Private individuals, including known drug dealers, loan money to home purchasers, charging interest as high as 120 percent a year. In a single month, thirteen million dollars in $20 bills flowed through a provincially licensed casino. Companies whose names are strings of numbers, with no identifiable owners of record, buy and sell billions of dollars worth of properties. Real estate agents flip houses without the owners’ knowledge.
Is British Columbia the Wild West of illegal and irresponsible activities in Canada? Do these questionable practices exist within crown corporations and other provincial ministries? How do we stop this?
Our guides along this trail of questionable practices are Kathy Tomlinson, investigative reporter for The Globe and Mail, and Dr. Peter German, President of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
12:30 – 1:30 pm
Room 2270 – Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre
515 West Hastings Street
There is a lot of history in Vancouver Fire Halls and retired fireman Alex Matches has documented and written about much of it. There are political stories, where firemen in the City of Vancouver in the early 1900s were not allowed to “cross the line” into neighbouring Point Grey to put out a house fire. And there were still a few amazing early stations to go through even twenty years ago. One located on east of Main Street is now demolished~but it had a circular wooden ramp inside for the fire horses to walk up as they were bedded down on the second floor in standing stalls. The standing stalls areas were still there, along with the cribbing marks made by bored horses teething on the wood. In its construction and its use, it was a thing of beauty, something we would have marvelled at today. It was demolished for a more late twentieth century version.
As reported in the Vancouver Courier there are “modernist” fire halls built between 1950 and 1970 that are now facing demolition in Vancouver that have “unique features include huge, open bays and massive hose-drying towers.” As Heritage Vancouver’s Patrick Gunn observes “The architects from the ’50s on, they looked at this use and, instead of hiding it, they really celebrated it and that’s where you come up with the amazing, strong, visual forms.”
“No. 5 fire hall at 3090 East 54th Ave. — one of the earliest of the modernist fire halls — was demolished in 2016. Dating back to 1952, it was designed by Townley and Matheson, the architects of city hall. It’s being replaced with a new building topped with affordable housing. The expected completion date is the end of 2018.
Gunn said while the building needed upgrading there were ways to achieve that without demolishing it. “It’s a community loss. It’s a visual point in the community similar to schools. So you eradicate that and then you have something new built, which is functional and safe, but Vancouver has lost another piece of its architectural legacy, which plaques and photos can’t replicate.”
Fire hall No. 17 at 7070 Knight Street is now going to be demolished with an energy-efficient building replacing it. Even though the modernist fire halls are on the annual endangered sites watch list as “an important part of the movement towards modernist civic architecture in Vancouver during the post-war period” they are not being conserved.
The following other fire halls are described by Heritage Vancouver as potentially endangered:
No. 2 at 199 Main St. at Powell, which was built in 1950 and renovated in 1974.
No. 7 at 1090 Haro at Thurlow, which was built in 1974.
No. 8 at 895 Hamiliton St. at Smithe, which is the reverse design of fire hall No. 7. The concrete building was built in 1973.
No. 9 at 1805 Victoria at East Second Ave., which was built in 1959 with a concrete and masonry façade.
No. 20 at 5402 Victoria Dr. at East 38th Avenue, which was built in 1962. Heritage Vancouver describes it as an “interesting single-storey structure with a window curtain.”
Fire halls that fall under the “brutalist” subset of modernist buildings include fire halls No. 7 and No. 8. “brutalist” architecture as using a lot of raw concrete and being even more massive than mid-century ones.”
Fire department historian Alex Matches book on Vancouver’s Fire Department history and heroes is available here.
From Vancouver Archives taken in Victoria BC
In cities where there is a shortage of housing and people are living in unorthodox dwellings, how do you carry out a census count? The New York Times reports on the challenges of ensuring that every person is accounted for in the census, which is used as the base for planning and funding cities. Federal resources are tied to the census which is done every ten years, with the next in 2020. In New York City planning department staff have already spent fifteen months reviewing addresses, finding 439,000 that the federal Census Bureau had missed, representing 13 per cent of the housing stock. These units were in illegal basement, attic, and garages, “revealed by extra door bells and mailboxes.”
