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A hidden wrinkle that will make the group decision to sell your condo building even harder

July 19th, 2017 · 1 Comment

There are about 70 groups of residents in the Lower Mainland at present thinking about selling their buildings to developers. That process is already stressful enough. I’m told that, no matter what price sellers get, they are always convinced the developer is somehow ripping them off and making a huge profit.

Then there are the concerns that people in their buildings, or on their strata councils, might be making side deals with developers.

Now, to top that off, it turns out that the share that each person gets is likely going to be based on some strange formula that no one paid any attention to until now. Proceeds don’t get divided up according to assessed value, which most people expect.

Here’s my complicated story on this from the Globe.

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Expect a lot of jockeying among candidates to be the preferred “anti-Vision” vote in by-election

July 12th, 2017 · No Comments

So, thanks to the resignation of Geoff Meggs from council, as he goes off to be chief of staff for John Horgan in the new NDP government, there will be a by-election sometime in mid-October.

Even though whoever wins won’t make a difference to the balance of power on council — Vision will still have six votes — this seat is being seen as a huge plum worth fighting for. That’s because the winner will likely symbolize the choice of Vancouverites for their preferred option when it comes to providing an alternative voice on council.

For the NPA, it looks like a potential chance to elect one of their number who came very close to winning in the 2014 election. Geoff Meggs squeaked into 10th spot with 56,800 votes. Right after him were the NPA’s Greg Baker with 55,700, Ken Low with 54, 970, Suzanne Scott with 54,700, and Rob McDowell, with almost 54,000. (Ian Robertston with 56,400 is out of the running. He’s moved to Victoria and isn’t coming back.) As I mentioned in a tweet, NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe might want to consider a run to get some council experience on his books before the big civic election in 2018. (Then again, it’s a risk. If he doesn’t win, damages his efforts to run for mayor again.)

The Green’s Pete Fry is an obvious contender and, as I noted in my story for the Globe, he’s seriously considering that run. He got 46,500, but might reasonably expect to do better, proportionally, against an NPA candidate.

The highest-ranking COPE candidate was Tim Louis with 31,000. One City, the party that was formed by former COPE people who couldn’t stomach the direction it was going under Tim Louis, ran one candidate, RJ Aquino, who got 30,000 votes.

Does Vision even have a chance? Well, since by-elections often function as mechanisms for people to vent all their frustrations against a current regime, it’s not high. Even Patti Bacchus, the former Vision school board chair, who is considering running, says it will be a tough fight.

She might be Vision’s best chance, with her huge name recognition (she got 73,000 votes, more than most councillors and as much as NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe) and her dogged criticism of Christy Clark and the Liberals, which earned her lots of cred on the left. Whoever runs for Vision is going to have to present themselves as something of an outsider — not clouded by votes for controversial development projects and with a persona that brings a fresh perspective.

We’ll know later who the final choices are but, whoever they are, it is going to be one interesting race.

 

 

 

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Carol Ruby Davis: A heartbreaking death, 30 years ago now

July 6th, 2017 · 2 Comments

Thirty years ago, I was a rookie reporter at the Vancouver Sun. I got sent out to cover the funeral of a sex-trade worker — something we actually did back in those days when we covered so much more in the city. It was a searing experience for me. I’ve never forgotten it or the way Carol’s family allowed me to enter their lives briefly. In Carol’s honour, here it is again.

Carol Ruby Davis will go home today to Masset, the town in the Queen Charlotte Islands where she lived as a little girl, so her people can bury her with traditional Haida ceremony.

The 29-year-old, whose stabbed body was found last weekend dumped in bushes in Burnaby, will have old friends of the family sit beside her white-and-pink coffin all through Saturday night, and more than 1,000 band members will come to pay their last respects.

Carol’s great-uncle, band chief Ernest Yeltatzie, will make a speech in her memory, as will many other people from the band who knew her.

To Vancouver police, Carol Davis was a “known prostitute and drug user.”

To her large family and many friends, Carol was a mother who loved to spoil her children, someone who could laugh so hard she’d just about cry, and a daughter and sister who defended and gave to her family generously.

She made Indian button blankets that have been displayed at the Indian Centre, knocked the glasses off a man who hit her sister in a bar and bought her son B.J. hundreds of dollars worth of presents for his 12th birthday this April.

