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In the continent’s hottest housing market, Vancouver will try to create an “affordable home ownership” program

April 19th, 2016 · 10 Comments

The good folks at city hall are probably wishing someone had started the idea of an affordable home-ownership program 10 years ago, when prices were way more reasonable.

At any rate, they’re going to try now by getting units in new development projects through developer community-amenity contributions and then selling them to people at below-market prices, while retaining a share of the equity.

I’ll be counting the seconds until this all unrolls. Very difficult to work out. First, the province has to change legislation. Then, the city has to hold a consultation on how this will work. Who gets first dibs on these units, once people have met the income/residency/job-in-Vancouver requirements? A lottery? Or will some types of employees get bumped up the list?

And then there’s working out the financials and legals with the developer and the buyers.

All this and more is what other cities have gone through so it’s not impossible. The city’s comprehensive report outlines the efforts in places like Calgary, San Francisco, Boston and more.

Local housing experts say the program is worth a try, but will likely only be able to serve a small slice of the city’s anxious residents. They’ll need to make enough money to pay the mortgage on what will be, even with the discount, an expensive condo, but not make enough money to just plunge into the market on their own.

 

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Your chance to contribute to a housing documentary, if you haven’t got enough info yet

April 19th, 2016 · No Comments

This arrived in an email and I’m passing it on as a PSA

Vancouver, B.C. – The housing crisis leads the headlines, but there’s more to the story than foreign investment from mainland China entering the real estate market. A new independent film series called Crisis in the Greenest City is set to go deeper into the story, engaging communities facing evictions, displacement and destabilization.

Eliot Galan, founder of Collectivista Media, states, “While we recognize that foreign wealth migration has rippling effects in the housing market, we assert that there are bigger factors causing the affordability crisis: a deregulated housing market, disparity between rising rents and stagnant incomes, and gentrification of lower and middle-income neighbourhoods, to name a few. Given that the media has focused almost exclusively on foreign wealth and speculation, our goal is to fill the gap in the story, and shed light on what’s really happening on the frontlines of the housing crisis.”

Collectivista is asking for community members to vote on Storyhive so this film series can become a reality. People can vote at tinyurl.com/crisisfilm once a day until April 24. If successful, the film series will be produced and distributed publicly this summer.

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Concord purchase of central industrial site has everyone in a flap

April 13th, 2016 · 15 Comments

It’s amazing how much interest there has been in Vancouver’s beer factory at the south end of the Burrard Bridge.

Ever since Molson announced it was being sold, there’s been speculation about the buyer and the price and the future.

It’s not the first time Vancouver’s west side has gone through this. For you youngsters, the decision to close the Carling O’Keefe brewery at Arbutus and 12th in the early 1990s resulted in one of the most exhausting brawls in the history of the planning department, as residents resisted any form of development that they thought wouldn’t fit in with the primarily residential neighbourhood.

It’s going to be just as tough this time, as the whole region is focused on trying to preserve industrial land, whatever that means on a piece of land in the middle of one of the more expensive cities on the continent.

Here’s the story about the news that Concord Pacific bought the land, with plans for some kind of “sustainable mixed-use development” and my follow-up on what councillors and urban-land specialists think should or will happen.

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Latest wrinkle in Vancouver’s strange housing market: Formal warnings about dangers of no-subject offers

April 12th, 2016 · 2 Comments

It’s more than a full-time job trying to keep up with the way behaviour in the real-estate market is morphing these days.

The latest: Buyers possibly being asked to sign forms saying they understand the dangers of making no-subject offers.

(One of my Twitter commenters already noted that this makes it sound as though it’s the buyers pushing this, when, he said, it’s the realtors. That’s a good point.)

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Your chance to request a bike-share dock in front of your house (or not)

April 8th, 2016 · 4 Comments

This news release from the city, asking for suggestions for locations for bike-share docks, seems like fertile ground for fun. I do know other cities have had some mini-wars over the location of docks. Personally, I am lobbying for one directly in front of my house. I know others won’t feel the same.

Suggest a station site for public bike share

Anyone who lives, works or plays in and around downtown Vancouver is invited to suggest a station site for Vancouver’s new public bike share system.

“Public bike share will be a big boost for Vancouver’s active transportation system,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “This is a great opportunity for people to have their say for where bikes are most needed for short trips and to help us fill the gaps in our existing network.”