Disasters and construction need to be factored in, especially with Houston’s displacement of people with Hurricane Harvey and the thousands of new built units and addresses that will be constructed in New York City in the next two years.How much federal money is tied to the decennial census? In San Jose California as many as 70,000 residents were not counted, resulting in $20 million dollars annually not being allocated federally for the city.
This spring, volunteers will use a texting app the city tested in December to identify these and similar units for inclusion in the Census Bureau’s master list. The app will not be available to building code enforcement or to officials for immigration enforcement. “A nonprofit founded by the former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Cities of Service, is hoping to spread the tool to other cities that will be receiving their address databases from the census in the coming weeks.
“People forget it is an enumeration of the population, but it’s an enumeration of the population in housing units and in group-quarters facilities,” said Joe Salvo, the director of the New York City planning department’s population division. “Essentially, everyone needs to be put down on a map. Everybody needs a recognized address.”
You can find out more how federal funding is allocated through the ten-year census count at this Brookings Institute website.
Mike Howell at the Vancouver Courier has written an an evocative column on why the City says it is “ok”to build three over height towers (one 18 storeys above the established view corridors) and erase out the natural views of the north shore mountains from Cambie and Broadway. Price Tags Vancouver has quotations from Mike’s article here.
” Well you may or may not have heard the view will change sometime within the next 20 years—likely a lot sooner once and if council approves rezoning applications from provincial Crown corporation PavCo and private developer Concord Pacific.
The developers want to build three really tall residential towers—Concord two and PavCo one—that will partially obstruct your view of the mountains from that spot at 10th and Cambie, which is what the city refers to as a view corridor.”
“If you followed the debate around the Northeast False Creek plan, you heard that one of city staff’s recommendations was to amend the “general policy for higher buildings” to allow for the consideration of three towers at what will be the new Georgia Street and Pacific Boulevard intersection.
That’s, of course, once the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts are demolished and a new sloping grade is built to connect Georgia to Pacific. That intersection will be known as the “Georgia Gateway.”
“Green Party Councillor.Adriane Carr told me the other day that she and the rest of council received “hundreds” of emails in opposition to having tall towers at that intersection.
Carr voted against staff’s recommendation. So did NPA councillors George Affleck and Hector Bremner. What was Carr’s rationale?
It’s a real move down a slippery slope,” she said. “If you allow amendments to the higher buildings policy and the intrusion in to the view corridors once, it sets the ground for other exceptions —and there goes your view corridors.”
“Then, as the decades past, a forest of bland highrises grew up and around it, giving us the skyline we have today. Some would say that’s just the inevitable evolution of a city at work—that buildings get built, views get taken away.”
“We felt this was the best way and the place to achieve the density needed to achieve the financial objectives of the [Northeast False Creek] plan,” ( Chief Planner Gil)Kelley told council. “That is to say the cost of the infrastructure and amenities, parks and affordable housing that are being delivered as part of the plan.”He said “bunching the extra height at one point” delivers on three urban design objectives. One, he said, is it limits the incursion of the height to the least intrusive area of Northeast False Creek; second, is it creates “a more interesting skyline from that view, frankly, than a straight-line haircut would do.”
“So there you go—no boring straight-line haircuts, we’re going to create magic celebratory moments in the sky and we continue to just say no to big bulky buildings.
Before I conclude, I should emphasize that council approving the plan Feb. 13 does not guarantee rezoning applications from PavCo and Concord will get the green light for increased height for the towers…But it was made clear the Northeast False Creek plan “is a guiding policy framework, but council always has to review rezoning applications with an open mind at public hearing.”
Until then, enjoy the view.
You can read Mike Howell’s full text here
The Duke of Data Andy Yan, Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University has been reviewing the 2016 census data looking at who is renting accommodations in Vancouver. Andy Yan found some surprises that challenge the stereotype of what has been termed as “large single family home” neighbourhoods. Originally expecting that maybe 10 per cent of units were rental in these areas, Andy found that “West Point Grey with its big, expensive detached houses, is 38 per cent renter households. Kerrisdale is 36.8 per cent renters. Shaughnessy, with its stock of old and new mansions, is made up of 30 per cent renters.”
