Business & Economy
December 3, 2019

Goodman Gate

Goodman, Vancouver’s pre-eminent seller of small (and some large) apartment blocks, has raised the alert about a Council motion that emerged from the Rental Incentives Review. The gate-worthy motion instructs staff “to prepare a report for consideration for referral to public hearing” that would extend rental replacement requirements.

…. older commercial properties with three or more rental apartments will be bound by rate-of-change regulations and will have to replace those rental apartments upon redevelopment, including redevelopment to four-storey condos.

A few observations.

If you’re in the hysteria business, don’t -gate your issue.  Overuse, like inflated currency, lessens value.

Goodman maintains that this move, if enacted, would “reduce the residual land value of these commercial properties.  (This) amounts to a downzoning.”  Leaving aside whether that is technically a downzoning, the conclusion is nonetheless “that if you own a C-2 zoned site in Vancouver, your property is on its way to devaluation.”

That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the price will drop commensurately.  It may mean that owners over time won’t get as much a return as they might have otherwise.

It may also mean that these regulations kill off re-development and new rental housing along arterials and in some commercial zones.  But it’s hard to get as excited about something that may not happen as it is to protest the loss of existing rental stock.

It’s also hard for those who have seen a spectacular rise in their asset value to receive sympathy if the rise in the worth of their property is consequently less spectacular.  Sympathy tends to go to those downstream who pay the increased rents from the spectacular rise.

It’s surprising that the rental replacement policy isn’t already in place for apartments along commercial strips.  If Burnaby had had that requirement for its rental stock south of Metrotown, Derek Corrigan might still be mayor. In the current political climate (elections have consequences), it will be hard to persuade the Vancouver council that they shouldn’t take action to protect the rental housing stock.

However, Goodman does possibly raise something gate-worthy at the end of the missive:

“The 5th bullet says to direct staff to report back on:

“The possibility of using zoning similar to the DEOD (Downtown East Side-Oppenheimer) zoning (60% social housing and 40% rental for anything above 1 FSR) to depress land prices so it will be cheaper to buy for non-market housing.”

Gee, I wonder which councillor moved that motion.  Announcing that the intent of your policy is to sterilize land values so you can pick it up cheap won’t go down well in in the business community, or in the courts.

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When Councillors consider this report on November 26 – Rental Incentives Review Phase II – “to create new zoning districts for residential rental tenure, for use in ‘off-the-shelf’ rezonings for RS and RT zoned sites in low density transition areas that are on and near arterial roads and close to parks, schools and shopping areas”, they will:

(1) Instruct staff “to prepare the amending by-law.”

(2) Refer it to the City-wide Planning process.

(3) Other.

 

Sun reporter Dan Fumano reports:

Another change would allow four-storey rental apartment or townhouse buildings in “low-density transition areas” — defined as residential blocks within 150 metres from an arterial street. Some Vancouver neighbourhoods, such as Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant, already include many such buildings off of arterial streets. But the proposed change would open up many more parts of Vancouver to these buildings, including much of the less-dense southern half of the city, on both the east and west sides.

Asked if he expects some homeowners and neighbourhood associations might object to apartment buildings on side streets, Stewart said: “I think it’s something to digest. But all of us on council say we’re in the middle of a housing crisis, and if you’re in a crisis, you have to do something new.”

 

 

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If you’ve been following the plans by the Squamish nation to build 6000 units of housing near the Burrard Bridge, you’ll appreciate the sheer bravado of the local Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

Instead of waiting years for a District of North Vancouver council to finally approve a significant housing development, they’ve applied to the federal government to add the 45 hectares of the target property to their reserve lands. This would mean they could proceed without council approval.

Or, as one grouch on Twitter described it:

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You won’t likely find “The Grand Bargain” in a planning text, even though it explains in a phrase the de facto understanding that has shaped many of the places where Canadians live.

The bargain looks like this:

This is North York* between the Sheppard and Finch subway stations – a one-block-deep corridor of high-density mixed-use development on either side of Yonge Street.

