I was interested to read today that the Provincial government will be working to block the bare-trust loophole that allows speculators to avoid property taxes. I don’t know enough about the details to comment, but I assume this is a good thing to close off. Along with the speculation tax, and an increased foreign buyers’ tax, pundits that I trust assure me this will help cool the top end of the housing market in the Lower Mainland.
At the level of the “ordinary” homeowner, the provincial government seems happy enough to keep raising the threshold for property tax relief, and offering deferred payments for seniors.
Below that level, the so-called “missing middle” (a misnomer) is being dealt with, perhaps not as fast as some would like, by the huge backlog of condos and expensive apartments that are already in the approval pipeline.
At the very lowest level — and genuine problems and delays notwithstanding — all three governments seem committed to building social housing in some form or another. (Though the failure to significantly raise the $375 shelter rate is nothing but a disgrace for a group that calls itself social democrats.)
The folks who have been truly forgotten are those at or just below the median income (in our famously low income City), most of whom rent. It is true we weren’t promised much — a $400 annual grant — but even that has failed to materialize while money has been found to help those with capital in property. The lease-vacate clause in the RTC has been amended for the better, but so much more is needed.
We need immediate reforms, at least in these areas:
- rents MUST be tied to units rather than tenancy; this alone will handle most of the renoviction issues, and help cool the general increase in rents;
- all suites in the City should be grandfathered in as “legal”, and counted in Rate of Change regulations regardless of zoning;
- a rent freeze, at least until the annual grant is established and operating;
- changes to the Rental100 programme so that giveaways to developers are disallowed for units that will rent for more than 30% of the median income in Vancouver (30% of the single person’s median wage for studios and one-bedrooms, 30% of median family wage for 2 beds and up).
I will let those more qualified deal with the high end housing issues; these are the things I’ll be pushing for.
I attended the Urbanarium debate last night, along with hundreds of others in the crowded lecture theatre at UBC Robson Square.
The resolution was in support of “Build more missing middle housing without lot assembly.” The proponents were Patrick Condon and Scot Hein, both of UBC; and the opponents were long-time developer Chuck Brook, and Anne McMullin, CEO of the developer’s organization UDI.
The way these things work, they take a vote at the beginning and see how it changes from a vote at the end. In this case, 74% of the audience said it was possible to achieve “the missing middle” without lot assembly. However, I heard a number of people around me say they were Con but voted Pro at the beginning so they could then show a big swing of the votes at the end to the Con side. So we have to take all these numbers with a large grain of salt.
Scott Hein began the debate by noting he was here on behalf of his daughter, a well-qualified professional who can not find affordable housing in Vancouver. He said that the massive assembly of lots that characterizes development in Vancouver today was “an addiction” that was “killing off and destroying our communities” and killing “community vibrancy.” He pushed hard for democratizing the development process by incentivizing the owner-developer to expand units on each lot. He also called for a war on the car and the hugely expensive underground parking regulations forced on builders by the City, which added $50,000 to each unit.
He was followed by Anne McMullin of the UDI. She made a sales pitch for real estate and development now being the major industry in the Province, and then used a thoroughly inaccurate graph to claim that for years we have failed to build enough housing to supply the growing population (it was inaccurate, and deliberately so in my opinion, because the graph compared housing starts to population, rather than to households — as if we had to build a unit for each person). She claimed that small unit increases (by owners and others) could not meet the growing need. We should not be scared of condos, she said, and complained about the years and years the City took to approve projects. Supply was everything, she insisted.
Patrick Condon’s opening statement focused on changing the rules to allow the owner-developer to build 5 or 6 housing units on each lot, and he showed examples that looked no bigger than a large house if builders could go up to just 1.75 FSR. Such buildings increased density, satisfied the need for growth, were very much more affordable than the big builds and land assembly, and allowed each community to retain its favoured look and feel. His plans needed the City to rezone most neighbourhoods for this, rather than the current policy of doling out small sections for development which inevitably led to a land rush and huge price increases.
Chuck Brook was perhaps the most surprising. His pitch was for “respectful density” up to about 1.5 FSR and focused on townhouse and apartment complexes that were similar in design to Patrick Condon’s ideas, but larger in scope. He showed several examples that he had worked on over the years but admitted quite cheerfully that none of them would be considered “affordable” for the average buyer. His main concern with Condon’s concept was that it was difficult to build such single-lot multiplexes (my word) that were suitable for seniors or the disabled. Finally, he was adamant that condo towers did not belong in most residential neighbourhoods.
During the few questions, Condon noted that his ideas start with the idea of affordability rather than with the idea of making the 40% return on investment that the big developers demand. McMullin complained that single lot density would take too long to achieve (forgetting, I suppose, her previous complaint that assembly took an average of two years to accomplish even before any development application could begin).
In closing, Anne McMullin said the only solution was tons more supply, that we needed to build on a scale to mitigate land costs. Chuck Brook agreed with Scott Hein that parking was a tyranny that needed to be addressed, and that lot assembly had to be carefully chosen and was not suitable for many neighbourhoods.
Scott Hein closed by noting that assembly “hollows out” neighbourhoods, and that moving to a single lot concept in many cases will retain “social capital”. Patrick Condon concluded by saying that the building rush is destroying beauty for profits; should we follow the “insatiable thirst of global capital” or build what our young people can afford?
It was an interesting debate with only the UDI pushing wholeheartedly its supplyist agenda. In the end, 69% of the audience still supported the Pro side.
The short interview I gave on CBC Radio this morning is now up and available online:
My segment starts at 1:41:30. I hope the GWPlan folks listen!
