Governance & Politics
November 16, 2018

The End of the Housing Crisis As We Knew It

Okay, the headline is clickbait.  The housing crisis is not over.  But its causes are being addressed in a substantive way.

Here’s the latest evidence on the supply side:

This is the first set of housing projects selected through the B.C. government’s $1.9-billion Building B.C.: Community Housing Fund established to construct more than 14,000 affordable rental homes for independent families and seniors.

It’s part of a larger $7 billion commitment by the B.C. government to build 114,000 affordable homes over 10 years.

Were you aware of these announcements in the last few weeks?  Did you think it was ‘a landmark investment’?  That this was an ‘historic’ commitment?  That’s how it was described in the press release.

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Petard, meet Hoist.

Dan Fumano at The Sun did a nice job reporting on Colleen Hardwick’s desire to quickly reverse the duplexing bylaw passed by the previous council.

She asked (Gil) Kelley, (chief planner), if she was correct in understanding it would be possible to get the duplex zoning reversed in as fast as 60 days.

Kelley replied that if council wishes, staff could get the matter to a public hearing as early as mid-February, “but that would skip the consultation process that we would normally do.”

“It is unusual for us to do that, but we would do that if that’s what the council’s desire is,” Kelley said.

“The risk, of course, we’re once again, in some people’s eyes, doing something without consultation. Just so you understand that risk.” …

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle piped up: “Can I just clarify? The suggestion is that we would do less consultation in rescinding this, even though the critique of the decision was that there wasn’t sufficient and meaningful consultation in the first place?”

“I’m not keen on that,” she said.

“And I don’t see how we would publicly justify that without falling into the accusation that consultation wasn’t really why people are against duplexes,” she added.

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The  New York Times has written about the crumbling stone building in Ottawa  at 24 Sussex Drive. This  was supposed to be the residence of the Prime Minister. The building, a huge stone house with over 35 rooms on four floors was originally built in 1868 by a lumberman for his own use. It was expropriated by the government in the mid 20th century, and underwent a very unfortunate renovation in the 1950’s that took off its original gingerbread trim and cladding.

Unlike 10 Downing Street in London and the White House in Washington, the purpose of 24 Sussex Drive was to be only a  residence. The spaces are not large enough for state dinners or formal functions, and many of the rooms as they exist are quite small. Located on a cliff overlooking the Ottawa River the location is stunning, however the house has not had good maintenance or stewardship for over 60 years.

Asking for tax payer funded  renovations of the house~and 2015 estimates valued the work at 15 million dollars~is not that good a look for any political party in office. The house has a leaky roof, knob and tube electrical, is riddled with asbestos and  has boxy air conditioning units plugged into the windows like a cheap hotel. There is an antiquated  horrid heating system that costs over $50,000 a year to run.  There was a reason that the current prime minister said no thank you, and tucked his family into a smaller residence at Rideau Hall, where the Governor-General lives.

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Council may soon be dealing with the motion presented by NPA Councillor Colleen Hardwick to reconsider the duplex rezoning passed in the last days of the previous council:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Zoning and Development By-law No. 3575 and related changes to Strata Title Polices for RS, RT and RM Zones and RS-7 Guidelines, and RS-7 Guidelines be referred to public hearing for reconsideration by Council at the earliest date possible while giving the minimum required notice under the Vancouver Charter.

What we learn about the alignment of votes and the messages sent will be more significant than the motion.  Each councillor will be sending a message about how seriously they take the housing crisis.  Is process more important than outcomes?  Is the housing crisis not so severe that we can delay or even avoid action?  Is preserving neighbourhood character our real priority?   (What are you watching for?)

Then there are the power dynamics of the new council.  Who will align with whom?  What is the new working majority?  Is the mayor part of it?

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Can small housing do more to solve our housing crisis?

It’s just one question that will be asked at the Small Housing BC Summit, a full-day conference taking place this Saturday at Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.

And it’s also a springboard to what could be the more important question: Can we change the way we build homes such that small housing — which SHBC defines as 200-1500 square feet — be the driver of this conversation, rather than just a passenger?

In the current Vancouver context, perhaps there’s no better debate to be having.

