COVID Place making
June 10, 2020

The Sad Truth about the Province’s Annual 1.3 Billion Dollar Expenditure on Seniors

You read that right. Every year the Province provides 1.3 billion dollars towards long term care, both to non-profit and for profit operators.

If you measure society and culture by how well the seniors are treated we’ve just received a huge “fail” on the report card. Please don’t think this will not impact you~the way seniors care works it takes decades to change, has become increasingly privatized, and what you see is likely what you or the older folks in your house will be considering in years to come.

The Covid-19 virus has made very clear the crisis that comes in warehousing seniors in large care homes~over 82 percent of Covid deaths in Canada are in long term care homes, and this is the highest proportion of pandemic deaths in a study undertaken by the International Long Term Care Policy Network.

The long term care model itself is a pre-baby boom phenomena, one that appealed to the Greatest Generation cohort (born between 1910 and 1924) and the Silent Generation Cohort (born between 1925 and 1945).

These two generations considered having food prepared and served restaurant style  in dining rooms, structured and organized activities, and personal service in room cleaning and management a decadent luxury. Today with the Baby Boom Generation (from 1946 to 1964) restaurant meals are part of everyday life, and personal services easily  attainable if needed.

Long term care is no longer a non-profit investment. In British Columbia a third of care homes are managed by the health authorities, a third by non-profits, and a third by for-profit companies.

Companies like Trenchant Capital Corporation listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange own scores of care homes. They outright state that since the industry is regulated by the Province, and in provinces like Ontario no new licences have been granted in over 20 years, that they can offer “predictable cash flows”.  Seventy percent of funding is received directly from the Province and funding increases annually.

But something happened in the rush to privatization~British Columbia Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie’s Report on Long Term Care, “A Billion Reasons to Care” outlines that not-for-profit care homes spend 24 percent more annually for each resident (about $10,000) and exceed direct care hour targets by over 80,000 hours of what they are publicly funded to deliver. For-profit care homes “failed to deliver 207,000 funded direct care hours”. There’s no government oversight for that funding to return to the Province, so that is left to the privately owned companies as profit.

For-profit care homes also pay their employees less.

As Daphne Bramham writes in the Vancouver Sun For-profit operators’ wage costs for each hour of direct care is lower across all classifications than the costs at not-for-profits and the homes run directly by health authorities.Some for-profits are paying care aides, who provide two-thirds of the care, nearly a third less than the industry standard, which works out to $6.63 an hour. Part of the difference is that for-profit operators are more likely to hire part-time rather than full-time workers, which eliminates the need to pay benefits.”

How did this happen? Twenty years ago the Province started to contract out long-term care to private operators who opted out of the Health Employers Association .

While the Seniors Advocate’s  report on Long Term Care was released in February in advance of the Covid-19 Pandemic,  it outlines some of the structural weaknesses that exacerbated the spread of the disease.

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Over the weekend I had an article published at that explores how North Shore property developers are adapting their businesses to survive a District of North Vancouver council that has refused to approve any multi-unit housing of any sort.  What I didn’t expect was that the story would wind up putting a human face on people who are usually presented as big bad faceless corporate monsters.

Included in the article is Oliver Webbe, president of the Darwin Group, who started the development side of their family business specifically to build projects on the North Shore, and who is now sitting on several pieces of land that he can’t touch. His approach is to just wait out the current council until they either change, or at least change their minds.

“In all honesty, it hasn’t changed our direction or what our vision is for our projects,” he says. “We’re staying the course. The reality is when you’ve got a considerably new council, it’s going to take a bit of time for them to get up to speed with policies that had already been in place for 10 years before they were elected.”

The other person that I talked to was Robert Brown, vice-president of the non-profit Catalyst Community Developments Society.  Catalyst had been invited by the previous District council to develop a six story subsidized housing project with senior’s respite facility on land owned by the District.  After several rounds of approvals and public meetings the near final plan was rejected wholesale by the council elected in 2018.  Brown explained to me that this rejection cost his organization several hundred thousand dollars – not an insignificant sum for a non-profit. His big frustration though was that he’d heard nothing from the District since the vote to shut the Catalyst project down.

“The strangest thing about this is that we went through that process, it got turned down, and we have never received a single phone call or correspondence from anybody at the district to say, ‘Would you like to discuss this? Would you like to revamp the proposal?’”

The thing that really struck me while reporting this was the genuine frustration that both Brown and Webbe felt. They believe that they have played by the rules, have done everything that was asked of them, and that they have acted in good faith.  Both of them strived to build below-market housing, to preserve or add more rental housing, and to build projects that will enhance the communities around them.