Go another block further and there is a cliff-face drop in scale, where single-family suburbia begins under a canopy of street trees.

Post-war Toronto and its suburban cities decided to accommodate density (those concrete towers especially) where there was primarily commercial and industrial zoning.  With the opening of the Yonge Street subway in 1954, the station areas made ideal locations, especially where there was already a streetcar village.

To deal with community blowback at the sudden change in scale and alienating architecture, especially if the bulldozing of existing residential neighbourhoods might be required, planners and councils struck a compact: we won’t touch a blade of grass in your single-family zones.  Your status will be maintained.

Hence the Grand Bargain: high-rise density, low-scale suburbia, little in between.  Massive change for one, almost none for the other, and spot rezonings thereafter.

On the other side of the country, something similar was going in Burnaby.  In the fifties, the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board produced a vision – ‘cities in a sea of green‘ – and provided the guidelines to go with it, notably where to consider apartment zoning.  David Pereira details the evolution of Burnaby’s commitment to the regional vision and its apartment zones, renamed town centres, in the 1960s.

That bargain when built out looks like this:

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From Daily Scot:

Walking through Victoria’s Harris Green neighbourhood located just east of downtown, you witness first hand the city’s density boom as construction cranes and development-proposal boards proliferate. I noticed an intense cluster of projects around the Cook and Johnson Street corridors.

A new Bosa development on Pandora has condos built above an urban Save-On-Foods location, a new precedent for mix use in Victoria:

There is also preservation of heritage for two developments (Wellburns Market and The Wade)  which incorporate existing landmark structures with new apartment living.

 

Keep your eye on this area as Victoria pushes for more options to address the housing crisis.

 

 

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Shaping Vancouver 2019: What’s the Use of Heritage?

Conversation #2: What do we do about neighbourhoods?

Some argue that “neighbourhood character” must be maintained to preserve the diversity of the city. Others note however that “neighbourhood character” frequently serves as an instrument of exclusion, making people feel unwelcome and marginalizing them.

Neighbourhoods that do not evolve risk stagnation, while neighbourhoods that change too rapidly erase the attributes that make them unique.

Are there then qualities of neighbourhoods that should be cultivated or protected? As Vancouver faces a housing crisis, how do we go about discussing neighbourhood change?

Four panelists share their insights about their local places:

Richard Evans – Chair of RePlan, a committee of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association

Scot Hein – adjunct professor in the Master of Urban Design program at UBC, previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver

Jada-Gabrielle Pape – facilitator and consultant with Courage Consulting

Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw – renter, pro-housing activist and director of Abundant Housing Vancouver

 

Wednesday, October 9

7-9 PM

SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU Woodwards) – 149 West Hastings Street

Free, donations appreciated.

Tickets here.

 

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The latest from Michael Anderson at the Sightline Institute:

For three years, Portland’s proposal to re-legalize fourplexes citywide has been overshadowing another, related reform. …  This proposed mid-density reform, dubbed “Better Housing by Design,” includes various good ideas  … like regulating buildings by size rather than unit count; and giving nonprofit developers of below-market housing a leg up with size bonuses.

But one detail in this proposal is almost shocking in its clarity. It turns out that there is one simple factor that determines whether these lots are likely to eventually redevelop as:

  1. high-cost townhomes, or as
  2. mixed-income condo buildings for the middle and working class.

The difference between these options is whether they need to provide storage for cars—i.e. parking.

According to calculations from the city’s own contracted analysts, if off-street parking spaces are required in the city’s new “RM2” zone, then the most profitable thing for a landowner to build on one of these properties in inner Portland is 10 townhomes, each valued at $733,000, with an on-site garage.

But if off-street parking isn’t required, then the most profitable thing to build is a 32-unit mixed-income building, including 28 market-rate condos selling for an average of $280,000 and four below-market condos—potentially created in partnership with a community land trust like Portland’s Proud Ground—sold to households making no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

This is worth repeating: As long as parking isn’t necessary, the most profitable homes a developer can build on a lot like this in inner Portland would already be within the reach of most Portland households on day one.