Tickets are still available – register by Nov. 15.

In addition to panel discussions and small housing showcases, the Summit will feature two Small Housing Challenge case studies:

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A tweet from Chris and Melissa of Modacity, touring Australia:

When Perth’s new 60,000 capacity Optus Stadium opened earlier this year, the state government decided not to build *any* public parking (patrons are offered free transit).

Instead, they built the Matagarup Bridge: a spectacular $91.5M. walking/cycling crossing of the Swan River.



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Yesterday’s post about the Vancouver Sun op-ed by Alex Boston scraped the surface of what could comprise an effective business case for Skytrain south of the Fraser, let alone what numbers may (or may not) have been used to justify LRT in the first place.

Did Translink miss some data? As I hinted in Part I, perhaps they simply missed communicating the most relevant, top-line numbers the public have an appetite — and capacity — to understand (no offence to all of us).

But let’s assume they made a whole raft of calculations, such as those that can be found in “Regional Transportation Investments: A Vision for Metro Vancouver (Appendices)“, pointed to me by  Boston’s colleague Keane Gruending from the Centre for Dialogue. The Centre’s own analysis on this file is reminiscent of their Moving in a Livable Region program around the time of the 2015 transit plebiscite, which attempted to hold our leaders accountable (and the politics in check), using a facts-first approach.

Boston’s deeper piece on the Renewable Cities website also reminded me that a lot of the debate on whether to pause Phase 2 and 3 of the Mayors Plan to once again deal with the Skytrain question often fails to deal with two important metrics tied to land use: jobs density, and CO2 emissions.

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This week, Alex Boston, the Executive Director of the Renewable Cities program at SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, wrote an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun on the proposed two big changes threatening to upend phases 2 and 3 of TransLink’s Mayors Plan.

Boston’s piece is a call, if slightly veiled, to Vancouver’s Kennedy Stewart and Surrey’s Doug McCallum to do what they were elected to do when it comes to regional matters — understand all the issues in a city which are regionally dependent or impactful, obtain support and confidence from your respective councils on big ideas, and work collaboratively with the other mayors and the TransLink Board to realize them.

But of course as you may know, it’s never that easy. And much like the housing crisis, there may not even be agreement on what the two problems are. 

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November 7, 2018

From The Economist

Ubernomics: The social costs of ride-hailing 

A new working paper by John Barrios of the University of Chicago and Yael Hochberg and Hanyi Yi of Rice University spells out one deadly consequence of this increase in traffic. Using data from the federal transport department, they find that the introduction of ride-sharing to a city is associated with an increase in vehicle-miles travelled, petrol consumption and car registrations—and a 3.5% jump in fatal car accidents. At a national level, this translates into 987 extra deaths a year.

What could be done to tip the balance back to benefits overall? “Congestion pricing is the most direct solution,” says Jonathan Hall of the University of Toronto. Several cities, including London, Stockholm and Singapore, have moved in this direction, charging drivers for entering busy areas at peak hours. If ride-hailing firms tweaked their pricing to encourage carpooling, that would help, too.

One of the worst things a city can do, says Mr Barrios, is to cap the number of ride-hailing cars on their streets, as New York did in August. That marked a step back towards the days when barriers to entering the taxi market were high and competition was low. A dismal outcome, as most right-thinking economists would agree.

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This piece very much confirms my thesis: transportation choices will be consolidated (and restricted) by ‘Transportation Service Providers”, in the hope that one or a few will emerge dominant, following the precedent of Telecommunication Service Providers like Telus, AT&T and eventually something Amazon-like. 

From Fast Company:

By David Zipper, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund

If you’re not a techie, you may not have come across the term “walled garden” before. But it’s a critical concept these days in technology business strategy–and it has the potential to fundamentally change the ways we travel throughout cities.

In essence, a walled garden is a closed technology platform that limits the information and options available to a user.  … You can find walled gardens in products ranging from e-readers (Amazon Kindle) to social media (Facebook) to various video game consoles. For the first time, the walled garden strategy is now being applied to urban transportation, with ride-hail giants Uber and Lyft racing to add new mobility modes to their apps. Read more »