times:

Uber says it plans to spend money lobbying for congestion pricing in Seattle as part of a $10 million push for “sustainable mobility” policies in various cities.

The ride-hail app company and its rival, Lyft, have previously expressed support for the idea of tolling downtown streets in Seattle, where Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration is working to develop a proposal.

But Uber’s new commitment to actively press for congestion pricing in the city, shared with The Seattle Times last week, could be the biggest boost yet for an effort certain to encounter political roadblocks, including concerns about affordability.

Uber thinks big and it thinks strategically – literally globally.   It can afford to.

From Vanity Fair:

The Wall Street Journal reported that the company had received proposals from Wall Street banks estimating its initial public offering at a market valuation as high as $120 billion, virtually twice its current private-market valuation, and larger than the combined market capitalizations of General Motors , Ford Motor Company, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. …

Uber … has a large, global footprint, and is possibly a primordial holding company for a series of future companies …  Uber already has one of the largest food-delivery platforms around today, and it is expanding its freight business, which has the possibility to grow infinitely. And then there’s the driverless car I.P. that the company owns, not to mention the investments in other global ride-sharing services …

“Some people see Uber as a car company,” (an Uber insider said).  “Uber sees itself as the next potential Amazon.”

I think this is bigger than even the evolution of another Amazon (if it first doesn’t buy or dominate Uber.)

We’re still thinking about transportation as essentially a problem of hardware: expensive pieces of metal crammed with technology, jamming the streets and highways. Motordom 1.0.

We analyse the problem from the point of view of the user, each distinguished by the hardware of choice: car or truck drivers, transit users, cyclists (and okay, maybe shoe wearers).

We assume this is primarily a problem for government – the owner of the streets, the licensor of vehicles, the regulator of traffic.

We need to shift our focus to Motordom 2.0 – the integration of every imaginable mode of movement, joined by information technology, delivered to us by a service provider who sells us transportation in the way telecommunications providers sell us data.  The TSP: the Transportation Service Provider.

We should be thinking not about hardware but about what Motordom 2.0 will really be about – issues of ownership, regulation, taxation and equality.  Above all, the vision we have for our urban environments, what we build, for whom, and who gets to decide.

Uber or its successor will likely want to be that decider – the shaper of cities, the creator of wealth, the leader of civilization.  Because that’s what we call what we build, how we move, and who rules over it all.

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Peter Ladner called it out on Twitter last week with the tweet posted below. City News has reported on the increasing retail vacancies evident in downtown Vancouver and in some of the commercial streets of surrounding neighbourhoods, suggesting quite validly that property tax was a culprit.

But Peter also pointed out the increased interest and reliance on internet retailing, specifically the 450,000 square foot Amazon fulfillment centre to be built on the Tsawwassen First Nations territory creating 700 local jobs. This is the first facility to be built by Amazon on First Nations land, and Amazon has two other distribution centres located in Delta and New Westminster.

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Any macchiatto tour of Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant hood must now begin (or end) at one of the most west coast of open-air patios — at 14th and Main.

Pavement-to-Plaza, a new video by the team of Brian and Kathleen of small places, shows how the new configuration at this popular intersection, in the midst of a busy stretch of high street stores and restaurants, is also fulfilling the demand for calmed public spaces, with safer passage for people on bike and foot.

Check out the video below — a head-bobber, for sure.

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Photo by Michael Geller, Vancouver Courier

Truth or clickbait: Is the housing crisis in Vancouver really over? Nope, not for the many people it has negatively impacted, and will continue to do so.

It took some time to get to this crisis, but it may not take as long to get out. Maybe it already has. Demand-side parameters — taxes, interest rates, mortgage requirements, investment sources, prices,  expectations, attitudes, politics — are all shifting simultaneously. That means, on the supply side, the implications of this chart are profound:

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Big things start with people coming together over big ideas. In this case, it’s a set of ideas to foster and increase regional growth through economic integration between Metro Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

PT has previously covered Cascadia material HERE and HERE.

Your chance to mix, mingle, network and learn is on its way to Vancouver.

2018 Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference

Vancouver (Hyatt Regency Hotel)

Tuesday October 9, 2018
Specialized sessions, Registration, Kick-off reception

Wednesday October 10th, 2018
Main Session

p.s. It’ll cost ya $C 400.

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