“She was always proud of being a Haida, too. She knew she came from an important heritage,” said her sister Laurie, standing in front of the portraits of her grandfather, Chief Joe Weir, that hang on her living-room wall.

Everyone in the family knew Carol had been doing drugs since she was 15 – “heroin, coke, anything, if she was desperate” – and that she had worked the streets for years.

“We all accepted her the way she was. Whoever did this to her robbed us of her. I just hope they get the person who did it,” said Laurie, who arranged for Carol’s Vancouver memorial service Thursday.

Carol’s killer has not been found. She is the fourth Vancouver prostitute killed in the past two years, and a number of others have been attacked.

Carol’s street friends said they hadn’t seen her for about two weeks before her body was found. They came to her memorial service, bringing red and yellow roses that they placed in front of her portrait, stopping before it to give the smiling face one last caress or gentle kiss.

Carol’s mother, Ginger Donovan, said Carol often used to drop by to see her where she lived at a downtown hotel.

“She used to have clothes in my room and would come up and change,” said her mother, as she and her three other daughters sat on the steps of Laurie’s house Thursday evening after the service, watching the nieces and nephews play in the front yard while they remembered Carol’s life.

Donovan moved down to Vancouver from Masset when Carol was 8, with part of her family of three sons and four daughters. Carol went to Nightingale elementary, but wasn’t too interested in school.

At 15, she was living with a man and later had her first baby, B.J.

Carol’s mother took care of B.J., born with cerebral palsy, and then Carol gave her sister, Laurie, custody “because she knew she wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Eight years later, after reuniting with B.J.’s father, Carol had a baby girl, Crystal, who now lives with her father in Prince Rupert.

After that, she broke up with her common-law husband and turned to the streets.

“She really wanted to settle down, but then she got into the street life, just too deep, too far to get out,” said her sister, Nettie. “She was a little jealous of me because I went straight and settled down with a boyfriend.”

She didn’t settle down. The last time Laurie saw her was April 25, on B.J.’s birthday, when Carol had him for four days and took him all over town, buying him a $240 leather jacket and a Walkman.

B.J. came back saying, as he always did after outings with his mother, that he had “the best mum ever.”

In the Thursday twilight, as other relatives ate and drank in the living room, B.J. tossed a ball into the air while his aunts and grandmother talked.

“Watch out, B.J.,” one said. “If you throw it too high, God will catch it and you’ll never see it again.”

 

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Billionaire Singapore owner of Plaza of Nations property promises housing for locals, art museum, a green development

June 27th, 2017 · No Comments

There’s going to be a lot of conversation in the next year (and more) about Northeast False Creek, the last big piece of False Creek waterfront that’s going to be developed.

Every piece of the creek’s development has generated debate, starting in the 1970s when the TEAM council of the day decided to convert former industrial land into family housing — a proposition that many thought was dubious and that would create an “instant slum.”

Vancouverites have debated the look, cost, ownership, marketing, and usefulness for city residents of each new development: Concord Pacific lands on the north side in the ’90s, Olympic Village on the south side in the ’00s, and now this.

I did a story a few weeks ago about the overall plan for Northeast False Creek. This recent story, about the specific plans for the Canadian Metropolitan Properties land around Plaza of Nations, came about because Oei Hong Leong was in town and willing to talk to media.

I’m documenting the utopian ideas everyone is bringing forth so that we have a record of what was planned originally. Then we can compare, at some later date, with what actually ends up being built.

I did ask Mr. Oei about any plans to market the 1,400 units planned for the area overseas. I see that Ian Young posted a question on Twitter over the weekend about his answer on that.

Hey Frances, when you say he won’t be selling overseas, does this mean he won’t allow condos to be bought overseas?
1 reply 3 retweets 9 likes

I asked him only about marketing overseas, since that was the topic du jour at the time I interviewed him. Later in the week, the evolving Twitter snowball on this issue started parsing this issue into more complexities. One is the whole murky issue about whether developers are ACTUALLY marketing their units overseas, whether they’re getting offshore realtors to sell some of their units, or whether it’s a case that offshore realtors are just screenshotting pictures of a development and putting out advertising that claims they are selling units in the project.

So, to answer the question, no, I didn’t start interrogating him about all the ways in which units in his project might be sold overseas, largely because I was not clued in to this at the time of the interview.

