Category Archives: 24. Policies On Housing

‘Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency’ Created By The City

Candidates Should Possess Superhuman Powers and Pixie-Dust

“The City approved the creation of a new Affordable Housing Agency last night, an arms-length organization based on best practices in other cities to enable the creation of new low and modest income housing in Vancouver.

The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) will also collect available data on issues such as vacant homes, and provide information on ways to limit investor speculation and unnecessary vacancies in Vancouver’s housing market.

“The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency will be a key tool in the City’s efforts to create new affordable housing that meets the needs of local residents,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “As well, by designating it as a research hub to monitor issues such as vacant homes and excessive investor speculation, the VAHA will contribute to an informed, fact-based discussion of Vancouver’s housing market.”

The VAHA will be comprised of a board appointed by City Council, which will include members of the community with expertise in real estate, non-profit housing, and tenant issues, among others. Its target is to create 2,500 new affordable homes by 2021, with 500 in the first three years, with a focus on affordable housing geared towards families.”

– from ‘Council approves new Affordable Housing Agency’, Mayor of Vancouver website, 10 Jul 2014

Above noted, for the record.
A “fact-based discussion of Vancouver’s housing market” sounds like a great idea.
That aside, it would be extraordinary for an Agency like this to make a real difference. It is very, very difficult to create genuinely affordable housing in the context of an extremely overvalued market.
This kind of initiative usually acts as a marker to remind us that people are concerned about the issue, rather than being a force for any substantial change.
– vreaa


“Fitch Ratings says Canada’s real estate market is as much as 20 per cent overpriced and cautions the government may need to take more measures to slow down borrowing on homes. Fitch is the second U.S. financial agency to sound the alarm on Canadian home prices in the past week, with the Morningstar research firm predicting a 30 per cent correction was possible over the next few years.

The latest warning comes as the Teranet–National Bank composite house price index for June showed prices rose 0.9 per cent from May and were up 4.4 per cent from last year. The year-to-year gain was the lowest in six months, but still more than twice the underlying level of inflation in Canada and above income growth. Prices were 8.1 per cent higher Calgary compared with a year ago, while Hamilton saw increases of 7.3 per cent and Toronto and Vancouver climbed 6.1 per cent. …

Whether Canada’s home prices are due for a big fall has been a hotly debated topic in Canada for several years, but as yet predictions of a housing bubble about to burst have not materialized.”

– from The Vancouver Sun, 14 July 2014

Policies On Housing #7 – Non-Responders; Delinquents; Hall Of Shame

We recently e-mailed candidates and parties standing for election or re-election in the upcoming Vancouver Civic Elections with an invitation to publicize their position on the most crucial issue facing the city: Housing.
We received responses from Joe Carangi, Sandy Garossino, Tim Louis and Ellen Woodsworth. Thanks, you four.
See here for links to their positions and related discussion.

Here’s the list of candidates from whom we have yet to hear:

BALL, Elizabeth (NPA)
BENSON, Nicole (NSV)
CARR, Adriane (Green)
DEAL, Heather (Vision Vancouver)
JANG, Kerry (Vision Vancouver)
LOUIE, Raymond P. (Vision Vancouver)
MEGGS, Geoff (Vision Vancouver)
MURPHY, Elizabeth (NSV)
REIMER, Andrea (Vision Vancouver)
STEVENSON, Tim (Vision Vancouver)
TANG, Tony (Vision Vancouver)
WONG, Francis (NPA)
YUEN, Bill (NPA)

Vision Vancouver
NSV (Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver)

[See ‘Policies On Housing’ – The Positions Of Local Entities On The Challenges Facing Vancouver Housing‘ for an introduction/rationale for this series.]

Policies On Housing #6 – “Mayoral candidates Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton each said they would not put limits on foreign investment, which many observers believe is behind skyrocketing real estate prices in Vancouver.”