Those members of council who responded to requests for comments (Lisa Muri, who famously described meetings with Darwin as “keep your enemies close,” had nothing to say.) consistently talked about “traffic, environmental degradation in the form of forest devastation, and a general sense by residents that the project was out of step with their vision of their local community.”  The other notable response was from first-time council member and Deep Cove resident Megan Curren who wouldn’t comment on development questions, but instead chose to criticize Fortune for celebrating capitalism.

At the end of all of this, I walk away with a reminder that finger-pointing and name-calling do not build strong communities. Instead, it is critical that all of us, and especially the politicians that we elect to represent us, need to remember that inside every corporation or non-profit group are living, breathing human beings, and that decisions which may look politically savvy do have repercussions on people, businesses, and on individuals far removed from the vocal community associations that tend to dominate these discussions.

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As Vancouver enters the recovery phase in the pandemic and starts opening up commercial businesses, it is important for locals to get out and patronize them. Chains and franchises will have broader support, but the independent shops will be relying on locals to make the difference.

Last week Randy Shore in the Vancouver Sun wrote about the challenges for shop owners on Jim Deva plaza, Bute Street at Davie. With  store fronts having articulated facades it was a perfect place for homeless folks to camp out in while the stores were closed. One shop owner found several people camped “in her entryway smoking meth and using heroin”.

Their calls to the Business Improvement Area helped carve out an approach for the business to open and to provide a level of safety and security for customers.  While the Provincial government has assisted to find accommodation for over two hundred people who had been living in Openheimer Park, there have simply been more vacant storefronts in the west end available to provide  refuge for homeless people.

Tyee writer Stanley Woodvine has been detailing how challenging it is for homeless people on the street during the pandemic. Think of it~there are no libraries or public commmunity centres  to sit in to warm up or read the newspaper, nowhere to check a computer terminal. Most public washrooms are closed,  and there’s no places to wash hands or fill a water bottle.

There’s a similar situation causing friction between business owners and homeless people occurring in the 500 and 600 blocks of Evans Avenue which is close to the railway terminal.  Evans Avenue runs parallel to Terminal Avenue near the East 1st Avenue overpass.

There’s a mix of industrial and business offices across from a grassy hill that abuts the railroad yards. No  water access  or latrines exist on that grassy knoll which is private land.  The  homeless people camping on it have no services of any kind.  Neighbouring businesses have experienced altercations and break ins, with one large business having to keep vehicles inside the warehouse instead of the parking lot during the day to stop metal theft. Their garbage bins are commandeered  to provide privacy screens for latrine use, and the businesses’  front entrance ways shelter drug users.


That area falls outside the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan and is not in the subarea for the Strathcona Business Improvement Area. While the business owners did call the City of Vancouver inspectors several times because of defecation, garbage, and female staff being accosted, there was never a resolution. On the weekend a 24 foot motor home burnt up  on the street , taking the Fire Department one hour to douse.


It’s clear that the City’s post pandemic plan does need to include what Councillor Pete Fry calls “intertwined” issues “such as homelessness, public safety and business recovery.” 

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When I first saw the news report in early March, I was astonished: the City and Park Board, in conjunction with the Coastal Health Authority, would be using two community centres to temporarily house the otherwise homeless from the Downtown east Side.  What was jaw-dropping were the locations: in the centre of two of the most affluent communities in Vancouver, one less than a block from an elementary school – the Roundhouse in Yaletown and the other in Coal Harbour.

In normal circumstances, that decision would have been explosive. In non-covid times, it just would not have happened.  There would have been an immediate pushback from Yaletown and Coal Harbour residents and businesses – a call for more process, for community meetings, for public hearings and delegations.  And those would have been the polite responses.  Sides would be taken, the media coverage relentless, the politics divisive. A risk-adverse Council would have found a way, in the name of community consultation, to deep-six the proposal.

And yet, here it is, the consequence of a crisis most clearly not wasted.

The spaces at Roundhouse and Coal Harbour will be allotted by referral-only and staffed 24 hours a day. Vancouver Coastal Health will provide health guidance and B.C. Housing has appointed non-profit operators to manage the centres.  (The Sun)

But that wasn’t all. Those housed would also be provided with ‘safe supply’ – drugs and their substitutes to stabilize the addicted, in addition to distancing them from the virus in what would otherwise be a powder-keg in the Downtown East Side.  (That a covid outbreak has so far not occurred is another surprising non-event.)

Remarkably, this was all public knowledge:

(Mayor) Stewart said the federal government has allowed for a safe supply of drugs for residents of the Downtown Eastside.

Beyond the health consequences, the stakes were huge.  If this real-time, real-life exercise failed, it would set back any prospect of locating a similar facility anywhere else in the city, as well as negating the ongoing experiment of safe-supply.  And it wouldn’t take much: a single adverse incident, open needle use, an exchange of threats much less an actual incident.  On the other hand, if successful, it would deny precedent for an endlessly repeated bad example.

