Housing
May 5, 2018

Geller Lecture: Housing Metro Vancouver – May 10

Public lecture and webcast

Looking back, Looking forward: Reflections on Housing Metro Vancouver


While Metro Vancouver has changed dramatically over the past four decades, many concerns of yesteryear are surprisingly similar to those of today—foreign buyers, rental crisis, dwindling land supply, locals-first policies, and disdain for developers.
Using his collection of newspaper clippings, in this presentation Michael Geller will offer a different perspective on Metro Vancouver’s housing affordability challenges and some timeless solutions.
Thursday, May 10
7-9 pm PDT
Room 1900, SFU Vancouver
Harbour Centre Campus
515 West Hastings Street
Free lecture by reservation; reserve seats on Eventbrite.
Free webcast by reservation; register on Eventbrite.
 

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Another backgrounder on the housing dilemma from the Seattle Times.  And just so you know, it’s estimated that 80 percent of residential land in Vancouver is zoned for ‘single-family’ — a misleading term, since it doesn’t define family, and almost every sf-home in Vancouver can have multiple units via secondary suites and lane houses. But you get the idea — they’re low-density, separated and super-expensive.
 

Rapidly growing Seattle constrains new housing through widespread single-family zoning

This is the second edition of real-estate reporter Mike Rosenberg’s new housing column, which takes a deeper dive into the booming housing market and answers reader questions. Read the first instalment here.

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From the “it was too good to be true” department, investigative reporter Kathy Tomlinson peels the speculative skin off the local Vancouver condo flipping practice in this Globe and Mail story.
Buckle up, as editorials are already coming out about this rocky ride and the completely expected push-back from realtors that have engaged in some property transaction flips and profited very handsomely from it.

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Even the magazine The Economist is weighing in on the importance of Vancouver’s Chinatown as a historic and very special cultural place deeply rooted in the birth and development of this country.  One of the positive things that has happened with the impetus to build condominiums in Chinatown is the rise of  a new generation of articulate, smart and savvy young professionals that grew up in or coming to Chinatown,  understanding the essence of this place in a very rooted way.
Urbanist Melody Ma is one of those young professionals interviewed by the Economist, and talked about the Chinatown neighbourhood not really changing until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. At that time “the downtown area was forested with new condominiums” and prices have risen by close to 60 per cent in the last three years. While Chinatown was avoided by developers in the past, development applications such as the nine storey luxury apartments proposed for 105 Keefer threaten to undermine Chinatown’s cultural identity.

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Wondering who’s thinking about housing and might bring change to City Council? Here’s a few cross-party names.

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Vancouver’s October civic election contains a fascinating struggle by young new faces to effect real change on council and the city.
I’m seeing young people who are working to switch Vancouver City Hall from comfortable old party-centric positions and into an alliance of progressives, centrists and conservatives across party lines.  It’s beginning to look like there’s a movement to try to bring their housing-related ideas to council, where at least a bit of political power resides.
I’m not alone, it seems, in sensing the change:

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Kirsten Dirksen is a television producer who has become an on-line video blogger.  Her company Faircompanies.com has a media site that looks at the aspect of less complicated, simpler living styles. As a vlogger she came to Vancouver to interview Adrian Crook who lives in the Yaletown area of downtown with five children in a two bedroom condo. Adrian likes living downtown for the health and psychological aspects of walking everywhere and notes that while “Vancouverism” includes a taller housing form in the downtown peninsula, that has not been embraced in the largely single family areas away from the downtown.
Price Tags Vancouver has chronicled  Adrian Crook’s quest to have his children using transit to school and Price Tags has also examined a program in Calgary with Bus Buddies where children are allowed to take transit to school. Adrian does have a blog about living in the downtown with his five children, and he is also running for City Council.
The  twenty minute video on YouTube features Adrian’s kids and shows the simple adaptations that have been made in the condo to maximize usable space. There’s a home office that turns into a murphy bed at night, a bunk bed that can morph into a table and desk, and a triple stacked bunk bed.  Parents everywhere will see in the video that  children’s socks still disappear -even in smaller footprint spaces.

 

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Alex Bozikovic writes in the Globe and Mail on housing:  the hot topic now firmly entrenched at the top of the issues list in Vancouver’s civic election. [Ed:  the article may be paywalled].   It’s a terrific primer on the issue itself and on the political movement it has spawned among younger people in the city’s upcoming October civic election.