On Thursday morning at 6:50am I will be speaking with Stephen Quinn on CBC Radio’s Early Edition about my research on Demolishing Affordability in Grandview.
Update: The time has been pushed to 7:10am (I get to sleep in!)
About a week ago I wrote a critique of Generation Squeeze’s Code Red Policy proposals. Today, they have taken the time to respond in detail to the points that I raised. I pass on their remarks without editorial comment (I”m sure I’ll have some of those later when I have digested this more):
“Thanks for taking the time to review our 2016 report so thoroughly and deeply, and for taking the time to constructively review it. I find some your critiques fair and warranted, and others less so. Quickly:
- The absence of foreign capital discussion in the paper. Totally fair. It took us a while to build up a knowledge base and some expertise there, e.g. I spent a lot of time last year reviewing the provincial data. Check out this and this for more (the latter information was used to open up an event where we brought Josh Gordon in to present to CRD-area leaders). The GS team in Victoria spent a lot of time last year pressuring politicians to have the FBT extended, here.
We’re happy to see the FBT increased and expanded, and on principle, we support going further/replacing it with a New Zealand-esque ban, as the Green Party suggests. Though we don’t have internal expertise on how that has worked, there.
- Capital gains tax refinements. Fair, a longer time frame is probably wise. We’re refining our capital gains tax recommendations this summer.
- Housing wealth tax critique. Fair. The Code Red paper really was a list of “propositions,” not firm, modeled recommendations. My colleague Dr. Kershaw is currently finishing a paper with a clearer, simpler proposal for a housing wealth tax.
- Blatant ageism. This is unfair. Though you’re not the only one to think so. In fact, this perception of our work as ageist is one of our core challenges. For more background, check out our latest paper, but perhaps more usefullythis blog I wrote tackling this perception directly.
- The 40’s age threshold for mortgage deductions. Ya. Fair. We’ve moved away from that.
- Supplyist group. This is unfair. I honestly don’t understand why any group would ever pretend that we can achieve affordability by only addressing one side of the equation. Our materials, our publications, our innumerable public statements, op-eds, and media interviews, public events, our entire track record of work all directly dispel any notion of GS as “supplyist.” So, if you truly have exposed yourself to that holistic body of work and still see us as that way I honestly don’t know what more to say. I could only surmise that an emotional reaction to our partnership with UDI and Wesgroup, which on one level I could understand, nevertheless precludes one from imagining a world where diverse interests can pursue the highest principled common ground, vs. the lowest common denominator.
- Affordability definition. Fair. The goal is to bring things to the range of 30% of income (standard definition), but we don’t want to get too hung up on specific numbers within that range. The public dialogue tension here is this: as an advocacy group our job is to change what is politically possible. We need prices to drop. A lot. BUT, that drop will have very real consequences, both for longtime homeowners who are better able to absorb that drop AND to many new, young homeowners who are very vulnerable to a correction. If we’re to successfully create political space to do more, to be bolder, we need to have a good idea of policy mitigations for those most vulnerable and messaging that isn’t unnecessarily triggering. This is one of my main priorities right now. We need to blunt but empathetic. Future materials and actions will do a better job than that 2016 paper.
- Housing wealth of seniors. Frankly, as a cohort, indisputable. And in a self-evident fashion means homeowning seniors can afford to pay more for social services. Mechanistically, these new taxes can come out of the estate (via deferrals), and need not place an additional annual income burden.
More to discuss, but running out of time for today. Again, thanks so much for your thoughtfulness and engagement. I enjoyed reflecting on your critiques! Many of them are helpful.”
I want to thank them for their detailed clarifications. They are, in this regard, a welcome relief from some parties and advocacy groups that seem to think silence is golden.
Losing a lover is like
losing a limb
or a necessary organ:
take whatever drugs you want
to ease the pain,
it still hurts like hell
in the morning
Taking a new lover is like
the dose of anti-rejection drugs you need
just grows and grows.
And as the skin thickens
it takes a harder push
for the needle’s point to pierce your cover;
and each drop of blood seems redder
and more precious
than the last
until you decide
that the payoff is not worth the pain
and you consign that part
to an oblivion
that is not complete
to a decision that is not whole-hearted
to a diagnosis that hurts
like a lover leaving.
New Star Books is launching George Stanley and George Bowering’s shiny new back-to-back book Some End/West Broadway at the People’s Coop Bookstore at 1391 Commercial next Friday, 30 March. Admission is free an the evening begins at 7:00pm.
Some End / West Broadway presents the latest poetry collections of these two old masters in a back-to-back “tumble” format. Released by New Star Books on February 14, the book was reviewed this week on rob mclennan’s blog.
George Bowering is a two–time winner of the Governor–General’s Award for Poetry, and was Canada’s first Poet–Laureate. His most recent books of poetry are The World, I Guess (2015) and Teeth (2013). New Star Books recently re–issued his 1977 novel A Short Sad Book.
George Stanley is the author of seven previous books, the most recent being After Desire (2013), Vancouver: A Poem (2008), and North of California St. (2014), which collects poems from three earlier, out–of–print books. Born in San Francisco and living in Canada since 1970, Stanley was the 2006 recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award from the American Poetry Society.
Hope to see many of you there!
The East Vancouver Improve League (EVIL) engage in a fast-paced improv comedy contest every Sunday at the Havana Theatre.
Proceedings get under way at 7:30pm and tickets are just $8 at the door.
Not sure what will happen in the three weeks that Havana is closed for renos from this Monday, but give tomorrow a look!