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Owners of second homes, empty condos consider renting, lying, selling, and more as vacancy tax looms

June 27th, 2017 · 1 Comment

Vancouver’s impending empty-homes tax — the first in the country — is prompting a lot of angst as owners facing bills of $4,000 to $100,000 a year decide what to do.

You urban-life keeners will remember that most of the units identified as empty are condos. The city’s electrical study identified 10,800 homes in the city where there was no sign of use for 12 straight months. Of those, 9,750 were identified as condos.

The less-well-defined census statistic on “not occupied by the usual resident” identified about 25,000 homes in that category. Previous studies have shown that condo-dense areas of the city, like Coal Harbour, had a lot of units in this category.

So I started phoning around to realtors dealing with condos in this area to find out what is happening. Some of those angry about the tax have claimed that people they know are selling, so I wanted to find out if that was true. (BTW, I mistakenly didn’t include it in my story but, of course, the city is exempting owners from the tax if their strata doesn’t allow rentals.)

But the realtors I talked to (granted, not a scientific sample) said they saw no sign of that. Instead, some are choosing to rent. Some are still protesting, hoping to get the rules changed — that group seems to consist entirely of people who use their condos regularly for visits to Vancouver to see family or enjoy the city or go to medical appointments. As a few sources told me, some people are planning to simply lie outright. Others are planning to lie creatively, i.e. by pretending to rent out to someone while continuing to use the condo the same way as before.

I was surprised to hear that some owners of high-end condos are, in fact, being spurred by the tax to rent out their units. Realtor Holly Wood, also a property manager, told me that’s happening with a number of units she’s dealt with. The picture in my Globe story shows off a nearly 2,000-foot-apartment on Cordova facing Coal Harbour that’s going for $8,400 a month. I’m not quite sure how this is going to solve the city’s affordable-housing problem, but it seems to be providing more rental options for high rollers.

(By the way, I couldn’t check the ownership of the property on Sunday, when I wrote the story, because BC Assessment information isn’t available on the weekend. But I checked today. The owner is someone whose address is listed as Cyprus and whose family name is of eastern European origin, according to the interwebs.)

This story is just going to keep going, with all kinds of outcomes that weren’t anticipated. Your continuing calls with new information about what’s going on much appreciated.

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Who is really buying Chinatown condos? You’d be surprised (or not)

June 19th, 2017 · 6 Comments

The story of the battle over development in Chinatown is an endlessly mesmerizing one. There are so many political forces, so many internal battles, so many different groups, so many issues. There’s also an incredible amount of misinformation, “facts” that have taken on a life of their own in the social-media world.

A curious person could spend years trying to understand everything that’s going on, and that went on as Vancouver city council voted last week in an unusual 8-3 vote that split parties to reject a proposal for a condo building at 105 Keefer with some social housing and community space included.

One small piece of research I did to try to understand the complex economic dynamics of Chinatown is look at who had bought condos in the newest buildings there. Obviously, I don’t have access to pre-sales information — no one does except the developers themselves.

But I did look at the land records for three buildings there, which provided current assessment value, the names of the owners, and the purchase prices.

I’m putting this out here because, well, I did the research and want to use it somehow. As well, more info, based on verifiable facts, is always better, don’t you think? So what did I find?

[Read more →]

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The battle over short-term vacation rentals (aka Airbnb) is heating up in both cities and resort towns

June 19th, 2017 · 1 Comment

Victoria council’s recent move to start clamping down on short-term vacation rentals prompted me to do a quick canvas to see what is happening in various cities around B.C. with this issue.

Whoa, was that an eye-opener, to hear about the struggles various towns are going through as they try to strike a balance — not banning STRs completely, but also not allowing them to run amok to the detriment of workforce housing, neighbourhood livability, and a competitive playing field for local hotels and motels.

My story in the Globe on this is here, with updates from Tofino, Nelson, Revelstoke, Victoria on how they’re stepping up regulation, enforcement, and even zoning changes to cope with this.

And, if you’re wondering how this is playing out elsewhere — I just happened to pick up the latest issue of Outside magazine, which also has a story on the impact Airbnb is having on small ski-resort towns. (Crested Butte is the focus here, but others are mentioned.) The story isn’t online yet, and I’m not sure it will be, so if you’re interested in this topic, worth picking up a paper copy.