It’s only the end of May; the emergency continues, the community centres are still blacked out.  As an experiment that set out to do what it has so far accomplished, it succeeded – a word rarely associated with the DTES and homelessness.  Indeed, many activists are adverse to acknowledging that the actions they espouse, when implemented, achieve their goals.  Fearful that success might lead to complacency, a loss of commitment, a reduction in budgets, they might begrudgingly admit that an initiative, a new housing project, a raise in funding was a good first step, but there’s so much left to do, so many homeless still on the streets, and the filthy streets themselves an indictment of an uncaring society.

The Roundhouse and Coal Harbour experiment remain, so far, an unacknowledged success.  Friends in the neighbourhood report that until recently there was seemingly community acceptance of the circumstances – perhaps because the locations are only temporary.

But of course, that was unlikely to last.  Further uptown, things were changing.

(More to come.)

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Sun columnist Doug Todd, who has been writing insightfully about the housing market for years, reported this comment from a Toronto researcher:

 “There’s only so long they can hold on,” he says, before being forced to sell.

All it would take to create a sudden oversupply of housing would be for two per cent more owners in a particular market to list their dwellings for sale, Scilipoti says. “This will take time to play out,” he says, but the downward process is in motion.

Just 2 percent.  And I doubt it will take much time.  Ex-AirBnB listings back into the rental supply might be enough on its own in our downtown market – snowballs to start an avalanche.

Almost all solutions to unaffordability in our housing market seem to assume a massive amount of new or repurposed housing will be required, in turn involving major investments, rezonings, interventions, or some form of decisive change.  Well, we got a virus that seems to have done the latter, and it may mean we shouldn’t do much more until we see how the impact.

Those who want to change the fundamental economics of housing, and the social order that goes with it, are reluctant to acknowledge that small changes or interventions can make a substantial difference – like a rental incentive, a non-market housing program measured in the hundreds of units, a seemingly minor shift in the market, immigration statistics or interest rates.  When you want a revolution, a 2 percent adjustment doesn’t seem to cut it.  When rents seem out of reach, 2 percent doesn’t seem a sufficient stretch.

And yet that, in its way, will seem revolutionary.


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There will be lots of changes in the Post Covid world~one that can be predicted immediately is the change in how people will perceive Senior Citizen Care Homes. There’s been lots of  marketing for these facilities which have  multiple units with a shared dining room, group activities and excursions.

What the Covid Crisis revealed is that in a case of a pandemic, care home residents are locked in, away from families and trips out. If non-verbal these residents have no way to communicate with family.  There has been stories of couples married for a half century trying to communicate through an exterior glass window. There has also been video  of a daughter playing a trumpet  below her Dad’s closed care home window in Vancouver’s west end. Her father has sadly now  passed away from the Covid virus.

During this current Covid pandemic, the virus is in over 600 seniors’ care homes in Ontario. In that province there is advice for families to take their loved ones out of these care homes during this outbreak. 

More than 80 percent of deaths in Ontario have been at seniors’ care homes.

Senior Citizens’ residences have previously been  seen as a good financial investment. In a recent survey,19 percent of investors said they had  seniors’ care housing in their portfolio. It had been touted as a low risk investment with high returns as the baby boomers are  perceived as driving demand, with nearly 80 million seniors in the USA  by 2035.

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In the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department,  AirBnB actually is approaching the Canadian government  for “tax breaks”. As you can well imagine, there’s a lot of cancelled reservations for short term accommodation because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I have previously written about AirBnB which rents furnished units in places all around the world. Four years ago Iain Majoribanks was studying the impact of AirBnB on the Vancouver rental market while at the University of British Columbia.

He found that  Airbnb has a centralized control of all listings and charges a 9 to 15 per cent service fee on all bookings. The company conceals the location and identity of the hosts offering rooms, making enforcement challenging for municipalities. He surmises that 99.3 per cent of all Airbnb Vancouver stays are less than 30 days.

Now the City of Vancouver has new regulations for short-term rentals but it still appears that some “hosts” are renting out different units, despite the fact that Vancouver by-laws allow short-term renting of only your main house.

 Jen St. Denis reports for CTV News   that  Airbnb Canada has “asked the federal government for a series of tax breaks to help short-term rental hosts make up lost income from cancelled bookings during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Of course one of the things these rental hosts could do immediately is rent long-term to local residents. As The Guardian’s Rupert Neate writes, in Great Britain “landlords have flooded the rental market with their Airbnb flats…The number of new rentals Property portal Rightmove has on the market in the week the UK lockdown started increased by 45% in London, up 55% in Brighton, 62% in Edinburgh and 78% in Bath. It’s a similar story the world over with a 61% increase in Dublin and 41% in Prague.”

