Monday, August 29, 2016

Opinion: Increasing supply and improving building permit timelines keys to affordable housing Vancouver Courier August 18, 2016

Hardly a day has gone by over the past two weeks when I haven’t been asked about the province’s rashly imposed 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers. Will it have an impact? Why was the tax not made retroactive, or at least somehow phased in? Will it make housing more affordable?

The answer to the first question is quite obvious. It has most definitely had a short-term impact. Many sales were cancelled, or are likely to be cancelled as a result of the tax. Lawyers are being asked to assist purchasers who are trying to get out of agreements, or assess the consequences of walking away from deposits. Put simply, it’s a mess for those directly affected.

As to why the tax wasn’t somehow phased in, one would have to ask those in the Premier’s office or inner circle. However, I find it hard to disagree with those who say the Premier saw her polling numbers sinking and wanted to be seen to be doing something significant. I also suspect no one around the Premier fully comprehended the unintended consequences of the tax.

Will the tax make housing more affordable? It will make some properties more affordable in the short term, but I question the long-term impacts, since they will depend on a number of other factors, some of which are described below.

But before considering these matters, let’s not forget Mayor Gregor Robertson’s vacant housing tax. It too will likely be fraught with unintended consequences and one can only hope that his advisors will caution him to do a better job than the Premier in introducing any new tax legislation.
Last week, I posted a comment on Facebook suggesting that a year from now we will have both the foreign buyers tax and the vacant dwelling tax without a significant change in overall housing affordability. To truly improve the long-term outlook, we need to both increase housing supply and dramatically improve municipal approval procedures.

Currently, it takes much too long to get zoning, development and building permits in the City of Vancouver and most other Metro municipalities. Even if you don’t like developers and house builders, you should take a closer look at the legitimacy of their complaints when it comes to project approval delays at city hall.

This issue was recently addressed in a report by the Fraser Institute, which looked at housing affordability in Toronto and Vancouver. It concluded that rather than simply focus on constraining demand, we need to look at the “long and uncertain approval timelines for building permits, as well as onerous fees and local opposition to new homes… which contribute to the housing supply’s inability to keep up with demand.”

Now again, many of you would expect the Fraser Institute to side with developers and home builders. But the reality is, while they may have to wait for permits, they are not the only ones suffering. Indeed, as one of my colleagues recently told me over dinner, the delays at city hall have made him a lot of money since they have stifled competition and allowed him to sell condos for much higher prices than anticipated.

In Vancouver, we have the added problem of Community Amenity Contributions (CACs), which are payments made to the city whenever land is rezoned. Since there are so few undeveloped multi-family sites in the city, rezoning is usually required, with all the angst that goes along with a zoning change.

One problem with CACs is that they are generally not pre-determined and negotiated on a case-by-case basis at the end of the approval process. While many are happy to see developers paying large sums of money to the city, trust me, the developer isn’t paying. The consumer is paying.
After I wrote an article critical of the current system of financing growth, a well-respected Vancouver appraiser called me up. “Michael, I’m surprised that you are speaking out on this. You know, and I know, that if you hire the right appraiser, you can beat the system.”

Until we reduce the uncertainty and unnecessary complexities in our approval system that severely restrict supply, housing in Vancouver will remain extremely unaffordable. The 15 per cent tax is not the answer.

Monday, August 8, 2016

I didn't know she was Jewish! A look at Jewish music and musicians from around the world

A bit long, but some some favourite songs and a few surprises!

Follow up to Vancouver Courier column on Howe and Georgia plaza/rotunda

I am pleased to report that a number of media outlets have followed up on my column expressing concern about the proposed redevelopment of the plaza/rotunda at Howe and Georgia Streets. Over the weekend Global TV did a story and this morning Breakfast Television did a story featuring Ray Spaxman. While they kindly asked me to comment as well, I was golfing at the time! :-)

While I do not realistically expect my criticism to stop the three storey retail development given the zoning change in 2006, I do hope it will lead to some redesign of the project to better respond to its prominent corner location, with an improved open space, as set out in the zoning.

I also hope this incident will lead to the preparation of an overall open space plan for the city, including the identification of future plazas and open spaces. While it is not well known, Vancouver has a park/open space standard of 2.75 acres/1000 population. When I managed the redevelopment of the Bayshore property, we were required to create two new parks and donate $5 million to the city to make up for a park shortage resulting from the 1500 projected new residents This for a site next to Stanley Park!
This small public space at Seymour and Hastings will soon be gone.
However, in the subsequent years, thousands of additional people have been added to the downtown population outside of False Creek and Coal Harbour, with only two new parks: Emery Barnes park, and a small park on Beach Avenue created (to the best of my knowledge).

In addition to the new residential towers, we are also seeing a number of new office buildings filling up what were relatively open spaces, or low rise buildings. For these reasons, I think its time to take a broader look at creating a plan for the city, identifying existing open spaces, and identifying where new park and open spaces can be created in the future.

If you too would like to see the plans and possible retention of some open space through a redesign of the proposed development, write to the city contact: Kyle Pringle, Project Coordinator,, 604.873.7088

Here are details of the proposal

701 W Georgia Street - DP-2016-00107

Perkins + Will Architects Canada has applied to the City of Vancouver for permission to replace the existing rotunda at Pacific Centre Mall with a three-storey commercial building consisting of:
    • 31,603 sq. ft. of new retail space; and
    • peak height of 63.36 ft.
Under the site’s existing CD-1 (455) zoning, the application is “conditional” so it may be permitted; however, it requires the decision of the Director of Planning.
We welcome your written comments (letter or e-mail) on this development application. Comments should be received on, or before August 28, 2016, to be included in the staff review. However, comments will be considered up until the date of decision.


To assist you, a Glossary of key technical terms and a brief explanation of the application process is posted on our website at:

In reviewing this application, and before making a decision, the Director of Planning will also need to consider City by-law regulations, and Council-adopted policies and guidelines. Once a full application review is completed, a decision will be made. If you respond to this notification, we will keep you informed by re-notifying you as to the decision.

The submitted plans may be viewed at the Project Coordinator's office, Development and Building Services Centre, 1st Floor at 515 West 10th Avenue between 8:30a.m. and 4:30p.m., Monday through Friday. Copies of City by-law regulations, policies and guidelines are available at the City's website at or at either the Development and Building Services Centre (1st Floor, 515 West 10th Avenue) or the Central Public Library (350 West Georgia Street).
Please note that all comments and responses to this notification are subject to, and may be released, pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Act does, however, protect your privacy by prohibiting disclosure of personal information (such as names, addresses and other identifying information) where such a disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy.