Vancouver City Councillor

Vancouver closing in on walking, cycling, transit goals five years early, but cloud hangs over transit’s future

Vancouver is on track to achieve its Greenest City goal of having 50 percent of all trips in the city by walking, cycling or transit five years ahead of schedule, according to a report to council today, but it will be a “big challenge to get more people on the transit system at this time,” says transportation engineer Lon LaClaire.

LaClaire was presenting impressive new numberson the dramatic changes in the city’s transportation patterns, including an 11 percent jump in cycling trips in the last year. This has been achieved without reducing the absolute numbers of car trips.

But LaClaire warned that additional progress will require more investment in transit because of the current crowding on Translink buses and trains. People make the shift to transit because they enjoy the experience, he told Mayor Gregor Robertson, and can switch back to cars because of a single negative trip.

So the possibility of a “no” vote in the transit referendum is casting a shadow over further progress.

May 12, 2015 Bookmark and Share

Vancouver, Burnaby look like a bargain compared to Delta or Langley when housing, transportation costs combined

A ground-breaking new study that combines housing costs with transportation and transit costs has found that apparently expensive municipalities like Vancouver and Burnaby can actually be cheaper for lower income families than Delta, Langley or the North Shore.

The Metro Vancouver Housing and Transportation Cost Burden Study, coming to the Metro Board May 15, highlights the staggering burden imposed on middle and low income households by the combination of high housing costs and high transportation costs.

The result is that most families earning up to $75,000 spend as much as 40 percent of their income on transportation and housing if they hold a mortgage, and as much 49 percent if they are renters. That number covers seven out of 10 renters in the region.

Low income renters earning less than $50,000 can spend a crushing 67 percent of their income on housing and transportation.

Those costs are much easier, however, for those close to transit.

The best way to help these families, the study concluded, is to increase the Frequent Transit Network and locate affordable housing close to that network so transportation costs come down along with easier housing options. But the FTN will shrink, not grow, if the current transportation and transit referendum fails. [Read more →]

May 8, 2015 Bookmark and Share

In UK, Australia, national and state governments — not cities — tackling “empty homes,” foreign ownership

Vancouver is not the only city in the midst of hot debates about the twin pressures of “empty homes” and foreign ownership, but in other jurisdictions it is state and national governments — not local municipalities — where the policy response takes shape.

In Victoria, Australia, a new combination of state and national action against foreign investors has been called a “king hit” to the real estate industry. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is cracking down on illegal foreign purchases of land as the state government throws in a crackdown on absentee ownership and an extra property tax on foreign owners. That’s Victoria, the state government, not Melbourne, the city government.

In the United Kingdom, concern about “empty homes” has produced a national policy response, some of which has given extra powers to local authorities to bring empty homes back into the market place. More could be done, argue experts, but the power lies with the national government.

It’s time for the debate in BC to shift to those who could actually make a difference . . . like Housing Minister Rich Coleman, for instance. While Vancouver is working hard to uncover the facts about empty homes, it’s hard to believe the solutions can be found in the Vancouver Charter.

May 2, 2015 Bookmark and Share

When is an “empty” house really empty? City is learning that deciding that fact is harder than it appears

No one likes the idea that Vancouver’s red-hot housing market is being stoked by offshore investors with dirty money who purchase houses, leave them empty and then flip them, or worse, in some people’s eyes, tear them down, build something bigger and flip that.

But what’s really “empty” and what’s not? Deciding that fact is harder than it sounds, as city chief housing officer Mukhtar Latif advised council last week, listing ten legitimate reasons a home could appear empty, from redevelopment to probate or owners’ illness. (He did not include speculative flipping by offshore money launderers.)

The city is about two weeks away from retaining an outside consultant to deepen its analysis of this tricky issue.

I learned I didn’t know what “empty” is last December, when I walked one Point Grey block with a resident who sees too many homes in her neighbourhood sitting dark and apparently uninhabited.  [Read more →]

April 26, 2015 Bookmark and Share