The launch of the public bike share system this summer will include 1,000 bicycles and 100 stations. An additional 500 bikes and 50 stations will be added by the end of summer 2016. The initial service area will include the Downtown Peninsula, bounded by Arbutus Street, 16th Avenue and Main Street.

Public bike share stations will be located at popular destinations near where people work, study, shop, dine and play. Stations will be spaced every two to three blocks on streets, sidewalks, plazas, parks and private property within the service area.

“We are actively inviting input from Vancouver residents and commuters on station sites,” said Mia Kohout, General Manager of Vancouver Bike Share Inc, the Vancouver subsidiary of CycleHop. “People can simply go to vancouverbikeshare.ca and pin a location on the map to make their suggestions.”

People can also suggest a public bike share station site using the City’s VanConnect app – look for Cycling in Vancouver/Suggest a Location.

Businesses or property owners wishing to request a station on their property can email CycleHop directly at publicbikeshare@vancouver.ca<mailto:publicbikeshare@vancouver.ca>.

Vancouver’s public bike share system will be the largest smart bike fleet in North America, featuring ‘a brain on the bike’ that allows users to unlock and activate easily and quickly. This allows for increased flexibility of station configuration and placement; stations can also be easily relocated in response to demand.

The City announced in February that CycleHop, a privately-owned company, had been selected to operate a public bike share system that is expected to roll out in downtown Vancouver starting summer 2016.

Overall, the City has seen a continued year-over-year increase in the use of its bike lanes as more residents adapt to cycling, in part due to infrastructure built for people of all ages and abilities. The majority of trips in Vancouver are now taken by foot, bike, or public transit. To view monthly stats visit: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/Bike-lane-stats-by-month.pdf.

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The Airbnb civil war: politicians look at limits, while hosts point to the benefits

April 6th, 2016 · 28 Comments

Vancouver is gearing up this week to deal with Airbnb, with Councillor Geoff Meggs spearheading a motion to have staff get more aggressive about getting information from the company and about getting information on the impacts.

It’s a popular move for many. Landlords, strata councils, neighbours, housing advocates and more are all worried about the impact of having all residential areas turning into scattered hotel sites.

But there are also local Airbnb hosts who are worried about an impending crackdown, saying that what they’re doing doesn’t take away renter housing and that it adds life and a financial benefit to their communities. Those who only rent a spare bedroom or who only rent out their places while they are out of town especially feel strongly that they are providing a benefit that doesn’t take away from the local housing stock.

Their story here.

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As Vancouver’s old industries leave “Mount Pixel,” city struggles to define new meaning of industrial

April 6th, 2016 · 10 Comments

Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant industrial area is undergoing a profound transformation.

For years, the old steel-plating, gadget-manufacturing, and garment-producing businesses had been leaving slowly.

But that speeded up three years ago when two things happened. Hootsuite, the city’s bigfoot digital company, moved into a building in the area. (It was a building zoned for office use, at 8th and Quebec, across the street from the conventional industrial zone.)

And the city tweaked the zoning to allow some office uses, as long as one floor of a building was retained for industrial.

Tech companies started to flood in and prices went up.

My story last weekend looked at the changes and the struggle going on in the city, and the region, to figure out what industrial actually means these days and how to keep office users looking for cheap space from invading.

In Vancouver, where council is particularly anxious to foster a tech industry, the debate is even more pointed.

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City pushes to collect new info on Airbnb with view to new rules

April 1st, 2016 · 36 Comments

So interesting to see how the ground is shifting on this issue of Airbnb.

When I first wrote about the phenomenon in Vancouver four years ago (inspired by rumblings of dissatisfaction I’d been hearing in other cities), there didn’t seem to be a lot of concern.

The bed-and-breakfast people weren’t so happy, but the hotel association was staying out of the fight and it didn’t seem to be on a lot of people’s radar. My main problem with the story was finding an Airbnber to talk to me, I presume since many of them are breaking several kinds of bylaws or strata rules or CRA reporting requirements.

Fast forward, and we get to this week, where council is now pushing hard to get maximum information in order to figure out what to do. The number of listings in Vancouver has increased to almost 5,000.

It’s not just this council that’s worried. Others are too, along with landlords (I talked to an apartment manager in my story whose sign in front of the building specifies “No Airbnb) and strata councils, which have been rapidly moving to create new bylaws that prohibit Airbnb rentals.