“At a public debate last week, both Robertson and NPA leader Suzanne Anton said neither would put limits on foreign investment, which many observers believe is behind skyrocketing real estate prices in Vancouver.”
– from Stephanie Ip, 24hours, 13 Nov 2011

[This post is not to be seen as a VREAA endorsement of any of the above positions. See ‘Policies On Housing’ – The Positions Of Local Entities On The Challenges Facing Vancouver Housing‘ for an introduction/rationale for this series.]

Policies On Housing #5 – Ellen Woodsworth, Cope City Council Candidate

1. What do you see as the main housing challenges facing Vancouver?
Homelessness and affordable housing is a chronic problem in our city. Many residents who wish to start a family and live in Vancouver are forced to move out of our city to find affordable housing. COPE is committed to creating a Vancouver where seniors, immigrants, youth and families are able to choose the communities they want to live in, build a family in and grow old in.

2. What measures do you propose to address those challenges?
Vancouver has been critically unaffordable for far too long. The lack of affordability is threatening families, seniors, immigrants and our local economy. COPE is committed to the following measure to address this issue:
• We will launch an “Affordability Crisis Commission” to determine the extent of the new crisis and recommend positive solutions to keep families, seniors, students, new immigrants and small businesses in our city.
• COPE will protect affordable housing by closing by-laws loopholes that allow affordable units to be replaced with high-end condo rentals
• COPE will set a target of creating 1000 affordable rental units in Vancouver every year. Real affordable housing, not high-end rental condos.
• Rent banks
• As a city councilor Ellen has voted to the 10 housing plan

3. What is your policy on housing densification?

New housing in Vancouver should be about the type of housing that is created and NOT the volume of housing or the number of units that are being constructed. However, it is important to built a wide range of housing to meet the range of housing needs in our city. Affordable housing should be the number one priority of housing densification projects in Vancouver because affordable housing will create a Vancouver where everyone can afford to live where they choose. As a Vancouver City Councillor, I supported the 10-year City of Vancouver Housing Plan.

4. Would you support policies that would lead to a drop in real estate values?
We live in a great city and a very desirable city. Seniors, immigrants, youth and families move to Vancouver because of the many opportunities that are available here. Directly building and maintaining a supply of affordable housing separate from market developments is going to promote affordability all over Vancouver and make our communities more inclusive. Housing will target specific groups like students, artists, families and seniors.

5. What is your own family’s housing situation?

We rented a row house for 32 years. It was recently sold and we are now looking for housing.

[This post is not to be seen as a VREAA endorsement of any of the above positions. See ‘Policies On Housing’ – The Positions Of Local Entities On The Challenges Facing Vancouver Housing‘ for an introduction/rationale for this series.]

Policies On Housing #3b – Sandy Garossino, Independent Candidate for City Council

[We have previously featured Sandy Garossino’s interview with The Mainlander as part 3a of this series. Here follows her specific response to our questions. -ed.]

Thanks for getting in contact. Here follow Sandy’s responses to your questions regarding her position on housing policy.
This is an important issue for Sandy and we appreciate being able to share her thoughts with your readers.
Sandy and team

1. What do you see as the main housing challenges facing Vancouver?
Battling homelessness is a constant challenge. My worry is that a housing crisis has now spread into what is termed in Hong Kong as the Sandwich Class—those with incomes above subsistence levels but below the wealth required to buy medium level property. Excessive buying of residential property for investment, rather than shelter purposes has driven housing prices to stratospheric levels relative to local median incomes. A housing crisis for the middle class stresses the entire system including our ability to house the homeless.
The larger context is the challenge that faces all global investors. Apart from labouring for wages, the way to make money is to build or invest in a business, buy stocks and bonds, or speculate on assets like real estate or gold.
In the current climate of global uncertainty, almost nothing in the world is matching Vancouver real estate for return on investment, security, and long term value. My concern is that our real estate market has morphed into a stock market, and human beings who need affordable homes are being forced out of competition.
Vancouver’s future rests on a healthy knowledge economy as well as small and medium sized businesses that will provide long-term employment. Both these sectors need young people and immigrants with good prospects and disposable incomes. Because housing prices have now detached from the local economy, we cannot offer a promising future to the very people we need to build it.