Meanwhile back in Canada hoping to keep AirBnB hosts mastering the short stay instead of providing month to month rentals,  AirBnB trotted a four page letter to the federal government. That letter asked for GST/HST business expense credits for hosts, income tax reductions, short-term loans or mortgage deferrals, requested that hosts  get Employment Insurance benefits  and  federal tax deferral. If that was not enough of an ask, AirBnB asked for a government paid tourist initiative to reboot the short-term stay business.

It seems a little odd when all these AirBnB owners need to do is rent their extra space out to longer term tenants. And the Duke of Data, Simon Fraser University’s City Program Director Andy Yan said it best:

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I received an advanced copy of “Planning on the Edge” which provides a reconciliation, social justice and sustainable development lens on the complex issues surrounding Metro Vancouver regional planning.  It’s a thoughtful and well documented book with chapters contributed by many well known urban thinkers.

There’s food and a panel with UBC’s Leonora Angeles, Bill Rees, Howard Grant from the Musqueam First Nation and Simon Fraser University’s Duke of Data Andy Yan.

Host of the CBC program “B.C. Today” Michelle Eliott is the moderator.

This event is expected to reach capacity quickly. The tickets are free~please follow this link to RSVP .

When February 27th, 2020  5:30 PM   through   9:00 PM Location UBC Robson Square, 800 Robson Street
Room C300
Vancouver, BC
Canada Contact Phone: 604-822-3276
Email: Read more »

Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month, Instagramming and podcasting his way across the country.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr), as well as PriceTalks podcast when interviews are occasionally posted.

Evidence from the Sydney Morning Herald on how deeply unserious some decision-makers can be after they approve motions and plans to respond to a housing crisis.

Slowdown in pace of housing developments unevenly spread across Sydney

Amid concerns about the scale of development, the government’s latest forecast shows 5700 fewer homes are set to be built over the next five years than was predicted two years ago. …

New dwellings at Ryde are forecast to fall by 10 per cent to 8550 over the next five years, compared with that forecast two years ago. The pullback comes after campaigning by Liberal Minister Victor Dominello against the scale of development in his electorate.

“I’m not against development – I’m against over development,” he said.

“If you start multiple villas and multiple terraces in suburbia, where are they going to park on streets? …”

The forecasts show 10 times as many homes are expected to be built at Blacktown (lower socioeconomic-economic status) over the next five years than the northern beaches (higher).

The 1950 new dwellings predicted for the northern beaches represent a 26 per cent fall on the government’s target for the area in 2017. In contrast, Liverpool in the south-west is forecast to have 12,750 dwellings built over the next five years, a 72 per cent rise on that predicted two years ago. …

Bill Randolph, the director of the University of NSW’s City Futures, said the change in forecasts for new homes likely reflected a slowdown in the apartment market, adding that it would still be a “big ask” to deliver about 41,000 dwellings annually in Sydney over the next five years.

Professor Randolph said a reduction in large industrial sites meant it would become harder to develop high-density areas in inner and middle suburbs of Sydney.

“It’s getting harder now to win the local political battle in getting urban renewal through now that we are running out of the big old industrial sites,” he said.



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Stats-and-numbers guy Andy Coupland does a backgrounder on The Grand Bargain and what Vancouverites (City and Metro) should know about this town.

Here’s the first post in the Andy Coupland Primer. Here’s the second. The third.  And now the fourth and final:

Random Acts of Density

Can the city or the region build itself out of the current ‘housing crisis’? The proportion of rental households actually went up in Vancouver between the 2011 and 2016 censuses (and in the rest of Metro too, although with a lower overall proportion renting). The past five years have seen over 33,000 starts in the city – the past four years have seen over 28,000.

But for the city to achieve an average 8,500 new units a year (the target the mayor has mentioned) would mean moving away from the caution we generally see.* Perhaps it won’t be as difficult as it seems. It was a bit surprising that there wasn’t pushback when Wall built a huge complex on Boundary Road, quite a way from the SkyTrain. That was the most extreme example (in Vancouver) of a street of modest houses replaced by over 1,000 condos in 32 floor buildings.

The take-up of the Cambie Plan also shows a different approach – not so much the six-storey buildings along Cambie already mentioned but the more recent additions. The City now has a method to fast-track rezoning for 1.4 FSR townhouses. One existing house can become six or even eight units, half of them 3-bed family-sized. There are already 32 projects as current rezonings – all but two approved in the past year. There are nine other sites already at Development Permit stage, and they represent 341 townhouses – which for Vancouver is a huge change.  The same sort of thing is happening in Marpole and Grandview Woodland, as those plans took the same forms and density.

That will be another way in which Vancouver will continue to grow in ways other municipalities don’t, because there’s actually a lot of change happening in some of Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods, which really isn’t the case in other municipalities. It would be interesting to know who is buying them. The family homes generally cost well over $1 million each – so more affordable than most existing Vancouver houses, but still a pretty steep haul to finance as a young couple.

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