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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 · 11 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?

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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.


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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