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Vancouver’s new immigrants not here to make money but to find a better quality of life — and policymakers haven’t caught up

September 6th, 2016 · 14 Comments

As some of you sharper readers may have noticed, I’ve become interested in our significant new bloc of immigrants, those people from mainland China.

(Okay, I’ve always been interested. I got an Asia Pacific Foundation fellowship in 1990 that allowed me to live in China for three months, another different fellowship that took me to Hong Kong briefly in 1994, and I’ve watched the migrations from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China ever since, occasionally reporting on them)

There are so many people writing about this new group, but the overall coverage has been strange and dehumanizing. No one ever actually talks to any of these new immigrants or tries to understand them. They’re just “investors” here to “park their money.” Or they’re outright criminals.

Undoubtedly there are people like that from China. The legitimate stories about crimes or abuses deserve to be covered and some other reporters are doing that. Good on them.

But I’m interested in the people who are coming here, why they’re here and what they make of their life in Canada. I wrote a big story about a month ago that was the result of several months of talking to more than a dozen people and trying to get a handle on their lives in China and here. (It’s here.)

It’s a little strange that more reporters haven’t done some of this. Usually that’s a first move in journalism. If there’s an interesting sub-group in town, you go out and talk to people and find out who they are. I know some fellow reporters haven’t because they’re worried about exposing this group to the blasts of hatred that unmistakably proliferate on social media. I’m hoping more people will start to do more reporting on this new group of immigrants (about 150,000 — three times the number from Taiwan) in future.

Even at the universities, there isn’t much exploration going on that I know of.  I asked UBC geography professor David Ley, who did wonderful, sensitive, and empathetic research on the new immigrants arriving from Hong Kong and Taiwan in the 1990s (much of it in his Millionaire Migrants book), if he knew of anyone doing research on this new group. He didn’t.

But, over in sociology, it turned out someone was working on something.

My story today is a far-too-condensed summary of a new study, where UBC PhD student Jing Zhao interviewed almost three dozen people who were about to immigrate or had immigrated to Vancouver, and sociology professor Nathanael Lauster analyzed and co-wrote the results. (The full 31-page study is here, for those wanting more details or source material to quibble with my reporting.)

They found, as I had, that some in this group, despite their privileges (they’re usually well educated and are comfortable financially, if not the billionaires and fuerdai so beloved of many reporters), see themselves as refugees from China, with its rigid education system, terrible air and water pollution, dicey food quality, and restrictive policies on having children.

And they don’t care that much about starting new businesses or getting jobs here because that’s not why they came here. It’s a turnaround from the way many, many academics and policymakers think about immigration, which is usually seen as being strictly about improving economic life. As Lauster says, it’s about time we understand that and maybe adapt our thinking about who these new trans-national immigrants are.


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How Seattle has not just encouraged rental but used a tax-relief program to reduce rents for working but low-income tenants

August 30th, 2016 · 6 Comments

Cities all around North America are struggling to figure out how to provide housing for their lower-income residents —  not the poorest of the poor, but people making less than the median income for the region. Housing for that group is disappearing and not much new is appearing. A lot of federal/state/provincial programs focus on putting money into housing at the low end.

I’ve been intrigued by Seattle ever since Hani Lamman from Cressey told me about how much rental they’re building there, and the different kinds of programs Seattle uses to reduce rental rates.

Seattle’s not doing everything perfectly. Their street homeless count is close to 3,000. There are no rent controls — renter-protection efforts are focused on making sure landlords don’t discriminate against tenants.

And American cities have advantages we don’t. Their developers never stopped building rental, the way Canadian ones did. (No one can quite seem to figure this why. We had a long debate on Twitter last night, trying to figure it out and there was no definitive conclusion.) As well, the federal government provides a big chunk of assistance through a low-income housing tax credit, which gives investors a tax break for investing in low-income housing.

But Seattle has also been pushing aggressively to create new rentals and rentals that rent for below-market prices. My story here summarizes some of what they’re doing.