2. What measures do you propose to address those challenges?
The most important thing is to recognize that we have a problem and we must commit to solving it. We have to gather critical data, including clear information on the extent of non-resident purchasing of investment properties. We can then have an informed discussion about solutions such as incentivizing capital toward rental properties or investment in local businesses, taxing unoccupied properties at the business rate, or considering innovative zoning options. This is a sensitive issue and we need a made in Vancouver solution. Lets bring experts together to generate savvy solves that turns this into an opportunity for Vancouverites.

3. What is your policy on housing densification?
My mind is not made up on density. We must take care to add density of residences for human beings as opposed to density of investment units. A second priority is that density should be absorbed by the City on terms that meet neighbourhood objectives.
Adding density in an attempt to moderate housing prices is unlikely to work. We have to look at the demand side. That said, there are many positive benefits of the right kind of density and I am open to those.

4. Would you support policies that would lead to a drop in real estate values?
This is a time for great care in policy development.
We may well be in a real estate bubble and a sharp drop in values for other reasons is not out of the question, regardless of government policies. However, government’s role should be to modulate severe market swings and not precipitate them. Shocking the market has potential to wreak havoc on households, especially those who may be over-leveraged or recent buyers.
I think we can be more surgical in our responses. Finding solutions that look at targeting specific real estate practices can help solve some of these problems while also encouraging investment in other asset classes.

5. What is your own family’s housing situation?
I have been a homeowner for 24 years. My first house was purchased in 1987 in Point Grey for $125,000, with parents and in-laws supplementing our down payment. The opportunities that created such security for our generation have vanished and it is vital that we stand up now for young people and families.
As a homeowner, I understand the concerns of Vancouverites about possible drops in real estate values and the risks associated with broad, generic approaches to housing policies. We need to find specific, pragmatic solutions tailored to the Vancouver market.

[This post is not to be seen as a VREAA endorsement of any of the above positions. See ‘Policies On Housing’ – The Positions Of Local Entities On The Challenges Facing Vancouver Housing’ for an introduction/rationale for this series.]

Policies On Housing #4 – Tim Louis, COPE City Council Candidate

My answers to your questions are below. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

1. What do you see as the main housing challenges facing Vancouver?
Affordability. The average person is no longer able to afford the purchase of an apartment or a house. Even worse is the situation for people who are homeless.

2. What measures do you propose to address those challenges?

If elected I will propose the creation of a blue-ribbon committee to determine whether or not Vancouver taxpayers are getting good value for money from Vancouver City Council’s property endowment fund. This fund is worth over 1 billion dollars. I believe that the City of Vancouver could be using it to build social housing at no cost to the taxpayer.

3. What is your policy on housing densification?
As my mentor the late Councillor Harry Rankin said, “If it was not for development we would all be living in caves.” For me the question is not for or against development, but development for who — development for the benefit of the developer, or development for the benefit of the people who will live in it and for the benefit of the neighbourhood around it. I would like to see City Council empower neighbourhood councils to make all rezoning decisions that are above a certain size. I am not opposed to higher densification per se. It is the negatives that come with higher densification that I am concerned about, in particular, traffic congestion. We need to look at ways to allow developers to build car-free accommodation.

4. Would you support policies that would lead to a drop in real estate values?

People who already own homes would be unfairly hurt by a policy that would lead to a drop in real-estate values. If the current homeowner has taken out a mortgage for say 90% of the worth of their home, and values then drop by 10%, the homeowner has lost 100% of her or his equity. I am strongly supportive of policies that would bring new housing to market at below market cost.

