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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.


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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Chinatown project turns into “line in the sand” as people argue it will change the future of historic area

May 24th, 2017 · 8 Comments

It’s a 12-story condo plus retail plus social housing building on an interior block of Chinatown, meant to fill what is now a surface parking lot (formerly a gas station).

But the project by Beedie Development Group has turned into a pitched battle, with opponents seeing it as the nail in the coffin for historic Chinatown and supporters seeing it as as the kind of development needed to bring life back to a neighbourhood that’s been in decline since the 1970s.

The city hall public hearing started last night, raucous, from all accounts and will continue for several more. My story that lays out the main points and background is here. Lots of fun reading on the city’s website about the project, especially all of the letters for and for and for and against and against and against. (A new batch just got posted today, the last link in each side here.)

Undoubtedly, whatever happens, this is going to mark a turning point. There’s a review of the Chinatown plan coming up in a couple of months and there will be adjustments to it that will likely make larger projects in Chinatown more difficult and even more scrutinized.

Even those who are supporting the Beedie project, like Henry Tom of the Chinatown Merchants Association, say that zoning should be changed so that huge developments with 200-foot frontages are not allowed. Instead, they and others say that development should be finer-grained, with more of the kinds of developments that have happened on the area’s unique 25-foot-wide lots.

I have a feeling councillors aren’t sure which way to go on this or whose voices to listen to. There are a lot of realtor/developer/marketing types and employees who have weighed in with support letters, some of whom live in the area. And there are a lot of young activists whose parents or grandparents had links with Chinatown, even though they don’t live or do much in the area any more. And then there’s the older generation that “saved” Chinatown in the 1960s — Shirley Chan, Hayne Wai, Mike Harcourt — also against the development.

This is not a slam dunk for anyone.

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What will it be like to live in Vancouver’s new green buildings?

May 24th, 2017 · 4 Comments

There’s been a huge focus in recent months on Vancouver’s plan to move to a zero-emissions building code, but mainly on one aspect of it, the impact on natural gas.

But what else will look and feel different as Vancouver moves to its new, unique building code? I talked to people who have built condo towers and single-family homes to ask them about what stays the same and what doesn’t. My story is here.

For those unclear about what’s happening, any multi-family projects requiring a rezoning had to start meeting the new code as of May 1. Next phase coming next year. Ultimately, all new buildings will need to meet the code by 2030.

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The ridings to watch for the election: Not Vancouver, not the north, but the suburbs

May 9th, 2017 · No Comments

Increasingly, suburban ridings are filled with people who are finding that they are not living the dream, but are having to deal with issues that used to be thought of as strictly urban: homelessness, drug use, transit, school closures, and more.

And that’s what makes them an interesting group to watch during elections — their ideas about life aren’t necessarily locked into ideological positions and, sometimes, they will switch parties based on the immediate crisis in front of them.

Here’s my brief look in Vancouver magazine at what’s going on in the suburbs during this election.


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Vancouver Tenants Union has successful launch — and now …

May 5th, 2017 · 1 Comment

The newly formed Vancouver Tenants Union got well over 200 people out to its founding meeting on a Saturday last week, which was a promising start in don’t-like-to-commit Vancouver. It got a lot of coverage from media, including me/Globe.

Now the trick will be to see what the group, started by some active in the Downtown Eastside but others who are just fed up as well, will be able to do next. There is some real possibility of momentum given how insecure Vancouver’s many renters feel. And those aren’t just people in small West End apartments or Downtown Eastside residential hotels.

I’ve talked to renters paying $2,000 and $3,000 a month who feel just as precarious. They weren’t at the meeting (or I didn’t spot any of them, at any rate), but they have just as many issues as others on other parts of the housing ladder.

There’s a West End meeting scheduled for May 31. We’ll see what happens next.


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Libs not touting it in speeches, but policy position is that referendum still needed for regional share of Broadway, Surrey lines

April 27th, 2017 · 10 Comments

In the 2013 election, Premier Christy Clark was quite vocal about requiring a referendum for any new tax, fee or whatever that the mayors wanted to help pay for the regional share of transit.

This time, candidates have stayed away from that.

However, the Liberal Party made it clear — in its response to the TransLink mayors’ council questionnaire — that a referendum will still be required when mayors are trying to decide this time how to come up with the rest of their share for the 10-year, $7.5-billion plan for transit improvements. The feds and province have kicked in about $5 billion at this point and the mayors have approved some property-tax and fare increases, but none of that is enough to cover the full bill.

(My Globe story on this in today’s paper here.)

The party also said it will fund one-third of the Pattullo Bridge as long as there is a “strong business case.” I always thought the strong business case was that the bridge is about to fall into the river, but I guess I know nothing.

I couldn’t understand why that wording would suddenly appear until I remembered that the Libs also promised a cap on all tolls in the region. And the planning for the bridge had always factored in tolls. In fact, at a transit panel that I moderated recently, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said that the one thing TransLink would do differently to avoid the problems the Port Mann Bridge has had with finances is to ensure that no money has to come out of the operations budget to help make the mortgage payments on the bridge.

So, if the possibility for revenue from tolling the bridge is now limited, that means TransLink will have to develop a new business case.

Anyway, transit planners must be praying for an end to this election campaign, before any more little grenades can be thrown their way.

As I noted last week, that started with the two major parties competing to reduce or eliminate tolls altogether, to the dismay of mayors and rational policy-makers.