The Globe and Mail’s Kerry Gold observes that Andy Yan has found that “24 per cent of all renter households are living in the so-called “single family home” areas that provide an invisible affordability often ignored by development pundits.That means that in terms of planning, we should be sensitive to how people are actually using housing types. Zoning changes can be the ruin of an established community. It’s not enough to rezone without examining how that housing is being used, and by whom – not if the goal is to create affordable housing while keeping people within the community.”
While 53 per cent of Vancouverites rent their homes, the findings challenge what has been viewed as “single family” homes. The term “single family dwelling unit” is a hangover from the 1950’s zoning terminology and should perhaps be changed to reflect its form, not so much its function. Families today are rarely “nuclear” (another hangover from the atomic age) but may house multiple families or unrelated people.
Andy Yan’s takeaway is that the so called “single family” zoning does not adequately project who is living there, and the importance of exploring data. While purpose-built rental housing is necessary ““We need to get over our zoning and form fetishes and go back to creating communities for people. You just can’t spray density around and pray that affordability will follow. ” The CEO of Landlord BC David Hutniak observes that secondary rental suites in large houses make up to 54 per cent of the rental market. He notes that Vancouver has a “very incestuous development community” that can make good returns preselling and flipping condo developments and has had no reason to build rental housing. “After 40 years of no purpose built rental construction, and a lot of condos, there is a prevalence of the secondary market for rental housing. Thank God we have it, but in terms of security of tenure it’s never been to the same degree as purpose-built rentals.”
There is also a fulsome discussion from writer Melody Ma who has written a compelling article on the importance of the Vancouver Special housing form and the opportunity these large freestanding houses had to shelter multi-generational and extended families. Ms. Ma notes that these “are densely populated homes that encourages multiple generations to support each other within close quarters. It is an affordable way of living and arguably even a model way of living for the future”. Her article is well worth reading.
Source: Andy Yan
If anyone ever doubted that farmland was being usurped and transferred into private gated estate cash cows, this story in the Richmond News outlines exactly why we need to be concerned and why we need to address this right now.
Imagine a “shell company”~that is a group of people who do not need to disclose their identities~purchasing a 26.6 acre piece of Richmond farmland. They then build a home on the property getting their development permit in early 2017 when Richmond City Council nixed the idea of limiting the size of houses built on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) properties to 7,500 square feet, allowing much larger mansions of 11,000 square feet to be built. The house and land located at 11400 No. 2 Road had an assessed value of $88,000. This year with the mansion not yet completed the same property has an assessed value of 8.3 million dollars. You can be sure that this property will never be returned to farm use. As Richmond Farm Watch and Richmond resident Laura Gillanders observes “One by one each of these farms is being taken out of production and making sure it is never farmed by a farmer who can live on that land. It goes to show these mansions are not being built for farming.” You can take a look on the Farm Watch site at the “Visuals” section documenting the before and after photos and films of these properties taken out of agricultural production and made into mansioned estates.
Two Richmond councillors, Carol Day and Harold Steves voted against the larger square foot size for these properties. Mr. Steves has stated that agricultural land in Metro Vancouver is under “the worse threat it has ever been due to speculation, since the Agricultural Land Reserve was created in 1973.” Mr. Steves is also one of the people who was involved in the initial set up the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“Transparency International, a non-government organization, has reported how Metro Vancouver real estate is a prime target for speculation due to Canada’s weak laws surrounding beneficial ownership via numbered companies. The home at 11400 No. 2 Road is still under construction. According to BC Assessment, once it is complete, it will be among the top-10 most-expensive properties in Richmond. BC Assessment also delisted the property from farm class.”
So while the new owners will now pay for the land as if it is non agricultural, their property lift from $88,000 to $8.3 million dollars will soften that blow. And here is one more example of how the lax response of a city council and the lack of Provincial regulation eats away at one of the most important things we can pass onto future generations~the most arable lands in Canada for food security.