At the same time, it’s not a black and white issue. I, like many in this city, have used Airbnb elsewhere because of the chance it gives to feel like you’re living in a real apartment in a regular neighbourhood. I try hard to stay at places that don’t appear to be set up as permanent hotels. I’m not always successful, but I do try. My best experience was a gorgeous place in Lyon I rented from a flight attendant who was in Iceland during our four days there.

I’ve also been contacted, since I wrote the story, about people who say they’re concerned that there will be a crackdown on the kind of Airbnb rentals they do that they believe help provide needed spaces for visitors, but don’t take away long-term housing — people who rent out a spare room or who rent out their whole places if they are away for a few weeks or months on vacation or business.

I understand there’s been divided opinion at the city’s rental advisory committee, because some representatives there say it helps renters if they can have someone stay a few nights a month to help them make the rent.

And a UBC student has also written about the issue of people who are renting out a spare room.

On the other hand, there are indeed whole units being lost to the “hotel” market. I wrote about last year about a couple who said they decided to Airbnb their basement because the tenant was moving out. I later heard from the tenant that she’d been told they were planning to do that, so she decided to leave without a fight.

That’s a problem when, as anyone looking for rentals these days knows, it’s a near-zero vacancy rate and there are 100 applications for any available unit that isn’t a slum.

 

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Another day, another guesstimate about how much the Chinese are buying in Vancouver. Data analysis here

March 24th, 2016 · 7 Comments

Oh brother, economists doing calculations on the backs of envelopes to throw another Douglas fir on the bonfire of Vancouver real-estate hysteria. Isn’t there some kind of Hippocratic oath about doing no harm?

Anyway, for those who didn’t see it, some bank economists put a few numbers together to declare that a third of all Vancouver real estate was bought by high-net-worth Chinese investors last year. The story has quickly spread, with various levels of helpful information about how they calculated the numbers. Story 1 from Bloomberg here, story 2 from the Globe, and story 3 from the Vancouver Sun. The bar graph below also appeared in my Twitter feed, not sure from from where.

And it’s sure to attract some analysis. As alert readers will note, this comes from a sample of 77 high-net-worth Chinese investors who agreed to answer a survey saying where they had bought property. The Sun story spells out that that could mean offshore investors or residents and immigrants to the country. Since 11 per cent of them said Vancouver was their real-estate choice, that would mean nine of the 77. Nine.

Then the economist calculations pegged their purchases at $12B Canadian, I guess by dividing the total amount of presumed sales around the world to Chinese people by 77, and concluded that these nine people’s answers could be extrapolated to say that one-third of the total sales in Vancouver’s market last year were to high net worth Chinese buyers. But a quick check shows that that the $38.5 billion they’re referring to is the number for residential resales for the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. So that’s not the total in sales for the Lower Mainland. About 10 to 15 per cent of sales (developers selling their own condos, etc.) happen outside the board’s MLS system. It also doesn’t include the $11 billion in sales from the Fraser Valley real-estate board, which includes Surrey, Delta and Langley, or the 10 to 15 per cent of non-MLS sales there.

But, whatever, one more factoid for the mill.

Additional note an hour later: Alert Twitter observers have noted it’s one-third of dollar value, not one-third of units. If rich folks are buying very expensive places, they could well be buying much less than a third of everything that sold. A further note: Joanne Lee-Young’s story in the Sun has the best explanation for the methodology the economists used, something about guesstimating the level of buying in Canada based on levels of buying in the States. (Just read it, I couldn’t possibly summarize the contortions.)

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The euphoria and scrambling over money for rapid transit, bridges, water treatment in the Lower Mainland

March 24th, 2016 · 4 Comments

An exciting week for local government types, as they waited for the announcement on the details in the federal budget about what on their wish list would be getting deliveries from the money pipeline.

What I’m finding interesting about it, as a few days have gone by since budget day, is how much is still being hashed out and explained about what projects exactly will get the money, which parts of projects are eligible (design and planning for transit never used to be eligible for federal funds, now they are), and all kinds of other wiggly things.

My guess is there is a lot going on between the federal people and the provincial people to get them to come on board with certain projects in exchange for guarantees of money on others. At the moment, the city people and the feds are working together. It was clear when I was talking to mayors and councillors that they feel like they have a direct pipeline and are no longer left guessing and begging. It’s the province that seems to be the recalcitrant, left-out one.

Stories here and here from day before and day of budget.

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