May 13, 2021

More Ammunition in the Gentrification War

There’s a premise out there (articulated pretty much at every rezoning hearing by Councillor Jean Swanson to justify a no vote) that newer, bigger apartments and condos constructed in a lower income neighbourhoods will have gentrification effects – in particular, an upward pressure on rents.  Seems reasonable to some, unverifiable to others – or at least no justification to argue against new development that will eventually become older and relatively more affordable.

Sooo … this research from the States will add fuel to the debate, which maintains new development can actually lower some rents.  Nor do an increase in amenities have a measurable effect.

From Planetizen:

A study years in the making has added a new reference in the debate about the effects of large new apartment developments on low-income neighborhoods located nearby.

The study, titled “Local Effects of Large New Apartment Buildings in Low-Income Areas,” was published by The Review of Economics and Statistics on May 6, but the research first attracted attention at the beginning of 2019. Planetizen blogger Michael Lewyn introduced the research findings (in what was then a working paper) as potential ammunition for the YIMBY response to rising housing costs in large cities with restrictive zoning codes and low amounts of residential development.

Now published in a peer-reviewed journal, the research finalizes its findings, as summarized in the study’s abstract: “New buildings decrease rents in nearby units by about 6 percent relative to units slightly farther away or near sites developed later, and they increase in-migration from lowincome [sic] areas.”

The researchers argue that new apartment developments achieve price reductions in nearby neighborhoods by absorbing high-income households and increasing local housing stock. “If buildings improve nearby amenities, the effect is not large enough to increase rents. Amenity improvements could be limited because most buildings go into already-changing neighborhoods, or buildings could create disamenities such as congestion,” reads the abstract.

For more of the latest on the subject, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles recently published a survey of recent research on the consequences of new development for local housing markets.

FULL STORY: Local Effects of Large New Apartment Buildings in Low-Income Areas Published on Thursday, May 6, 2021 in The Review of Economics and Statistics Read more »

The Federal Government through Indigenous Services has just closed a request for written comments regarding environmental impacts of the proposed Senakw development which is located on the traditional territory of the Squamish First Nation near the south foot of the Burrard Bridge. The deadline for comments closed at the end of April, but you can read more about the process here.

These comments are being submitted to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, and are part of the planning phase where the public and First Nations provide information to the assessment. You can take a look at the overall  federal process here.

The Senakw development proposes twelve mixed residential and commercial buildings to be built on site near the south foot of the Burrard Bridge in four phases, resulting in the addition of 6,000 units, mainly rental. You can take a look at the website for Senakw here, and also view an introductory video by Khelsilem and Deanna Lewis, Councillors of the Squamish Nation.

The video gives a background of the history of the Squamish Nation lands and references the past and importance of this 10.5 acre  site. There are also  some flyover graphics showing how the proposed towers will nestle beside the Burrard Bridge.

There has been some confusion about lack of notification of the start of this process, but one group which has responded is the Kits Point Residents’ Association who posted their submission on their website.  This group  represents 1,100 households, sixty percent who rent in the area. You can read their full submission here.

The Kits Point Residents Association wants to know more about the environmental assessment process that the Federal government is undertaking, as well as the services, access and egress for the new development on this “irregularly shaped lot which is not fully buildable by virtue of being bisected by the Burrard Street Bridge.”  

Read more »


The Post, currently under construction on Georgia, will open in 2023 as the largest office building downtown.  Inside will be about 6,000 Amazon employees in a building over a million square feet, some relocated from buildings nearby.

Says Mayor Kennedy: “The City of Vancouver is so excited to see Amazon creating an additional 3,000 well-paying jobs for people who want to work and live in our city.”

Just the kind of well-paying jobs needed to afford Vancouver’s housing costs, assisted by a generous grant that Amazon gives its employees for initial accommodation, along with the services of a ‘head-hunter’ who tracks down available apartments.

You can guess where this is going.  Great if you’re an Amazonian on the upper floors, not so promising if you’re a barista in the lobby, disastrous if you’re tenuous low-income tenant in, say, the West End.  And Amazon isn’t alone in attracting educated workers from all over the world, taking advantage of Canada’s immigration policies, close to the mother ships in Seattle like Microsoft.

So what should the city and province be doing now in anticipation of this flood, especially to mitigate the impacts on those in the low end of the market? Perhaps this:

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Everywhere around the world the tall buildings are called marvels of engineering, providing custom work and employment for the Hollywood deck of designer darlings called “Starchitects”. Of course those same buildings overshadow parks and other buildings and usurp tons of resources. They also are being associated with a whole bunch of problems because they are so big, different, and house so many units.

It was Kenneth Chan in the Daily Hive that revealed the news:  starchitect Bjarke Ingels’ designed Vancouver House had a “severe failure of the building’s water systems, causing a deluge of water to pour out of pipes, into the condominiums, and out of the elevators.”

And it’s bad. There’s a series of videos documenting the water dumping from the 30th  floor area impacting nine floors below that, blowing out some elevators which are not operational.  A side note: replacing elevator cable subjected to water can cost $60,000 per cable. The units impacted are not livable: the degree of water infiltration elsewhere in the structure has not yet been assessed.

There are images of residents sloshing in water over their toes. Sadly there was water gushing down the emergency exit stairway as well.

And there’s more.

This seems to be the tipping point event that has made residents go public, with Mr. Chan receiving a photographic tome of building deficiencies, cracks, peeling exterior surfaces, and discoloured walls. As Mr. Chan carefully puts it, the graphic litany produced by a frustrated strata owner “highlighted alleged inconsistencies with the final product compared to the marketing materials, alleged building design and system deficiencies, and alleged damage from contractors moving equipment and materials in and out of the building for construction during the occupancy period.”