The YouTube video below shows MLA Andrew Weaver introducing a Farm Watch Richmond petition in the Provincial Legislature asking for stricter regulation of farmland.
The Retail Council of Canada has released its annual report on how Canada’s shopping malls are doing. Canada’s top malls continue to thrive, but “disruption and re-invention” has been key while “e-commerce” (the Amazoning of retail space) continues to grow. With Sears Canada declaring bankruptcy there’s going to be over 15 million square feet of space available in malls across Canada. That’s the size of fifteen Tsawwassen Mills mega malls.
The report notes that shopping centres are now featuring “food halls” and full-sized restaurants, and are creating “experiences” that are entertaining and enjoyable. Pop up retail is continuing in popularity, and some of the top mall developers are reviewing options to add housing and other institutions to their shopping mall locations.
What is interesting is that most of these high achieving locations are not suburban malls, but are in urban locations close by density and good transit accessibility to shops and services. Four of the busiest malls nationally are in urban cores-Toronto Eaton’s Centre, Vancouver’s Pacific Centre, the Rideau Centre and the CORE shopping centre in Calgary. As the report notes “In the United States, none of the country’s top 10 malls are downtown. This can be attributed to factors including stronger urban cores in Canada as well as a combination of history, culture, downtown population concentration and mix, investment priorities, and transit access when compared to most cities south of the border.”
While Oakridge makes the most of B.C. malls at $1,579.00 per square foot, the lowest performing B.C. mall in the top thirty, Coquitlam reaps $879.00 per square foot. Compare that with the early indicators from Tsawwassen Mills which used to be available on the Ivanhoe Cambridge site, showing a meagre $279.00 per square foot on retail space.
You can take a look at the report available here on pedestrian traffic to shopping malls and other details. The Metro Vancouver region continues to have the highest average total sales productivity in Canada with $1,051 per square foot. It will be interesting to see how Tsawwassen Mills built on the most arable floodplain farmland in Canada, away from density and good transit will stack up next to Vancouver’s high performance more urban malls once the developer releases the sales per square foot statistics.
Without any official stats on Tsawwassen Mills Price Tags Vancouver is sharing a youtube video by Ivanhoe Cambridge. The video features a bunch of similar looking men, no women, no diversity as talking heads describing the developer’s philosophy and how this 1.2 million square foot mall was designed and built. It’s worth noting that in this video the talking heads state that the mall will be the centre of the community which “will build around it”. Here’s hoping they will share Tsawwassen Mills’ retail statistics soon.
Agricultural Land Reserve, City Conversations, climate change, inequality, landscape, Massey Bridge, metro vancouver, observations, Peak oil, Port Metro Vancouver, real estate, Richmond, sustainability
Vicki Huntington needs no introduction to the people living in Delta. Ms. Huntington was the former MLA for Delta South and has an outstanding background of public service. Among her many accomplishments she has been a band manager for the Gitanmaax First Nation in Hazelton, worked with the RCMP in their security services, and consulted with ministers of the Crown in Ottawa. She also served five terms as a Councillor in the City of Delta and two terms as the MLA. She believes strongly in maintaining farmland for future generations and has been recognized for her strong commitment to farming and nature.
Vicki did not run in the last Provincial election for her independent seat~had she run as an independent, she would have been part of the balance of power in the Provincial government coalition. Instead, Delta Councillor Ian Paton of the Liberals won that seat, and currently double dips between sitting on Delta Council (he is paid $62,000 a year plus his expenses) as well as sitting as an MLA where he makes an additional $106,000 plus. Mr. Paton was named newsmaker of the year by the Delta Optimist, not for double dipping and denying Delta of a more independent voice on Council, but because he became a member of the Provincial legislature. Mr. Paton claims to want the farmer’s best interest but has been unwavering in the support of a multi-billion dollar ten lane bridge which will industrialize the Fraser River, create congestion on either side of the bridge, and purportedly bring more industry to Delta.
What a shame that the Delta Optimist did not recognize Ms Huntington who was the first independent MLA in over sixty years, and the first to be re-elected. However Ms. Huntington has been appointed to the new committee reviewing the Agricultural Land Commission and Agricultural Land Reserve along with eight other members. Their mission is to provide “strategic advice, policy guidance and recommendations on how to help revitalize the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission to ensure the provincial goals of preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming and ranching continue to be a priority.”