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Board of Trade issues report endorsing “missing middle” forms of housing and alternatives to home ownership

April 19th, 2017 · 9 Comments

I have to say, it’s a sign of the times that 350 people, many from the business and development community, would turn out to a five-hour session on housing policy. But that’s what they did yesterday, when the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade organized a set of panels to go along with a report they issued on housing solutions.

My story in the Globe that condenses it all is here, plus I tweeted throughout yesterday, for those who missed it.

As I noted a couple of times, the report is exclusively focused on supply, to the dismay of those who believe that demand controls are part of the solution. And there were some people talking about the need for local residents to alter their expectations, which produced some scathing pushback on Twitter.

But the report showed there is a slightly different approach to supply these days. It’s not just build more condos. There’s a big emphasis on rental, a form that does help keep some housing out of the speculative-investor market. And there were even references to alternative models of home ownership, the kind usually espoused by small housing collectives or non-profit groups. Things like shared-equity ownership models, cohousing, and more.


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A rare housing choice: Living in a rowhouse without having to be in a strata

April 19th, 2017 · 5 Comments

For almost as long as I’ve covered the urban-issues beat in Vancouver, people have talked about how great it would be if we had fee-simple townhouses — that is, townhouses where the owners don’t have to belong to a strata. They just own their particular row/townhouse individually, with some agreement about how to handle common walls — just as many Ontario and Quebec owners do.

I thought the dream was still unrealized when Michael Geller tweeted out a picture of some fee-simple townhouses in Coquitlam. There was an ensuing Twitter discussion, with me expressing surprise. Then Surrey’s city manager, Jean Lamontagne, contacted me by email to tell me that such rare things were starting to appear in Surrey.

Hence, my story in the Globe, which took a look at the little shoots of experimentation happening in various places, including Nanaimo, on this issue. (Thanks to whomever tweeted about Nanaimo, which also prompted me to call there.)

So why care about this form of housing? As more than one person has told me over the years, a lot of older couples don’t want to move to condos because they don’t want to have to have their lives governed by a committee. As a result, they stay parked in their four-bedroom homes all over the city, which is an inefficient use of housing. If this could catch on, it might encourage more of those people to pass on their homes to people who actually need four bedrooms.

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Will putting social-housing buildings in the hands of non-profits save them? Or doom them?

April 6th, 2017 · 1 Comment

B.C.’s auditor general came out with a quietly scathing report on BC Housing’s move to transfer its remaining social-housing assets — about 9,000 units of housing when they started — into the hands of non-profits.

That process, when it started a couple of years ago, sparked fears that private developers would be gobbling up these buildings. But they are all going to non-profits, it turns out.

In spite of that, AG Carol Bellringer said the selection process is murky; there doesn’t seem to be any assessment or requirement of the non-profits that they expand the social housing they’re inheriting. And, she said, the province really didn’t come up with any good argument about how this was going to ensure that social housing remains affordable and continues to be a part of the services in a community.

I started getting calls from non-profits after that, saying her report was somewhat unfair. In the story I wrote later, they said that they will likely be better protectors of social housing. They, for instance, won’t sell off a massive site to a private developer, as the province did with Little Mountain. (That happened 10 years ago today, something that housing advocates are marking with a ceremony Saturday.) That sale turned into a bit of a mess after the developer, Holborn Group, first insisted that everyone be cleared out of the existing 224 units, then demolished the units, and then did nothing. Today, only one new social-housing building has been erected on the otherwise vacant site, where the developer is required to eventually replace all 224 of the former units.

Kishone Roy of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association said, for sure, there are real threats of losses of social housing. But, he said, that is a threat that applies to all of it — the 60,000 units already owned and run by non-profits, as well as the 9,000 units that were still being run by BC Housing. He expanded on that in a story by my colleague, Jen St. Denis at Metro, saying that groups are constantly being squeezed by the government and its payment system to reduce the number of subsidized units.

That’s been happening for years already. At BCNPHA conferences I’ve gone to in the past, non-profit operators have fretted that they have to shift the ratios of subsidized vs. unsubsidized units in their buildings to keep paying the bills. The AG said about two-thirds of all social housing in the province is subsidized. But it’s actually less than that in the non-profit sector, whereas most of the BC Housing units, inherited from the federal government, charge rents that are geared to income so that people only pay 30 per cent of their income or the shelter portion of welfare.

But tenants elsewhere, like those at Stamps Place, one of the complexes that was sold, worry that there is nothing to ensure that non-profits won’t, at some point, reduce subsidies or re-develop with a private partner as a way of trying to generate some cash to expand. (In fairness, that’s what the province said it was doing with the Little Mountain sale: selling for $300-million so that it would have more money to put into social housing elsewhere.)

I guess the question is: Who do you trust more to protect it? Provincial governments now and in the future? Or non-profits whose mission it is to try to provide affordable housing?

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Infill housing could be part of solution to shortages — if cities would approve more of it, say home builders

April 6th, 2017 · 1 Comment

Infill housing is what many politicians and housing advocates are chatting up these days as a way to inject a little density into single-family neighbourhoods, some of which are managing to lose population even while the region expands by 30,000 a year.

The Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association commissioned some special research from Landcor, which has provided a valuable resource now on some key housing statistics, to show how slow the infill-construction business is actually going.

Vancouver is doing the best, largely because it outright approved laneway houses in all RS-1 (standard single-family housing) zones in the city. But even Vancouver takes a long time to give out approvals and charges a lot of money for permits.

Some other cities are even worse, because almost every infill has to go through an individual rezoning process, along with the lengthy approval time and the money for permits.

Here’s my story on all of this and a link to the association’s report. (It has an interactive component. Go play!)



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