5. What is your own family’s housing situation?
I am very fortunate. My partner Penny and I purchased our home in 1988. It came with some wonderful tenants for whom we have not raised the rent once since 1988.

[This post is not to be seen as a VREAA endorsement of any of the above positions. See ‘Policies On Housing’ – The Positions Of Local Entities On The Challenges Facing Vancouver Housing’ for an introduction/rationale for this series.]

Policies On Housing #3 – Sandy Garossino, Independent Candidate for City Council

[Sandy Garossino had been invited by e-mail to be heard as part of this series. Her office indicated she would respond to our questions. While we await that response, here are excerpts from an interview she did with Andrew Wit and Sean Antrim in The Mainlander, 5 Nov 2011. The whole interview is a ‘must-read’ for those interested in the issues. Thanks to readers who alerted us to this interview. -ed.]

Andrew Witt: … I think that everyone recognizes that there is an affordability crisis in the city. In 2008, Vision Vancouver was elected on a platform that would address housing, homelessness and the affordability crisis, but we all know they have done little to tackle the problem. How will you address this issue, and what distinguishes your platform from that of Vision Vancouver?

Sandy Garossino: Almost everyone that I have heard discuss this sees the affordability issue. I’m talking here about broadening this beyond homelessness and subsidized housing, but also market housing for the average working person. Almost everyone who talks about this, talks about it in the simple supply and demand equation, and their point is to increase supply. Because I deal with Asia, I understand capital markets in Asia, and I have dealings there, this seems to me to completely miss the true nature of the issue and the challenge that we confront. Just to give you a little bit of a background, our median income levels in Metro Vancouver place 20 out of 28 urban regions in Canada. Our median income levels for 2010 were below Sudbury, Windsor and St. John’s Newfoundland. We have the highest real estate prices in Canada, relative to median income. We have almost the highest real estate in the world. Relative to median income, we are 56% higher than New York City and 31% higher than London, so there’s clearly a serious distortion in the market. One of the first challenges we have is we don’t have the data. We don’t have information that can pin-point exactly what is going on and the extent to which capital is entering, and the extent to which that capital is non-resident, and how much that is affecting the market. We need to know a lot more than we do. But based on anecdotal information, which is turning out to be corroborated in news reports, it looks like global capital is having a massive impact.
I don’t know if you saw the CBC report, where on Cambie Street bungalows were sold for an average of $3.4 million to a mainland Chinese buyer. So, this is a non-residential purchase, we know there is a flight of global capital. What most people, even many people in land development and even many people in government are not perhaps cognizant of, is the extent to which rules in other parts of the world are creating a funnel effect that is driving global capital here. The challenge is not that there’s inflow of global capital because in some ways it could be quite beneficial and benign, the problem is that it is pooling in a single asset class, residential real-estate, where there is a compelling public interest. We’ve got median income levels at Sudbury levels, and we’ve got average real estate prices that are twice the average of Canadian real-estate prices. When people are feeling that they are choking, it is because they are. It is not only choking individuals, it is choking small businesses, because there is no disposable income. Businesses can’t recruit people, they can’t recruit talent, and universities can’t recruit talent. It is corroding the entire local economy, which is primarily a small medium enterprise economy. So what to do?

Sean Antrim: Bob Rennie, when he was recently speaking to the UDI, argued that it is not money coming from around the world. He looked at all of the property taxes were going out, and found that only single digit percentages of them were going to mainland China, or even just out of the country.

