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The Vancouver dilemma: How to build new apartments without displacing tenants.

May 16th, 2019 · No Comments

I had a story in Tuesday’s Globe about a couple of old and very inexpensive apartment buildings on Oak Street in the heart of Marpole, which are up for redevelopment. (Full text of story after the break.)

The owner wants to build 91 new units to replace the 1959 and 1964 buildings on site with 43 units between them. The problem: Even though the owner is offering 30 per cent off of whatever the new rents will be to existing tenants (which is more than the 20 per cent the city requires), it’s unlikely that any of them will be able to afford such a jump. So many will be forced out of the area and possibly even Vancouver.

That’s the Sophie’s choice that Vancouver is going to be facing multiple times in coming years, as apartment owners holding 50- and 60-year-old buildings decide whether to redevelop, upgrade, or simply let things deteriorate.

The applicant pulled this project from the public-hearing line-up Tuesday, after a suggestion from the city that it might be better to wait until after June 11, when council will be hearing a report on even more protections for “vulnerable tenants” in these kinds of buildings.

Unknown whether this project will go ahead if council asks for a lot more compensation or guarantees. It’s a case many are watching closely to understand where this council will land on projects like this.

Of course, some might say that the real problem here is that so much (needed) new rental is forced into a limited number of areas, most of which are the sites of old and cheap rental. If some single-family (really, triplex) zones could be switched over to apartments, that could alleviate some of these awful choices, they’d argue.

But there’s also the issue that many of these older apartments need loads of maintenance. Even if they aren’t redeveloped, any number of landlords are looking at significant upgrades which, guess what, frequently entail kicking out all the tenants, doing the renos, and then renting at higher prices.

I await the sophisticated solutions to this, but don’t see any in sight yet.

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Squamish plan for massive development by Burrard Bridge gets a surprisingly warm welcome

April 14th, 2019 · No Comments

So my big story for the week was the news that the Squamish are moving ahead with plans to create a huge new development by the Burrard Bridge. My story was in the Globe Thursday, with a follow-up including the mayor’s comments on Friday. (I’ll post the full stories below.)

The reaction on often-toxic Twitter was very positive, with people (at least in my stream) very excited about the thought of a lot of new housing in an area where there’s a huge demand, as well as the news that the Squamish are seriously considering making the units all rental.

I’d advise people not to break open the champagne just yet, as some members apparently are arguing in favour of the early money that some condo development would provide. As well, no one is saying what prices the units might rent for yet.

Some people are also dubious about the idea of having Westbank/Ian Gillespie as the partner, given his penchant lately (Vancouver House, Butterfly, Oakridge, Kengo Kuma tower) to build for the ultra high end. He did do the Woodward’s building, granted, with its two social-housing components, but that’s quite different from trying to figure out a market approach to providing affordable rental. CHMC people sound very excited by the project and say there’s money available (cheap financing, etc.) if the Squamish do decide to make some or all of it lower-cost.

In the meantime, the really interesting story behind all this is how the Squamish were slowly pushed off their land, which was a permanent settlement, not just a summer camp for them.

This timeline from UBC provides some excellent information and mapping of what happened over time.

As I said earlier, I’ve posted the full stories below

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Airbnb-style rentals getting fines, investigations into 820 units — but critics say city is losing the battle

March 15th, 2019 · No Comments

Like many other cities, Vancouver is fighting the war against short-term vacation rentals that take housing away from long-term locals. Their info here.

The city was the first to put in rules last April. Yesterday, they released results on the numbers of licences and investigations.

But critics of Airbnb say the city is always going to be fighting a losing battle, because the agreement it has with Airbnb requires city enforcement to do all the work of checking on made-up business-licence numbers, units deceptively advertised as being not in Vancouver, and many other loopholes.

My story on all that here (and pasted below)

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You’d think people would be panting to have someone pick up and take away their old homes. But no

February 20th, 2019 · No Comments

Stumbled across this story by accident when I was researching something else. It turns out that there is a big market of people looking to buy Vancouver’s (and Victoria’s and anywhere else’s) older homes — and newer homes — that are being demolished for something grander.

The problem is: owners seem unaware or uninterested. So they continue to be demolished and/or recycled into sawdust.

My story here (and text attached below for those without subscriptions)

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Transit fights of the past illuminate the present: Remember Granville B-Line opposition, and Canada Line battle?