This water failure will cost millions of dollars to remediate, and will impact owner insurance rates for the 480 units, 105 which are market rental.

Read more »

In the 1960’s Jim Wilson bought a house in Dunbar at 3253 West 24th Avenue. Twenty years later in the mid 1980’s Mr. Wilson razed the house, and built a new house faced with stone, with an elevator, and an attic. The attic, as shown in the drawings approved at city hall was not to be accessed, but was just to be “there” to ensure that  Mr. Wilson’s new house was within the calculation of liveable square feet.

Like many homeowners of the time who were also required to have half height basements (full basements counted as floor space), Mr. Wilson  made his own decision to open up the attic of his new house, and use it as a spare bedroom for his aged parents and as a games room. All was good with this unapproved use until he installed large dormer type of windows in the attic, which alerted the neighbours that Mr. Wilson was using unauthorized attic space. Even worse, he had built a correct stairway and an elevator instead of a  ladder to access that attic. The neighbours called the city.

The evening edition of the Vancouver Sun on January 14 1987 screamed “Attic Builder Defies City” and had a photo of Mr. Wilson wearing what really looks like a vintage housecoat. In that article by Ben Parfitt Mr. Wilson stated he had spent $40,000 to jazz up the new attic with “wall to wall carpeting, a pool table, a guest room, a bathroom, and a window providing a spectacular view of downtown Vancouver. He also had installed an elevator to service the three floors of his house.

Read more »

By Michael Gordon

The City of Vancouver’s housing stock stands out as having the lowest proportion of single-detached dwellings (one house/one household) of its housing stock of major cities in Canada*.  In the City of Vancouver, according to the 2016 Census, single-detached dwellings with only one household living in it make up 19 percent of the dwelling units in the City’s housing stock.(For Metro Vancouver CMA: 29 percent.)

The trend in Vancouver has been downward, with single-detached dwellings emerging as a more modest part of the housing stock since 1981.  Most dwelling starts now in the City and Region are in multiple dwellings or townhouse developments.

Many of the houses in the City have two dwellings and are counted as duplexes by Statistics Canada.  Houses with more than two dwellings could be counted as an apartment or a flat in a duplex.

I’ve seen the data from BC Assessment which would appear to indicate most floor space built in the City of Vancouver is for ‘single-family’ houses. My choice in looking at this is from the perspective of choices in homes, noticing that increasingly apartments in multiple dwellings are the largest part of our housing stock.

In any case, in our housing stock we have lots of houses but there has been an increase in the number of separate households with their own kitchen in them.

Referring to our RS zones as single-family zones is a misnomer, given the prevalence of so many houses with two or more dwellings (two or more households living within them) and now with infill houses on the lane. From a built form perspective, they really are ‘house’ districts.

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The city-wide Vancouver plan discussion seems to be coming down to one thing: the end of RS-1 (or single-family zoning – the white part on the map*):

Critiques of zoning in the City of Vancouver typically begin with this:

Single-family zoning is why it’s illegal to build multi-family buildings, like apartments or social housing, on over 70 per cent of the land in Vancouver.

That was Adrian Crook in 2019. “Put an end to single-family zoning to end housing crisis.

As PT readers will be quick to point out, RS-1 is no longer about a single family.  That kind of zoning technically doesn’t exist, given that secondary suites, lane cottages, duplexes, etc. are pretty much buildable anywhere.  But the land-use consequences are the same: the buildings must be stand-alone, and the sites cannot be used for ‘missing middle’ alternatives.  The maintenance of single-family scale is still the determinant.**

But while zoning to maintain single-family scale may not be coming to an end anytime soon, actual stand-alone homes are diminishing, especially in contrast to the growth of apartments.  ‘Changing Vancouver’ writer Andy Coupland provides some data:

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It doesn’t matter whether proposals for new housing in Grandview are massive or tiny, there’s a desire or a way to stop them through protest and exhaustion.

Here are two examples that came in over the last few days – the first a circular delivered in the neighbourhood last week:

At the other extreme, this report from Frances Bula in the Globe: Vancouver city hall backlog delays crucial developments:

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If you saw this headline in the Daily Hive, what would you conclude?

Might you think that Canada’s big cities have seen a drop in their populations?  Easy conclusion, but wrong. 

That is not what this Stats Canada report says, as should be evident in the headline:

Not only is population increasing in the big CMAs (Census Metropolitan Areas), though not as fast as a year earlier, but they’re still growing faster than small urban centres – the opposite of what the article in the Hive implies in sentences like this.

Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver continued to see more people moving out to other regions of their province rather than moving in.

During this one-year period, Toronto saw 50,375 people leave, while Montreal saw 24,880 people leave — a record loss for both cities.

There’s now a meme that cities like Vancouver are being deserted by Covid-fearing residents for small towns.  And there’s a modest indication of something like that happening: more people moving out to surrounding CMAs of the big three cities than those moving in from nearby.  But those are still relatively low numbers, more than offset by the international immigration that constitutes 90 percent of population growth in big CMAs.

The important story is actually the increase in ongoing urban sprawl accentuated by the shift to those smaller regions, which will also likely see marked increased in traffic congestion since their urban form is more car dependent.  Meanwhile, the big CMAs may seem some relief in the upward pressure on housing costs and traffic growth.  But that doesn’t fit the meme.


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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?

  • 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
  • Meg Holden – Professor and Director, SFU Urban Studies
  • Kerry Gold – Journalist and Globe and Mail Housing Columnist

Register here.


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