Powder magazine also ran this little blurb recently

 

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How B.C. has transformed the thrifty into millionaires and made millennials feel poor

June 19th, 2017 · 8 Comments

I got asked earlier this year by Nick Rockel, the editor of BCBusiness, to write a story based a cascade of financial data about Canadians that Environics Analytics had gathered. Since I’m obsessed with this general topic — how we spend money in ways that we don’t acknowledge, the impact that money and possessions (or lack thereof) have on our sense of well-being, behavioural economics — I jumped at it.

One of the factoids that I noticed almost immediately was that millennials in B.C., Vancouver especially, have more money socked away in investments than millennials in any other part of the country, by a significant margin.

It didn’t take much to figure out why. It’s because they haven’t been able to put it into real estate, since that feels out of reach for many of them — even those whose household incomes are very healthy six figures.

I put out a call on Twitter asking if anyone wanted to talk about this, not expecting much. My experience in journalism has been that people don’t like talking about their financial lives, either because they’re embarrassed at how they spend or they just think it’s a private matter.

But, boy, was this different. I got so many calls and emails from frustrated and enraged millennials on this issue that it was like standing in a windstorm. My story aside, any politician who remains deaf to this level of anger is in trouble.

Here’s the story I wrote as a result. Thanks again to all who shared their stories.

 

 

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The last big downtown waterfront area about to be developed — and it will be the most complicated of all

June 2nd, 2017 · 3 Comments

If you think the current Chinatown debates are heated, wait until things really get going with Northeast False Creek.

The city is going to present the proposed ideas so far in a big fair/demo on June 10, with material from all of the many participants involved (park board, stewardship community work on the Hogan’s Alley project/black community, Concord Pacific, engineering with new road plan, Canadian Metropolitan Properties, etc.).

I got an advance look at the ideas and plans so far in my story here. Here’s information about the planned block party to introduce everything June 10 here.

There is already some criticism, with one Hogan’s Alley advocate saying that what the black community is getting from all this is token stuff.

I’m sure the people currently in an uproar over development in Chinatown will be weighing in (though I was talking to Doris Chow of Youth Collaborative for Chinatown yesterday, who is also on a stewardship committee, and she sounded excited about some of the possibilities in the new parks and blocks planned for new Chinatown).

Plans for buildings are preliminary yet — they’re more concepts (terracing, horizontal lines along the park edge, etc.) and massing than actual designs yet.

Lots more to come.

 

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How much development in past — and future — for Chinatown

May 24th, 2017 · 4 Comments

A knowledgeable person helpfully compiled this list of past projects and possible future ones in Chinatown, so you can get a sense of the change in the area.

The unit counts might be off a bit here and there, but all those projects that have been completed, are under construction or have been actually submitted (so the Bonnis proposal at Union and Main doesn’t count) add up to around 950 units in about a decade. Of those, about 680 are condo and 270 are rental, almost all market rental.

 

Proposed
129 Keefer, 29 condos over retail, James Schouw, not a rezoning. To DP board, and for sale as if approved
137 Keefer , 14 units over retail, also Schouw. Approved? Not clear whether this is also for sale or not; not a rezoning.

Future (no application yet)
Bonnis; Main & Union, potential future rezoning for 150′. Developer open house held in January, but no application yet.
Tosi’s for sale, but not yet acquired by a developer?
Various other sites have been bought/sold in the past couple of years, including the block with the Emerald restaurant and the Chinatown Supermarket, but there have been no applications. Tosi’s could get a rezoning, as far as I know nothing else is eligible.

Under construction
245 E Georgia 40 unit 9 storey rental on 25′ lot, not a rezoning.

recently completed
Framework, 231 E Pender, not a rezoning, 60 condos by Porte over retail
611 Main (188 Keefer) W T Leung for Westbank Projects, condo with 22 seniors rental over retail
633 Main (181 E Georgia) Bosa Blue Sky, all rental ‘Chinatown’ over retail.
Keefer Block, 189 Keefer, not a rezoning, 10 storey 81 condo over retail, completed 2015 built by Solterra.
The Flats, 29 unit condos on a 25′ lot with yellow steel shutters, not a rezoning, completed 2014.

V6A on Union and Ginger on Main are also condo buildings built in Chinatown to zoning, both 9 storeys, completed 2009 and 2010.

Besides my friend’s list, I’d add that BC Housing is about to rebuild a social-housing project in Chinatown, adding some market units to it and replacing all of the existing ones.

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