Mr. Bozikovic starts by discussing the ideas of Daniel Oleksiuk and Abundant Housing Vancouver.

The brutal realities of Vancouver real estate are leading many young locals to think about these issues in a systemic way. And their central argument is powerful, once you understand it: That zoning, a form of municipal policy, protects expensive houses and forbids apartments that middle-class people can afford.
“We are a non-partisan group,” he said of AHV. “Arguing for more housing is something that seems to cross party lines.”

The ideas behind the issue are zoning, density and exclusion.  Coalescing around this issue is an emerging fresh young cohort of proto-pols looking for council nominations, since this is where some of the levers of power reside.  This includes the NPA, who have in the past seemed to represent only the very people opposed to up-zoning.  Talk about party lines crossed, generations divided and, one presumes, lively back-room discussions.
Bozikovic quotes Bruce Haden, of Urbanarium who hosted a recent Missing Middle Competition:

“Touching single-family house zones was until recently the third rail of municipal politics,” he told me in an e-mail. “I believe that those who are fearful of those neighbourhoods changing are now outnumbered by residents who are fearful of those neighbourhoods not changing, as they realized they may have to drive three hours to see their grandkids.
“Maybe people have figured out that being rich, old and alone on an empty street is not the most fun way to live.”

 

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Regular PT commenter Thomas asked to have this analysis he wrote of the ‘speculation tax’ posted on Price Tags, to provide a more complete overview of his thinking, with some specific examples.
So here it is.

TWO IDEAS FOR MORE AFFORDABLE BC HOUSING – RATHER THAN A NEW TAX

by Thomas Beyer
There is much debate these days about the new so called “speculation tax” in BC which levies 1% onto Canadians and 2% on foreigners who own houses or condos in BC that are not rented 6+ months. It also levies a 20% foreign buyer tax and expands the taxable region from MetroVancouver to 4 others regions (Victoria area, Nanaimo, Kelowna including West Kelowna and Fraser Valley).
The purpose is to allegedly improve affordability in BC – by reducing demand. To me, it is really an #EnvyTax to buy votes that will do little, if any, to increase affordability. Who really benefits if a home in West Vancouver drops from $4 million to $3.5 million due to these new taxes, or if a golf course condo on Bear Mountain that is vacant for eight months of the year is now sold in the market and drops from $800,000 to $725,000?
The predicable result: These new taxes merely cause many Albertans (and some foreigners) to sell, causing a short-term sell off in markets like Kelowna or Victoria, with a result of much less supply in the coming years and a negative impact on local retailers, restaurants and the construction industry. Add enforcement costs and the much envisioned additional several hundred million in taxes will likely not appear, as investors are not dumb. How ? Rentals are easy to fake to family members or friends, and it is easy to create local income taxes paid for a Canadian spouse of a non-resident foreign investor that owns multi-million dollar properties in the Lower Mainland.
Also keep in mind many immigrants [me included] come here because they can buy property, including land and many love large lots or large houses, not just tiny condos. It is part of the appeal to immigrate to Canada. Have a drive through Richmond, Surrey, Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast or Fraser Valley for ample proof of that theory.Not everyone wants a small shoebox in the sky. Many want land. That puts an upwards price on land. Many immigrants come with money, and many more have connections from back home to friends, family and business associates with money.

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This week, selected items and observations from a short trip to Victoria.
Back in 2016, Dan Ross reported on Victoria’s first protected bike lane on Pandora Street here.  Since then, as reported here, the City has moved towards a complete active transportation network in the core – notably on Fort Street, just now nearing completion.

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While I didn’t have a chance to get on a bike and explore it all, here are some shots which demonstrate the commitment the City is making:

Pandora at Government

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Pandora looking west to new Johnson Street Bridge

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Fort Street lane waiting to open

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Frontage lane at 525 Superior Street – a new provincial government office building

Inside the building, there are large bike rooms with lockers – but the designers provided parking capacity based on counts of use in other buildings with departments that were consolidated in this new one.  Guess what?  With better facilities, the numbers of cyclists so increased that the architects are trying to figure out to repurpose space for the demand.
Another lesson: this nicely designed bike ramp in the centre of the stairs leading to the bike rooms isn’t used all that much.  There’s a car ramp immediately to the left, and cyclists use it instead of having to dismount and carry their bike up the stair ramp.

 

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