But if we require parking on these lots, we block this scenario. If every unit has to come with an on-site garage, the most profitable thing to build becomes, instead, a much more expensive townhome.

When people say cities can choose either housing people or housing cars, this is what they’re talking about. 

I’ve never seen a more clear-cut example.

Lots more detail here.

 

 

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Josh Kepkay is a realtor, and now a podcaster – an opportunity, of course, to increase his profile while having conversations with “thought leaders, personalities and interesting people in the Vancouver Real Estate world with a story to share.”

As someone who always enjoys a little thought leading, I took him up on his invitation.  And here’s the result:

Click on the second podcast on the list: “What the future holds with Gordon Price”.

And yes, we go well outside the topic of the local real-estate market.  Of special interest to those interested in the strategies of city council in the ’80s and ’90s (as well as backstories on the West End) for lessons that might apply to the city’s future.

 

 

 

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In recent years efforts across the City of Vancouver are being made to not only create new rental housing stock, but also protect its existing stock and the tenancy rights of its residents. With rental housing making up an estimated 50% + of Vancouver households, this is critical.

Housing Vancouver Strategy (2018-2027)

Responding to Vancouver’s current housing affordability crisis is the most significant challenge facing the City today – with Vancouver residents facing among the highest housing prices and rents and lowest median incomes among Canada’s large cities. Housing Vancouver (2018-2027) is the City’s vision for ensuring that Vancouver can be a home for people of all incomes and backgrounds, by prioritizing affordable housing and making housing markets work for all people who live and work in the City.

The need for new rental stock, particularly that which is social, supportive, and affordable is critical for several reasons, including for example:

  • Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate continues to sit below 1 per cent resulting in renters having limited options when they are looking for rental housing and face substantial competition for a small number of available homes.
  • The number of people paying more than 30% of income (the CMHC measure for housing unaffordability) on housing has grown astronomically as cost of living has far outpaced the incomes of many Vancouver residents: over 46,000 renters in Vancouver across the income spectrum are paying over 30 per cent of their income on rent. Out of these households, 15,000 are paying over half their income on rent – 58 per cent of these are headed by individuals aged 20 to 45, 15 per cent are families with children, and a further 14 per cent are seniors over 65.8.
  • Much of the existing stock, particularly social and supportive housing such as the Single Resident Occupancy buildings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is old, unsafe, and virtually uninhabitable. This, combined with a growing homeless population makes the need for social and supportive housing that much more critical: The 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count found 2,138 sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals in Vancouver – a 19 per cent increase over the 2014 Metro Vancouver count, with seniors, youth under the age of 25, and Indigenous residents disproportionately represented in comparison to other populations. An additional 4,000 people are living in private Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs), many of them in inadequate conditions.
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As a consequence of the West End Community Plan of 2013, there is a massive rebuilding of the blocks on Davie Street from Jervis to Denman.  But the West End is used to that.  The district has already seen such transformations throughout its history.

It began with the ‘New Liverpool’ subdivision prior to the incorporation of the city, bringing with it an explosion of development: mansions of the elite and professional class, along with the ‘Vancouver Specials’ of the 1890s you can still see on Mole Hill. Inserted were the first apartment blocks with the arrival of the streetcar on Denman and Davie in 1900.

Then the crash of 1913, a war, a Depression, another war.  It wasn’t until the late 1940s when redevelopment again transformed a decaying and overcrowded district with dozens of those three-storey walkups.

A rezoning in 1956 brought the most significant change of all: over 200 concrete highrises.  That concrete jungle – the postcard shot – is the West End today: the scale and character of one of Canada’s densest neighbourhoods.

It turned out okay.

Now, the current and expected changes are happening on the border blocks, from Thurlow to Burrard, Alberni to Georgia – and very obviously on West Davie.  Faster than planners anticipated.  The most significant phase of West End development in the last half century.

Here’s an example on one side of one block from Cardero to Bidwell – three towers at the stage where the raw concrete makes a more powerful architectural statement than when the glass and spandrel panels get attached:

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