January 30th, 2019 · No Comments

Okay, youngsters, gather ’round while Grandma tells you about the old days.

As we’re seeing bubbling pots of protest in West Vancouver, Surrey and Vancouver over transit, just a reminder of some of the history.

Does anyone recall the massive opposition to the Granville B-Line — it did actually cost the NPA councillors a ton of political capital. They didn’t lose the election, but their wave of support definitely receded. Below is a story from July 1998 about the final vote, which describes the massive opposition along the way.

I won’t attempt to link to all the anti-Canada Line stories (or, as they were then, anti-RAV (Richmond-Airport-Vancouver) stories. But here is one that includes some interesting information on whether the P3 for that project really benefitted taxpayers. Don’t be influenced by the somewhat misleading headline.

Granville rapid bus service okayed despite opposition: City council voted unanimously to support the plan but critics vow to continue battle.: [Final Edition]


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North Van council rejects affordable-housing project: “non-profit model is untested”; “not enough to address climate change”

November 21st, 2018 · No Comments

Lots of concern and outrage across the region this week, after the surprise decision by the new District of North Vancouver council to reject the rezoning for a non-profit, affordable-housing project that included a seniors’ respite centre. Stories here and here.

The decision was striking to many for the grasping-at-straws reasoning used by some councillors, like the concern that it didn’t do enough for sustainability because it wasn’t a net-zero building (while single-family houses that are nowhere near that are built every day in the district, often entailing the demolition of something else on the site) or that the non-profit model “wasn’t proven.” That was along with the other evergreen “I support affordable housing but ..” arguments: not enough consultation, building too high, parking.

For those who missed it, here is my story on Catalyst, the non-profit company that was working with the district the last two years on this project. It’s the only non-profit developer in the region and seen by many as the kind of development company that’s desperately needed to help with the Lower Mainland’s housing disaster.

I’m also copying the story in full on the turn, for those without access to the Globe’s website.

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My intersectional, diverse, covering-all-bases voters’ guide to Vancouver council

October 19th, 2018 · No Comments

Okay, deep breath here as I try to provide some insight into candidates in one of the most complex civic elections in Vancouver’s history.

A word about the limits I’m working under, first. Usually when I do my little voting guide in the election, I can assess the performance of many of the candidates because they’ve been on the public stage at council, school board, or park board or in community groups, fighting for some kind of change.

This time, there are so many new candidates that I barely know many of them outside of what they’ve said in the last few months and their social-media presence. (Yes, I know, unrepresentative but using the information sources we have.)

Finally, this election is, more so than the others I’ve covered in 25 years at the city, about trying to sort out the ideology and identity of all the new parties and candidates. Before, we had right, left, and really left, for the most part. The question for many was a simple, almost binary choice about right or left, with some consideration given to who were the most credible candidates in those groups.

Now, people are curating much more nuanced lists, picking candidates by using many more vectors: young/experienced; male/female/other; party/independent; ethnicity; environmentalism/not; ideology, but way more fractured this time, with parties ranging from hard left to looks left but makes weird decisions to libertarian right to soft right to right mixed up with typically lefty housing policy.

For many, a simple right-left doesn’t work. The diehard COPE voters will never vote for anyone Vision, no matter what the Vancouver and District Labour Council says, seeing them as neoliberal sellouts. People inclined to support Vision in the past will be wary of voting for what they see as unreconstructed and unrealistic radicals, like COPE. On the right, the divisions are equally profound, with some seeing the traditional NPA as part of the problematic status quo, while some of those old-time NPAers are unlikely to support candidates who seem too extreme.

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NDP has some things to fix with civic-election campaign law when this is all over

October 15th, 2018 · No Comments

One of the big issues in this campaign season has been the discovery of holes and glitches in the province’s new campaign-finance law for local elections.

It turns out third parties can spend whatever they want up until 30 days before the election, independent candidates who are a team but don’t register as an official party can accept more in donations than a party, unions can pay staff to campaign among their members without any declaration of spending, and more.

For the last six months, that’s been a dominant theme, starting with this story back in April about the NPA raising money for “operating expenses,” something that was not limited until the NDP decided to amend this bit in June.

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Municipal-election drama kicks into high gear as campaigns really get going

September 12th, 2018 · No Comments

So, as everyone in Vancouver who cares anything about local politics knows, Vision Vancouver’s campaign turned into chaos this week after the surprise announcement that mayoral candidate Ian Campbell was withdrawing from the race.