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Building housing that battles bedbugs, cigarette smoke, floods, and more: how a developer and non-profit group teamed up to do that

August 29th, 2016 · 5 Comments

I got a tour of the new Jubilee House under construction this March, when it was still hardhat and steel-toed-boot territory, because the people at the 127 Society for Housing wanted me to do what they were doing.

I’ve seen a lot of social-housing buildings in my 20-plus years covering this, but I have to say, I was really impressed with all the new ideas. I couldn’t fit them all into my story here, but they included new anti-bedbug measures, including a baking room for stuff that does get infested, design strategies that make it easier to fix burns and holes in floors and messes on walls, as well as several anti-flood mechanisms. Along with that, the new building includes a new kitchen for making group meals for tenants, a small store that sells basic supplies, and a new library.

BC Housing has already incorporated some of these ideas earlier, but is looking at others it might steal for future projects. Personally, as a mother, there were ideas that I would have liked to see in my own house when my son was at peak teen.

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Second-last gas station in downtown Vancouver put on the market

August 25th, 2016 · 32 Comments

The disappearing gas station is something that has attracted my attention for years. You see the signs of their former selves all over the city, sometimes sitting unused for many years because of the remediation needed (Broadway/Guelph, for example), sometimes instantly snapped up for development (Main/25th).

So of course, I jumped like a rabbit when the Chevron people sent out a little notice saying they are putting three sites up for sale, including the ever-popular Georgia/Bidwell one. My story here.

I’m thinking if enough of them disappear, it will help spur the move to electric cars. I resisted electric in my last purchase two years ago because I was worried that, given my chaotic life, I’d be driven mad trying to find charging stations while I was running to my usual seven appointments a day.

But if gas pumps become just as difficult to find, well, might as well switch.


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Nondescript Broadway property sells for $46 million as part of transit-line land rush

August 23rd, 2016 · 2 Comments

Every time I hear about some crazy price paid for a piece of developable land in the city, it is superceded a few months later by an even crazier price.

The latest was the $46 million paid for 950 West Broadway by someone who appears to be a newbie buyer/developer in town (see story), which was even higher per buildable square foot than the price the Pappajohns paid for the Denny’s site at Broadway and Hemlock. And that was higher than the price someone paid for the Mercedes-Benz site a few years ago. Et cetera. All part of the sudden attraction of Broadway for buyers, as everyone awaits the new transit line.

It’s all kinda nuts, as is everything in Vancouver these days, and I have the luck to record it for posterity.

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One of city’s biggest developers sues city over social housing — and not for the reasons you might think

August 19th, 2016 · 3 Comments

Yep, Concord Pacific, which has worked hand in hand with the City of Vancouver for decades, is suing the city, even asking for an injunction to stop the city from selling a piece of land that Concord says it handed over for social housing. My story here.

Their argument — not fair now to sell it to another developer to compete with Concord projects when it was promised as a community benefit.

Their statement of claim below here.


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More change coming to Chinatown: development sites for sale, sky-high residential rents

August 12th, 2016 · 4 Comments

A sharp observer alerted me yesterday to more signs of change in Chinatown: two key sites (the venerable Tosi’s at 624 Main and the Brickhouse/empty lot/student hostel/Jimi Hendrix shrine assembly at Main and Union) for sale and a new rental building with rents starting at $1,267 for studios.

My story on that here, complete with a chance to observe a slice of life at Tosi’s yesterday afternoon.

But more to do on the changes in Chinatown in the future. Chinatowns everywhere are struggling to figure out how to thrive. There have even been stories from San Francisco, a Chinatown that I thought was among the healthiest, about the proliferation of vacancies.

On another front, one thing I didn’t get an answer on from the city by deadline is how the new Albert Block can charge so much in rent. It was approved under the Rental 100 policy. According to that policy, the rent on an eastside studio can’t be more than $1,260.

At any rate, for those of you who love Tosi’s, Angelo figures he’ll still be operating for about another year at least. (That seems right, as any buyer would likely want to apply to rezone for the higher density and that will take some time.)

So it’s a good time to hop on down with some cash to get your Italian cooking supplies. He had an excellent caciocavallo cheese yesterday, something I’ve never even heard of before.

BTW, to get more about the history of Tosi’s, read my Vancouver Sun pal John Mackie’s excellent story from 2011.

