Vancouver proposes 20 new sites to generate 3,500 affordable units, 9,000 jobs — starting now

Older West End condos could be vulnerable to redevelopment under new strata rules.

Vancouver has put 20 city sites up for affordable housing development.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson heads to Ottawa today with a list of 20 city-owned sites available for affordable housing,  enough to generate 3,500 units and 9,000 jobs.

It’s Vancouver’s answer to Ottawa’s call for proposals to build social and affordable housing with new infrastructure funding. Toronto and Montreal, as well as other cities, are lining up their offers, too.

Thanks to planning work by the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency, work on 500 units could begin this year.

As the Globe notes, “Mr. Robertson and his Vision Vancouver party have aggressively worked to increase the amount of shelter space and social housing since first being elected in 2008.

“Many Vancouver city councils over the years have encouraged the province to invest by providing sites. But Mr. Robertson’s council has gone beyond that recently by buying some hotels outright to be used for housing.

“As well, three years ago, it contributed $22-million worth of land on four sites for an innovative project being undertaken by a group of nonprofits and co-ops that are about to start construction on 355 units of housing.”

One worrisome note: so far, BC Housing Minister Rich Coleman has declined to comment on whether or not the province would support this Vancouver proposal.


Motion to challenge Assessment Authority on sky-high assessments in Vancouver

High density living space in Vancouver's Yaletown district.With non-profit housing operators, renters and commercial tenants now facing the impact of new, sky-high property assessments, pressure is growing on BC Assessment Authority to clarify its assessment methods, especially where increases are well above the average.

The Vision council has done what it could to mitigate these impacts, by allowing year-over-year averaging in hot spots where assessments are above average. This is in addition to the shift in property tax distribution, completed several years ago, to move some of the burden off commercial taxpayers and on to residential.

But the latest round of assessments have kindled new concerns, which are likely to canvassed at council tomorrow with the annual presentation of BC Assessment Authority representatives.

I’ll be tabling the following motion on notice — meaning it will be debated in the next council cycle — to seek more information both from the Assessment Authority and staff on additional steps that could be taken to mitigate the impact:


WHEREAS very large increases in property assessments, in some cases up to 65 percent, on commercial properties in certain areas of the city could pose the risk of business failures by self-employed business owners on fixed term triple-net leases who have limited ability to pass on increases to customers or to renegotiate the lease prior to expiry or renewal; and
WHEREAS increases in residential assessments by the BC Assessment Authority have also been very high, causing real concern and hardship to homeowners where those increases are above average and sometimes must be managed on fixed incomes; and
WHEREAS increases for some non-profit and co-op housing societies are high enough to threaten affordability for residents in certain locations; and
WHEREAS the City of Vancouver has implemented land assessment averaging solutions to assist property owners and businesses that may only partially mitigate the impact of these very high assessment increases; and
WHEREAS the B.C. Supreme Court ruling in the Amacon case, on the application of split assessments, released Feb. 1, 2016, should clarify the assessment and classification of properties that could be the subject of mixed use development; and
WHEREAS staff, in response to council’s motion of July 2014 have requested that BC Assessment Authority undertake a review of split class assessment and value in use :
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT COUNCIL call on the BC Assessment Authority to:

  • justify the very large increases established in many areas of the city and urge a careful review of the assessment methodology;
  • make their methodology available in open data format so the public can better understand what factors most affect increases;
  • take steps to complete its review of split assessments once the court verdict is received and “value in use as going concern” based on the court ruling;
  • provide clarification on applications for split assessments and “value in use as going concern;” and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that council direct staff to report back on the outcomes of the BCAA work, the implications of the BC Supreme court ruling  and any other steps that could be taken by the province to mitigate these increases, especially the impact of triple net leases on property tax payments for tenants.

BC’s faith communities can play big role in confronting housing crisis – on their own land

The New Jubilee: 126 units

The New Jubilee: 162 units

On one side of me at last night’s Regent Exchange forum on churches and the housing crisis was a Victoria Anglican cathedral parishioner deeply affected by that city’s growing tent city at the provincial court house across from his church.

On the other, a member of the More Than A Roof society that provides housing and outreach services in Vancouver’s Downtown South. And in the rest of the room, more than 250 people anxious to help fight the housing crisis.

There was lots of good news. Joan Seidl, of 127 Society for Housing, related how critical Anglican community support was to winning the battle to create the New Jubilee in partnership with the Brenhill project in Vancouver over objections from neighbours. What was an 87-unit worn-out building will be a new building with 162 units.

Tom Dickout, of Grandview Calvary Baptist, talked about his church’s goal of converting a parking lot to 26 housing units at 1st and Victoria. This Co-HERE project will offer a mix of housing and provide new homes for homeless people in the community. Fundraising is nearly complete.

Others on the way: a new Lutheran housing project at Oakridge, a Presbyterian social housing complex and new church on Thurlow near Robson — it all adds up to several hundred units, all built on church land.

The Vision council has approved three out of four of these projects — the Lutheran proposal is still in review. They show the potential. The city’s Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency has been created specifically to help projects like these get off the ground. It’s unique in the region.

It was the mobilization of church land in each of these projects that was the focus of the third presentation by Robert Brown of Catalyst Community Development. Once a faith community is clear on its mission, he said, it can make a great contribution to solving the housing crisis, he said, and strengthen both its spiritual and financial strength at the same time.

For its part, Brown added, the City of Vancouver has “shown great leadership and taken exactly the right approach.”

If “empty home” levy raised $100 million, 700 to 1,000 affordable units could be built


The Lux on Hastings, one of the 14 social housing projects built during the past ten years

If an “empty home” levy proposed earlier this week raised $90 million to $100 million a year, as the authors claim, the money could generate the construction of 700 – 1000 affordable housing units.

(I used the much smaller number of 116 in my comments to Jeff Lee Jan. 18, due to my own garbled math. But the calculation is a little complicated.)

According to Mukhtar Latif, Vancouver’s chief housing officer, $100 million could produce 700 to 1000 units, assuming the city contributed the land and depending on the degree of affordability. Since BC Housing no longer provides operating funding, all developments must be mixed income, so  “the average rent covers the management and maintenance costs.”

Assuming rents at housing income levels, $800-900 for studio and one bedrooms, $1200 for two-bedrooms and $1400 for three bedrooms, the city would require a $100,000 a unit capital grant for a mix‎ of family and single housing.

That could rise to $150,000 a unit for deeper affordability and even higher if the city was not contributing land. To enable the city to maintain a supply of suitable land in the Property Endowment Fund, the city may require a contribution for land, further reducing the number of units.

The economists proposing this levy assume quite high levels of vacant homes with owners who would pay the levy rather than rent or seek an exemption. I’m sceptical about that, and if I’m right, the fund would be much, much smaller.

Nonetheless, the proposal does highlight how quickly the province could make a significant difference in the supply of affordable housing if it makes a new investment.