As I’ve said multiple times, it’s not because the polls were showing him trailing and he was going to lose anyway. Vision insiders tell me repeatedly that he was showing up strong, tied with the NPA’s Ken Sim. He quit over a personal issue that surfaced from his past, something Vision vetters hadn’t picked up because it was buried in paper-only court docs and because charges in the eight-year-old incident had been stayed. (But someone knew and was telling local media about it, as the season of election surprises is upon us.)

So now, what to do. The first round of reporting and reaction in my Globe stories here and here. (Full text posted below)

There is a core group in Vision Vancouver that believes the party is still strong, still has a solid voter base, and, very importantly, is not able to raise money without a mayoral candidate. So there is lots of chatter about finding another mayoral candidate by Friday.

I got this email message from Andrea Reimer, who, after saying she was quitting politics altogether, is now considering running as the mayoral candidate. It illustrates the views of some in the party who believe having a candidate is key.

The last thing I thought I would be thinking about at this point in the 2018 election is running for mayor but it’s been anything but a predictable election. I supported Ian Campbell, and it’s been a hard week.

But now Vision is without a candidate and friends and colleagues have contacted me and urged me to reconsider my decision and become visions nominee for mayor.

I owe it to them, and the city and agenda I have worked hard for almost two decades now to seriously consider, so that’s what I am doing.

Vision is the best bet to stop the NPA. The internal polling is pretty clear: an independent can’t win and there is too much at stake to not take that reality seriously.

That view is, of course, frustrating to the campaign people for the two independent candidates on the left — Kennedy Stewart and Shauna Sylvester — who think that Vision is alienating the other left/progressive parties (Green, OneCity, COPE) by, as they see it, sticking to an arrogant view that it is the natural governing party.

Lots of phone calls and persuading going on as people debate whether Vision should just stay out of the race and support one of the two independents or let various Vision reps decide on their own who to support or what.

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The farewell note: A senior city-hall employee goes to work for a major developer

July 20th, 2018 · No Comments

Lots of praise for Bill Aujla, the head of real-estate services who is going off to be vice-president of real estate with the Aquilini Group.

This move, though, is raising questions for some.

From: Johnston, Sadhu
Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2018 3:31 PM
To: All Staff (COV) – DL
Subject: Staffing Changes in City Manager’s Office


Greetings all,


I regret to announce that after six years at the helm of the Real Estate and Facilities Management Team, Bill Aujla will be leaving the City. He has contributed so much to the City during his thirteen years with us. While I am sad to say goodbye to Bill, he isn’t going far as he will be joining the Aquilini Investment Group as Vice President of Real Estate.



Bill has added immense value to the City; he was the lead on the successful negotiations with Canadian Pacific Railway for the City’s purchase of the Arbutus Corridor, and he represented the City’s interests in complex city issues, including CAC (Community Amenity Contributions) negotiations with developers. Bill has led a great variety of projects on behalf of the City, including the purchase of St. James Community Square, the development of the Killarney Seniors Centre, the seismic upgrading of the West Annex, the development of the Taylor Manor Housing Project and many others.


Bill also oversaw the Olympic Village development, including Canada’s first residential multi-unit Net Zero Affordable Housing Project, Habitat Island (a constructed island off the west shore of the Village), and the restoration of a heritage building (Salt Building). Additionally, Bill led the consolidation of Facilities Services, building a team, each of whom play an integral role in the everyday running of a successful department.


Bill Aujla has tendered his resignation effective at the end of August. He will be on vacation starting August 13. Recruitment for a new GM will begin immediately, and Lisa Prescott, Director, Strategic Operations Planning & Program Management will step-in until a new GM has been selected. Lisa has been with the City since 2010. Previous to her Director role in Real Estate and Facilities Management, she was Manager of Recreation Services in Park Board, and Manager of Performance Management and Business Transformation in FRS.


Gil Kelley, GM, Planning Urban Design and Sustainability, will be taking over the CAC negotiations. Over the last year we have been moving towards the transformation of the CAC program to less negotiated CACs and more fixed rates, which Gil will continue.


Bill leaves his department in a very strong position for the future and we sincerely thank him for his contribution and leadership during his tenure as GM.  We’ll all really miss Bill and we wish him a successful future as he progresses his career.






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