Sandy Garossino: I was quite struck by that analysis, because if you or I own property in a foreign country, you would have a property manager in that local environment, and that property manager would take care of all of those things. It is completely irrelevant where property taxes were mailed to. We need better evidence. Anybody who lives on the West Side, as I do, knows how false that is. There are people in my community who describe that they are the only occupied house on their block. There are houses sitting empty. We have a situation where in the marketplace, we have excess housing. We’ve got residences, thousands of them, both single-family homes and condominiums sitting empty. Well, we’ve got a rental crisis. We need to start looking at the levers. And what can be done? I don’t have the answers because this is a really complex question, but obviously we don’t want to shock the market, because that would take a bad situation and make it infinitely worse. So my approach is to ask what are the surgical tools you could start to use. So on rezonings, if we are going to be doing spot-rezonings which at least in the short-term foreseeable future we will continue to do, those rezonings should perhaps be made conditional on all the units being occupied, regardless of who the owner is. Because off-shore owners frequently do rent out their property, and often when they do they rent it below market value, that can be useful. There’s no reason in the world that we should be rezoning properties to build towers that are not going to be fully occupied. Everything should be fully occupied.
Secondly we should be looking at some of the solutions that other countries and cities have looked at like Singapore, which creates zones. Some zones are totally open for the international market, and some zones you can’t buy in unless you are a resident.

Sandy Garossino: ” … let’s look at the low-hanging fruit. Empty condominiums, and empty residents are investment properties, they should be taxed. If it is the case that business subsidizes residential housing, it should be subsidizing residential housing, not investment units. Investments should be taxed at the business rate. I would be looking for those kinds of mechanisms. We should be looking much more closely at the nature of capital that is coming in. It can be perceived as a threat because it is operating in a negative way, that has pooled so much. It is also an opportunity – one of the real interesting features of this capital is that, generally speaking, I think it is individuals, and they also have a tolerance for lower rate of return on income, lower return on investment, than the local developers. One of the challenges of STIR is that local developers actually want a decent return, or a lot of return, on their investment. That is really difficult when you have really high bank costs, but actually the non-resident investors are prepared to live with empty-units. Return on investment is not their primary objective, they are looking for something else. We should be looking to channel that investment into rental housing, channel it into financing some of these more innovative situations.”

Sean Antrim: “Bob Rennie has talked about “social housing condos” as people buy them as investments, I’m not sure if that is what you are talking about?”

Sandy Garossino: “I am thinking in concept. I think we actually need all of the players at the table, we need developers, they do understand planning costs, and we need everybody at the table, rolling-up their sleeves and really saying “OK, we are going to crack the code on this,” and we’re going to find solutions that are not going to destroy the equity that recent young buyers, the last thing they want is anybody who is actually able to shoehorn themselves into a property and for them to lose their house because we have a crash. We can’t have that.”

Andrew Witt: “You have served on a number of different art-institutions Boards. In Vancouver there are a lot of art spaces that are under erasure, especially under the threat of real estate speculation.What is your strategy to fund these projects as well as maintain Vancouver’s dynamic artist-run culture so that it is not displaced entirely.”

Sandy Garossino: “I see this in the broader context, in cultural context. The real cause of the problem, is that real-estate prices are off the charts. Being able to fund small boxes and little spots here and there is not how you instill energy and dynamism in a cultural community. My daughter is an artist living and working in Montreal. She is in the music scene, she is rising. Things are happening there. Why? It is not because of her space, it is because she is around other exciting artists and musicians. They have a a whole scene there. It is not a typical postal-stamp place that is affordable. It is about having an environment which is artist-friendly, where it is possible to be an artist where other artists want to be.”

Sean Antrim: “Why should people vote for Sandy Garossino on November 19th?”

Sandy Garossino: “Because we do need to get new voices in and, in particular, if you look at the development issue, there’s just a huge amount of money being poured into the parties and we need to have much more wide-open ability for interesting people to come forward. The other reason is that I will attack this affordability issue, and I’m going to get right to the heart of it, and not tinker around the edges and say there, we’re done. We’re not done until people can afford to live in this city.”

[This post is not to be seen as a VREAA endorsement of any of the above positions. See ‘Policies On Housing’ – The Positions Of Local Entities On The Challenges Facing Vancouver Housing‘ for an introduction/rationale for this series.]