Wise Words

March 31, 2018

Image: Bacon

March 31, 2018

Night Music: Entre dos aguas

March 30, 2018

The Multiple Layers of The Housing Crisis

March 30, 2018

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.



Happy Passover!

March 30, 2018


The Missing Middle Debate

March 29, 2018

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.

Yet More on Demolishing Affordability

March 29, 2018

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!