Vancouver City Councillor

Category — Housing

Housing agency will gather facts on housing stock, also clarify what can be done

It’s welcome news that Vancouver council has ensured the city’s new housing agency try to fill in the information gaps about the housing crisis, says Vancouver Sun columnist Doug Todd, who has rung alarm bells about vacant homes and the impact of offshore investment.

What’s equally important, in my opinion, is clarifying what can be done and which level of government can do it.

In Canada, as far as I can tell, only the federal and provincial governments have the ability to regulate offshore ownership of land, and only a few — like Saskatchewan, where local control of farm land is a priority — have done so.

If foreign investment is the problem many believe it is, what can be done about it? Is the city the right level of government?

Even more critical, in my view, is research on the state of affordable housing stock, including co-ops, non-profits and low-cost rental housing in older neighbourhoods. Protecting that stock — or ensuring it is renewed and expanded — may prove more important in coming years than trying to manage the impact of investment patterns in the global economy.

July 15, 2014

US cities try to untangle Air BnB issue from housing affordability problem

Recent reports that short-term online rentals may be driving down vacancy rates have triggered a wave of inquiries about Vancouver’s intentions: will the city regulate vacation rentals?

My answer: I’m not aware of any initiative in Vancouver for additional regulation of short-term rentals, nor any complaints from rental advocates pointing to evictions or displacement because of them. (Many landlords would consider vacation rentals by tenants as an illegal sublet.)

Nor is it clear that the obvious activity on the vacation rental front is a major contributor to low vacancy rates or higher rents.

But the city did act during the Olympics to require business licences of residents seeking to profit from the Games by renting a room. It was a common sense tool to ensure public safety, an element of consumer protection and some certainty for renters.

(And I’m sure the hospitality sector would like some assurance that vacation stay operators have to meet some of the minimum standards any hotel or bed and breakfast must achieve before they open their doors.)

Recently Portland decided to permit short-term rentals in single family homes, but stopped short of permitting the business in multi-family buildings. (There are good reasons for this and many strata councils, including my own, prohibit the practice in their bylaws.)

San Francisco is wrestling with the issue too, and a recent analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle has concluded, as did a similar review here, that short-term rentals may be taking a bite out of the housing that would normally be available for regular tenants.

Once again, as in so many housing debates, we don’t have much raw data. That’s why I’ll be making sure that Vancouver’s new housing agency, which is on the council agenda next week, has the mandate to collect data and issue reports on a host of housing issues, from ownership through to vacancies and hard numbers on accessible housing.

July 4, 2014

Vancouver vacancy rate tightening up, according to latest CMHC report

More proof that Vancouver needs a rental housing program like Rental 100 — if more proof is needed — can be found in the latest CMHC rental housing report, which shows Vancouver’s vacancy rate declining to 1.8 percent from 2.9 percent last year. (A five percent rate is considered ideal.)

Toronto’s rate is about the same, but that’s a marginal improvement from last year. Rents in both cities are about the same. Montreal is a much better picture, however: a vacancy rate of 2.7 percent and rents about 40 percent below Vancouver and Toronto.

June 11, 2014

Do community amenity contributions drive up housing costs? Vancouver’s former housing director says no

In her recent, provocative assessment of Vancouver’s homelessness and housing affordability crisis, Penny Gurstein, director of UBC’s Community and Regional Planning School, hits some hot button issues — like the persistence of vacant condos in new buildings — and proposes some solutions already in the city’s policy book.

The Housing First program has been strongly supported by Vancouver, the city is working on a community land trust and Mayor Gregor Robertson has been pushing hard to win more support for housing from senior governments.

But Gurstein’s suggestion that community amenity contributions, the extra payments made by developers when seeking additional density, may drive up housing costs, doesn’t wash with Cameron Gray, who directed the city’s housing program for many years.

Gray believes CACs do not drive up prices — the market sets the price — but can contribute to housing solutions.

Here’s his reply from a letter he sent to council on Monday, reprinted with his permission: [Read more →]

May 6, 2014