December 19, 2006

Shame and Guilt

Architectural critic Trevor Boddy celebrates the season of good cheer with another dump on the City in this Globe and Mail piece.

This Christmas season thus sees a re-mounting of a pantomime Vancouver has seen many times before: an annual joint production by our political left and political right that repeats the same sad plotline year after year: “Let’s park the poorest in a drugs slum.”
Stage right, the mavens of Point Grey and South Vancouver love it, as they do not have to provide social housing sites along their leafy lanes, even for their own senior citizens. Stage left, supposedly progressive community organizations can consolidate their power and funding streams by concentrating poverty into one area.

He’s right, of course. Vancouver’s Left and Right have been playing that game of mutual advantage with the Downtown East Side for years, and the results have been speaking – yelling, actually – for themselves.
Boddy also suggests that the City be shamed into rolling out 19 identified sites for social and affordable housing. Once again, an illustration of how easier it is to attach blame to City Hall when the responsibility rests elsewhere. The City has been pushing for senior-government funding on some of these sites since the early 1990s, when the Feds abandoned the capital programs needed to get the projects built. But just the other day, the Province announced its support.
Perhaps everyone has run out of excuses.

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Ah, the three-storey walk-up …

The nadir of architectural design in the 20th century, built by the hundreds (if not thousands) in Vancouver from about 1945 to 1955. 

According to the Goodman Report, the newsletter of the dominant realtor for these buildings in the region, the typical 15-to-20 suite apartment currently sells for between $100,000 to $190,000 per unit, depending on location – or appoximately $2 million. 

For the last three decades, these buildings have been a reserve of lower-middle-income affordable rental housing.  And since they were built as rental units, they can’t be converted easily to condominium – and indeed, can’t compete with the newer housing stock that provides built-in laundry, parking for every unit, lots of electrical outlets, decent plumbing, etc.   This combination had kept a ceiling on the rents achievable by landlords, who, so long as they get a reasonable cash flow, have had no incentive to sell since they would then incur a capital gain.

When the real-estate market was hot in the late 1980s, these buildings were being targeted for demolition and replacement by luxury condos.  In Kerrisdale, the eviction of long-term elderly tenants created a political nightmare for the NPA under Mayor Gordon Campbell.   Low-rise apartments were being replaced by highrise condos with less units.  Result: population density reduced, housing affordability lost, views compromised, tenants distressed, neighbours angry, politicians unhappy.  Pretty much a lose-lose all the way around. 

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October 24, 2006

Now Seattle, like Portland, is wondering whether it’s possible to raise children downtown.  The Post-Intelligencer explored the issue in this article: “Parents want more family-friendly downtown living.”

The 2000 Census found that just 4 percent of households in Seattle’s urban core, which includes downtown and South Lake Union, included a child, compared with 20 percent in the city as a whole and 37 percent for King County, outside of Seattle.
State statistics show that Seattle’s urban core has grown much faster than the rest of the city and county since 2000, thanks to a boom in apartment and condo construction. But, while newer numbers for families with children are not available yet, those selling downtown condos say their customers tend to be young professionals and empty nesters, rather than families with kids.

And some comments from me in an accompanying article: “Downtown living works in Vancouver, B.C. — but will it translate?”

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