February 27, 2020

Mark Sakai on Building For a Warming Future, the Grand Bargain, and Housing Affordability

Director of government relations for the Homebuilders Association Vancouver and 4th generation Japanese-Canadian Mark Sakai talks internment, immigration, growing up in Steveston and housing.

Housing. What’s important? Mark asks: can you find the housing you want at your stage of life? Single family housing? Spoiler, it still dominates, but you’re probably going to look in Maple Ridge or Abbotsford, or Brandon, Manitoba for that matter, unless your pockets have depth and breadth. Two-thirds of the residential land in Metro Vancouver is primarily reserved for a “certain type of housing” that is unaffordable to most people. Is it time to re-think the grand bargain?

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Incremental change in the still-big field of entrants, as we edge under the 90-day mark on our trudge towards the October 20 polling date.

For those who want to strap into their world-of-wonk survival gear and get on it, the Cambie Report‘s Ian Bushfield continues to maintain his great big spreadsheet of candidates, now expanded to most, if not all, of Metro Vancouver. Hold on tight, because names and parties continue to change daily hourly — get it HERE.

My current, superficial analysis for Vancouver says 60 “confirmed” candidates, and 11 “maybes”…

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The West End is like most other parts of Vancouver — always changing.  Here’s a building nearing completion on Harwood St near Jervis.

Two things:

A. Fit with the ‘hood:  here’s maximum sleekness in a diverse place.

B. Exterior treatment isn’t green glass and grey.  The exterior in one place seems to be a randomly placed assortment of aluminium panels with an overall pattern; and in other places, complete coverage with no pattern.

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From our eclectic reader, Daily Scot:

Many longtime residents of San Francisco, Miami and other hot U.S. cities complain of “Manhattanization” when developers put up 20- or 30-story apartment complexes. In Portland, Oregon, they’re debating the wisdom of 40 stories.

They should try 100 stories on for size — or not, if they value the amenities of urban life. That’s the height of a megatower proposed for downtown Seattle. It was “downsized” from 102 stories after aviation authorities warned the tower could interfere with air traffic. …

What’s so terrible about megatowers? They cause wind tunnels at ground level. They block out the sun, putting huge swaths of city in shadow. They create canyons trapping air pollution and heat in summer. They kill others’ views.

Michael Mehaffy, an architectural critic based in Portland, Oregon, has likened super-tall residential buildings to vertical gated communities cut off from the neighbors far below. Furthermore, the buildings are often half empty.

That’s because these ultra-expensive spaces are being marketed to a global elite seeking a safe place to stash their money. Billions are pouring in from Russia, China,Saudi Arabia and Latin America. …

Seattle’s proposed 4/C megatower — so named for its location at Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street — would be the tallest building on the West Coast. Why would Seattleites want such an outlandishly high structure?

“Vancouver envy,” Mehaffy responds, referring to the tower-crazed Canadian city about 150 miles to the north. “The irony of that is a lot of people there are upset at the development.”

Such discontent may explain one Vancouver developer’s announcement that his project’s $18 million penthouse would be sold only to a local resident. …

The theme this campaign season is ordinary Americans’ wanting their power back. That should extend to politics on the very local level. Residents have a right to determine the destiny of their neighborhoods.

The real estate barons often call the shots in America’s city halls. The people must tell the politicians inside that there will be consequences to ignoring their opinions.

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Ian Young has produced another remarkable story for the South China Morning Post.

The implications are profoundly disturbing.  Not only is the real-estate market disconnected from local supply-and-demand considerations but increasingly the ability of the City to plan for its residents looks to be threatened.  When the West End plan was being considered a year or so ago, no one imagined the deal outlined below: a 60-storey tower priced out of the realm of even affluent Vancouverites, valuable accommodation being left empty, and unimaginable pressure being put on the West End and its affordable housing stock.

This will only add to the seismic forces that are building just under the surface, waiting for a political earthquake to shake the status quo – that sense that our leaders, public and private, are incapable of responding or, at higher levels, do not care about the consequences.

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Stampede: the inside story of Vancouver’s wildest property deal, gone in 7,200 seconds  . It was in fall last year that Bruno and Peter Wall received an offer too good to refuse.

The prominent Vancouver property developers behind Wall Financial Corporation had spent C$16.8 million (HK$102 million) to buy two ageing walk-up apartment blocks on adjacent lots on Nelson Street in 2013. They had big plans for the downtown site: a glittering 60-storey residential skyscraper, taking advantage of the location within the city’s West End Community Plan, where a building could rise 168 metres tall under new zoning. The project was dubbed “Nelson on the Park” and the Walls turned to favourite designer Chris Doray to come up with what they hoped would be a new Vancouver landmark.

But now a consortium of investors was proposing something even more remarkable.

They would pay the Walls C$60 million for the site alone, which had just been valued at C$15.6 million by BC Assessment. The huge profit was impossible to resist, and the sale was completed in late January.

Doray, a 25-year veteran of the Vancouver development scene whose design has now been shelved, said he was “astonished” by the transaction, which he said set a new benchmark for commercial real estate in the city.

“The price on this block of land has now thrown everybody in the industry out of whack,” said Doray. “The property is worth, what, C$20 million, and somebody pays C$60 million? One wonders what’s going on. Is this New York? Is this Hong Kong?”

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The scale of the purchase, orchestrated by Sun Commercial Real Estate (Suncom) – a firm that specialises in pooling wealthy investors from Vancouver’s Chinese immigrant community – was exceptional enough.

But an investigation by the South China Morning Post now reveals the strange and frantic backdrop to the transaction – including a two-hour stampede by Suncom’s investors, desperate for a slice of the deal. It is a transaction that also sheds light on the rush of Chinese money fuelling Vancouver’s soaring real estate market.

… capital outflows from China were reaching a fever pitch, as companies and individuals scrambled to send money overseas last year in record volumes ahead of a feared yuan devaluation. The Canadian dollar was also plummeting, making Canadian property relatively more affordable to yuan earners, and average detached house prices in metro Vancouver soared more than 40 per cent last year, hitting an average of C$1.8 million. …

And so, against this heady backdrop on the morning of October 12, Suncom threw open the gates for the Nelson Street sale.

The result was nothing short of a frenzy.

“The 60 million dollars project at 1065 Nelson St Vancouver’s shares sold out in two hours! Thank you very much for the supporting from all my clients!” Lau announced on Facebook on October 14. …

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Fundraising tactics used in deals involving Suncom have previously drawn the attention of the BC Securities Commission, which in January announced it was reviewing the firm’s activities, partly in response to an SCMP article about whether the firm was involved in crowdfunding. …

Keeping up with the changing ownership of the Nelson Street site has been no simple matter.

The changes do not show up in land titles for the two lots,

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Michael Mortensen posted the work of Jens Von Bergmann on his blog, The Liveable City.

“Jens ran some 2011 census data to give us some idea of the population density within 800 metres for SkyTrain stations (including the Canada Line). His very interesting results are found here on his “Mountain Doodles” blog: see Link .”

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Population within 400- and 800-metre radius

Click to enlarge.

 

I would never have believed that the 29th-Avenue Station would be almost in the Top Ten, with Nanaimo not that far behind.  They seem amongst the most suburban of settings, and are typically mentioned when critics point to the absence of appropriate transit-oriented development.

Here’s an illustration of 29th-Avenue 800 metres out, done by Michael in his blog (along with all the other station areas).

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