For those wondering, there is no heritage designation for the Tosi’s building. I checked that with the city.

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Vancouver snags a second high-profile employee from San Francisco

August 10th, 2016 · 6 Comments

What is with all the people getting hired from the States to work here? It’s a flood. (At least the San Franciscans can cash out with enough equity to buy a trailer in Abbotsford here.)

This is the latest, a big hire for the engineering department, according to internal memo.

To all staff in Engineering,
I am thrilled to welcome Marisa Espinosa as the new Director of Departmental Services.
Marisa’s career spans multiple years of public sector experience in transportation and land use planning, operations and policy analysis in both Canada and the United States. Active in the industry, Marisa is a graduate of the American Public Transportation Association’s Leadership APTA program which identifies leaders in the transportation field. In addition, she is a former Board member of the Women’s Transportation Seminar, an international organization that supports the advancement of women in transportation and infrastructure.
Marisa recently served as Senior Manager for Citywide Planning with the City and County of San Francisco and prior to that worked for Translink. Marisa served as Senior Manager of Strategic Planning, at TransLink, leading the development of the Mayor’s Council Vision for Regional Transportation Investments, and was responsible for major infrastructure planning as well as system planning.
Marisa believes that building leadership is a fundamental element of a successful operation. She spent several years in the leadership development field, coaching professionals and community-based organizations. Prior to her work at TransLink, Marisa served as the Manager for Planning and Research for the San Mateo County Transit District where she worked on bus, rail, rail station and bicycle planning for major capital projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, and as Manager of Strategic Policy Initiatives at the San Francisco MTA, the seventh largest transit system in the United States, leading strategic planning, and integrated transportation and land use for capital projects. Marisa has degrees in policy, politics and economics from Stanford University and in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles.
In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, and volunteering for leadership and environmental groups. She would welcome you to say hello, and is thrilled to be working with the City of Vancouver team.
Marisa will begin September 12th.
Please join me in welcoming Marisa to the City of Vancouver!
I would also like to thank Kim Kennedy for doing an excellent job in the acting position for the past many months as the recruitment process took place. Kim was instrumental in keeping a number of major initiatives moving in the Departmental Services Division. Thank you Kim!

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Younger generation gets activist to look for new housing solutions

August 10th, 2016 · 1 Comment

Catching up on some stuff here, but all still relevant.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the group of younger people that has coalesced into a kind of pro-density group called Abundant Housing, partly inspired by the YIMBY groups that are springing up in other cities — San Francisco being the first. They are showing up at council meetings to support new projects in the city, especially rentals. (One group of projects they don’t support: Burnaby condo developments built by tearing down the low-cost apartments there.)

In an unplanned coincidence, Kerry Gold wrote (also in the Globe) about the young people who started the group Housing Action for Local Taxpayers, which has focused much more on the demand side of Vancouver’s wacko housing problems.

These two groups represent a new wave of activism — albeit from different perspectives — from young people who feel like the housing system and policies in the region really aren’t working for them.

All of us should be watching to see where these articulate and impatient-for-new-solutions groups and people end up — my guess is they will increasingly have an influence over how the region is shaped in the next 50 years.



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Vancouver picks new head of planning from continent’s other unaffordable city, San Francisco

August 2nd, 2016 · 12 Comments

This just out from the city.

City appoints Gil Kelley as the General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability

Today, the City is announcing that Gil Kelley will serve as Vancouver’s new Chief Planner and General Manager of the newly created Department of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability.

Gil has been appointed by City Council to fulfill statutory responsibilities of the Director of Planning under the Vancouver Charter and will lead the City’s work on all city planning visioning, policy, urban design, and major development negotiations. He will be a voting member of the Development Permit Board and a member of the Corporate Management Team.


The newly created department of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability will also have the City’s Sustainability Group integrated within its mandate, which will support the effective implementation of the City’s Greenest City Action Plan (GCAP), Renewable City Strategy and green building initiatives.