There is no doubt that the Agricultural Land Reserve is essential to the health and food security of British Columbia and must be maintained for future generations. Price Tags Vancouver has already written about the City of Delta carving out ten acres of farmland for a “truck staging area” for port bound trucks, and how the Port of Vancouver has another 81 acres of farmland in Richmond to add to their 1,457 hectares currently in “industrial use”. It’s a huge problem~should the Port be allowed to take the most arable farmland in Canada to use for truck and container parking and portage? How can farmers be compensated and continue farming when they can garner economic windfalls from development through port expansion or pseudo “farm estates” to well-heeled buyers?
This new Agricultural Land Commission review committee will seek opinions and feedback and hold meetings with farming and ranching communities. Recommendations could include changes to the way the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission is set up, regulated and administered. This review is badly needed to ensure that agricultural land is reserved for future populations, and to stop speculators buying up farmland for other purposes. The current MLA for Delta South Mr. Paton is already naysaying the committee appointments, suggesting that maintaining land in agricultural use restrains the rights of farmers to get extra income from their land. But farmers and speculators did buy that agricultural land ostensibly for agricultural purposes, and for the future of the region, we must ensure that this agricultural land, the very best in Canada, remains for future generations.
In the category of the Gordie Award for Work with Biggest Planning Impact, Price Tags Vancouver unanimously chose the ambitious New Ten Year Housing Strategy as announced by the City of Vancouver.
In a city where the meteoric rise of the price of housing has completely outstripped the salary ability of Vancouver workers, Chief Planner Gil Kelley has brought forward a plan to build 72,000 new homes with housing going to families making 80,000 dollars or less and single person households making less than 50,000 dollars. Forty per cent of housing will be for families and 65 per cent of all housing will be for renters.
This ambitious housing plan was created after 14 months of dialogue and research. Development processes will also be streamlined to expedite the housing work. In a city where the gap between what people make and what they can rent or buy is so proportionately inequitable, this is a much-needed intervention to provide housing for everyone.
Tom Durning of the Daily Durning sends this article from the Washington Post which quotes our very own City of Vancouver Planner, Gil Kelley. The article is about the millennial age group, the eldest now in their mid thirties. This population cohort stayed in cities, lived in apartments, eschewed vehicle ownership in favour of walking, cycling, car share and transit, and led the way to how we look at cities today, as urban fabrics of connectivity based upon walkable proximity to work, shops and services. It is no surprise that city planners and thinkers want to keep this population of people in cities instead of suburbs as they begin having families and buying houses.
As many are now priced out of buying single family housing in cities, the “missing middle” form of density is coming back into vogue. ” Urban planners, developers and architects are reviving the kinds of homes that might be more familiar to millennials’ great-grandparents: duplexes, triplexes, bungalows, rowhouses with multiple units, and small buildings with four to six apartments or condos. It’s the kind of housing that fell out of fashion after World War II, when young families and others fled cities for the houses, driveways and ample yards of the burgeoning suburbs… It hits the middle in scale — larger than a typical detached single-family home but smaller than a mid- or high-rise — and typically serves people with middle-class incomes.”
The City of Vancouver is now looking at new housing forms in duplexes and townhouses, which will provide more of the ‘missing middle” of housing density. “I think it’s very significant that we’re understanding people want to live in the core of urban areas again,” Kelley said. “We’re reversing a 60- to 70-year trend of people moving out to suburbs . . . This is not just a fad for a decade. This is a multi-decade shift.”
There is evidence that millennials do not want to “drive until you qualify” for home ownership, and in the United States this population outnumbers the baby boom generation in population. In the words of Gil Kelley ““It’s a huge wave. They’re demanding a place in the cities and housing that’s affordable to them.”
This ten minute video with University of British Columbia’s Patrick Condon and Scot Hein filmed in early 2017 discusses the “missing middle” housing form, and how it would fit into the Vancouver context.