Thursday, 9 October 2014


Housing affordability is becoming the major campaign issue in the local election. In an article yesterday on the topic, the Georgia Straight summarized the various party platforms on affordability.  The GREEN'S platform can be found at It competently deals with matters that are within Vancouver’s powers. Whether or not they would be effective can be discussed at future all candidates meeting. 

COPE 's platform is available at

The Party would declare a state of emergency, impose strict rent controls and create a squatters' rights bylaw. 

One way  or another it would increase construction of rental units. These policies and others will quite possibly work to reduce the rate of investment and therefore prices. Investors may take one look, and head for Seattle.

The folks who carefully cultivated the garden of unaffordability  in the first place, VISION, have  produced their Affordability Agenda. It does  everything to make demolishing existing low cost housing stock even more attractive. To understand  VISION's cynical approach one has to look at their bylaw. 

It offers very significant gifts to Developers in terms of extra density and fee waivers to produce units that they call "affordable" but which are anything but. These units are  market rate rental units. Bylaw 10833 and Bylaw 10834 amending By-law no. 9755: A By-law to impose development cost levies in the general area of the city

3.1A Notwithstanding section 3.1, Council waives the levy otherwise required under section 3.2 for construction of for-profit affordable rental housing, which shall mean housing where:

(a) all dwelling units in the building are rental units;

(b) no dwelling units are strata units;

(c) the average size of the dwelling units is not greater than:

(i) 42 square meters for studio units,

(ii) 56 square meters for one bedroom units, or

(iii) 77 square meters for two bedroom units,

except that the floor area used for stairways within two bedroom townhouse units of two or more storeys is excluded from the calculation of maximum unit size;

(d) agreed upon average rents per unit type for initial occupancy do not exceed the following specified rents:

(i) $1,443 per month for studio units,

(ii) $1,517 per month for one bedroom units, or

(iii) $2,061 per month for two bedroom units,

except that such rents shall be adjusted annually on January 1 to reflect the change in average rent for all residential units built since the year 2000 in the City as set out by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in the Rental Market Report published in the previous calendar year;

To be clear, VISION's  "affordable" housing is 

  1. at very high market rents
  2. subject to annual rent increases
  3. extremely small
  4. subsidized by the taxpayers.

                               Future affordable housing
                                 Versailles, France

VISION's  justification is voodoo, trickle down theory: As the new housing ages it will become cheap and run down, and then become affordable and converted to low cost housing  just as has not yet happened to Marie Antoinette's Palace at Versailles 

The distrust of VISION was palpable at an all candidates meeting at Killarney Community Centre on October 8. All others were given warm receptions. The other parties must have felt that with enemies like that who needs friends.  

The NPA and the other parties are now  in a position to show how the bylaw can be used to produce affordable housing. I would say now is the time to do it.

Vancouver is not the only city trying to deal with the loss of community caused by allowing housing to be turned into investment instruments. It does seem to be the only City, however, that has attempted to solve the problem by Orwellian Newspeak. It has redefined the word unaffordable to mean "affordable."

In Vancouver, developers and their drum majors, the Mayor and Council, join in an orgy of development in one of many Cities in the world  swamped by cash from investors seeking a safe port in a storm.

The CBC has done a good review of how other cities and countries have tried to deal with this isue.

Foreign investors in London’s toney areas have bought up houses and kept them empty. It reached the point where a city Councilor said,

Housing costs and availability are consistently one of the biggest concerns for our residents and we believe we have reached a crisis point in private rental sector housing in the borough.”

Owners of empty properties were being charged 50 per cent extra. The number of long term empty houses quickly fell. See

An article appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review in June 2009 by Patrick Chovanec, China’s Real Estate Riddle explaining cultural attitudes towards investment. Chovanec, then a professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing, China said this:

“In China, real estate—occupied or not—offers them a visibly reassuring place to park their money, sheltered from inflation. *** with little or no holding costs, Chinese owners are unconstrained by the need to make the property “pay” in cash or in kind. For them, an empty condo is a store of value, much like gold, another asset that performs no practical function besides retaining its worth….. Apartments in China aren’t for living in, they’re for investing. That is the real source of demand.
Vancouver voters are split almost evenly between renters and owners. In our at large system therefore, any party must meticulously calculate what does what to whom. Rent controls, for example, create long term shortages in rental properties but may be irresistable to tenants at election time.

Nothing is as nervous as a million dollars. Restrictions on foreign investment and efforts to tax vacant properties will likely cause a rapid drop in the values of some properties as investors head to countries that have not imposed those measures. 

Density incentives that result in towers or laneway homes in neighborhoods of detached homes can gain votes from those homeowners who want to build them but anger neighbours whose views are blocked.

Hopefully the NPA will produce a thoughful affordability platform in the next couple of days.So far the parties have been offering  freebys to their constituents. The GREENS will provide protection from reno-victions. COPE  will implement rent control. VISION will give developers everything they want including free swimming lessons. 

There is always free cheese in a mousetrap.

No comments:

Post a Comment