“Vancouver is known throughout the world as a leader in urban planning and design, and being a sustainable, livable and inclusive city,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “As Chief Planner now responsible for Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability, Gil will help take Vancouver to the next level in becoming a greener, more affordable and inclusive city. Gil’s extensive experience in cities like San Francisco and Portland is highly valuable at a time when Vancouver is facing an affordability challenge like never before, and we are thrilled to have him join our team at City Hall.”

“Vancouver’s Chief Planner has long been one of most challenging and important positions in our city. Vancouver has a global reputation for world class urban planning,” said City Manager Sadhu Johnston. “Gil will be charged with rejuvenating that legacy and ensuring that Vancouver is a livable, green, equitable and more affordable community as we continue to grow and evolve. Gil’s experience supporting affordability will be a great addition to the City’s efforts to be a more affordable city.”

Gil assumes leadership of the City’s efforts to address public policy issues related to land use and city planning. Gil will be charged with charting a course for a proactive planning program for Vancouver, including:
* Supporting work underway to update the City’s 10-year Affordable Housing Strategy;

* Implementing policy work completed on the removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, False Creek Flats, Northeast False Creek and South False Creek plans;

* Renewing the planning and urban design framework for Vancouver’s City Core; including transit-oriented development with a focus on the Broadway corridor;

* Completing recommendations on the City’s new Heritage Action Plan;

* Implementing the city’s climate adaptation plan, zero emission new buildings strategy, greenest city action plan and 100% renewable strategy;

* Supporting key Council priorities, including housing affordability, City of Reconciliation, the Health City Strategy, and working with the Vancouver Economic Commission and other partners to optimize and grow Vancouver’s nation leading economy

With extensive experience in city planning work, Gil was recently Director of City-wide Planning for the City of San Francisco. In that role, Gil’s projects have included preparation of a new City-wide Transportation Plan, development of policies and strategies to advance affordable housing preservation and development, a waterfront plan that includes a long-term strategy for addressing sea level rise and public access, several plans for developing or redevelopment of major transit corridors, and alternative strategies to best accommodate introduction of California High-speed Rail into San Francisco.

Gil also created and has overseen a new community development function focused primarily on stabilization strategies for neighbourhoods in extreme tension (gentrification and displacement), as well as underserved communities. During his tenure with the City of San Francisco, Gil’s urban design studio focused on radically improving the City’s public realm through both tactical urbanism and permanent designs for streets, plazas and social spaces.

Gil also spent ten years as the Director of Planning for the City of Portland where he was appointed by the mayor to coordinate key development initiatives and to oversee the city’s planning functions. Major projects under Gil’s tenure include the River Renaissance Initiative, Mayor’s Urban Design Initiative, City-wide Permit Improvement Project, Comprehensive Plan and Centre City Plan Update Frameworks, Industrial Lands Policy, and the Airport Master Plan.

Gil’s first Director of Planning role was with the City of Berkeley in California where he directed most of the City’s community development functions including the Economic Development Office, Redevelopment Agency, Planning Department, Building Department (“Codes and Inspections”), and a consolidated Permit Centre.

Gil is an alumnus of the prestigious Loeb Fellowship program at Harvard University Graduate School of Design and held an appointment as Practitioner-in-Residence on the faculty of Portland State University’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning for several years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political economy from the Evergreen State College in Washington and is a graduate candidate for a Master of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Urban Studies and Planning. Gil has also received a certificate in Advanced Environmental Studies from Harvard University.

Gil has contributed to several published reports, studies and books, including a book on Urban Manufacturing tentatively scheduled for release later this year.

“I am pleased and honoured to be taking the helm of Planning in Vancouver, one of the most vibrant, livable and sustainable cities in the world,” says Gil Kelley, Chief Planner and General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability for the City of Vancouver. “It’s a good moment in the city’s history to ‘double down’ on the those qualities and aspirations and take them to the next level, as Vancouver grows and prospers.”

Gil will start in his position on September 15, 2016.

In addition to the role that will be filled by Gil Kelley, the City recently appointed Kaye Matheny-Krishna as the new General Manager, for the Development Services, Building and Licensing Department. Kaye assume leadership of the City’s efforts to transform its permitting and licensing processes and improve service and turnaround times for applicants.

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