Monday, November 30, 2009

Social Housing at Olympic Village: a third option

On Friday November 27, the Vancouver Courier had a story headlined "City Hall to soon decide about Olympic Village social housing". While I was called by the reporter, the highly respected Cheryl Rossi, my comments and suggestions didn't make it into the story that mentioned three possible scenarios, none of which I agree with. They were:
  • selling the units as market housing;
  • keeping the units as social housing, as intended; and
  • selling the units as market rental housing.
I believe there is a much better solution, based on the affordable housing model created for the Verdant project at UniverCity, about which I have written before. I briefly describe it in the following Letter to the Editor, that I have sent off and am printing below:

I enjoyed reading Cheryl Rossi's column and would like to offer a few observations. I agree with Councillor Woodsworth that it would be 'highly inequitable' for the Olympic Village development to be just for the wealthy. However, it is not necessary to keep all 252 units as traditional 'social housing' in order to ensure a broader social mix. The city could achieve this by offering some or all of these units for sale as affordable ownership housing at prices that would cover its development costs. Priority could be given to firefighters, police officers, Vancouver school teachers and others who would like to live close to where they work. To avoid competition with Millennium's market units, these units could be sold as leasehold, rather than freehold. The city could also impose conditions to ensure the units remain affordable over time. It could also require a 'right of first refusal' whenever the units come back on the market so that they could be bought back and used as future social housing, once the city's financial situation at Southeast False Creek improves. While I would not normally advocate this position, the reality is that depending on how much Millennium can pay for the land from the sale of the market units, the city could still be facing a loss of tens of millions of dollars, or more, on the first phase of SEFC. For this reason, the responsible position is to cut our losses, knowing that new social housing can be built on adjacent sites and many of these units could revert to social housing in the future.

While there are many current civic issues about which I feel quite strongly, this is one subject about which I feel quite passionately. I hate the thought of the Property Endowment Fund losing tens of millions of dollars, because of decisions made in the past, and I therefore hope others will begin to appreciate that there are more than two options for the future of the social housing units at Olympic Village. This option could achieve a social mix, and potentially save the city millions of dollars.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lexicon of housing and real estate

The following story appeared in today's Vancouver Sun. Thank you to Westcoast Homes section head Mike Sasges and editor Barbara Gunn for its placement and thoughtful editing.

An introductory lesson that distinguishes old, new and misused residential tenures and types.

Michael Geller, Special to the Sun: Published November 28, 2009


The past, present and future of public housing is evident at the Little Mountain housing project, one of about 85 projects built around B.C. since the Second World War and in need of renovation or regeneration, says Michael Geller.


The past, present and future of Public Housing is evident at the Little Mountain Public Housing Project, one of about 85 built by CMHC since World War II. Photo by Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun.

Many years ago, while planning the transformation of BC Packers' waterfront lands in Steveston, I made the mistake of trying to explain "land residuals" to BC Packers executives. I will always remember president J. Bruce Buchanan taking me aside and explaining that in his company, residuals had a very different meaning. Anyone who has ever visited a fish packing plant will know what he meant.

Today, I often hear people improperly using terminology related to housing and real estate, sometimes with unfortunate results.

Recently, I attended a panel discussion at the Dunbar Residents Association's annual general meeting. I was impressed with the high quality of panelists and the general discussion, but at one point an audience member expressed disapproval of a nearby housing proposal because the developer had promised seniors' housing, and the project was really condominiums.

She did not seem to appreciate that seniors' housing could mean one of many things, and that a condominium is simply a form of tenure.

At another event, a respected housing analyst talked about the market demand for townhouses and condominiums. Again, a townhouse is a form of development, whereas a condominium is, yes, a form of tenure.

In both cases, I knew what the speakers were trying to say. To the Dunbar resident, seniors' housing meant rental housing, or perhaps a care facility. In the housing analyst's mind, condominiums were apartments. But as we all know, not all condominiums are apartments.

It will be increasingly important to understand housing terminology in the future, since developers will be offering more options, such as single-family condominium developments and "fee-simple" townhouses. (The latter was pioneered in Vancouver by former city councillor Art Cowie, who sadly passed away recently.)

We can also expect more co-housing, which offers different forms of housing with a higher provision of shared amenities, and alternative tenure options, such as life-lease and shared-equity.

With increased public discussion on whether the housing at the Olympic Village should be social housing or market housing, or whether a seniors' project can be a condominium, I thought it might be helpful to review other types of housing terminology from yesterday and today.

Last month, I was invited to teach a class at SFU on the history of government-assisted housing. I spoke about the significant number of programs over the past 60 years, many with now-forgotten acronyms.

Government-subsidized housing in Canada was initiated after the Second World War by the then-Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC. Veterans' housing and public housing assisted those who could not afford to buy or rent on the open market. Veterans' projects were built along Fourth Avenue and Broadway in Kitsilano, and in New Westminster.

Some of Vancouver's early public housing projects included Little Mountain, Skeena Terrace, Raymur Place and Orchard Park. Today, there are about 85 public-housing projects around B.C. built by CMHC and now managed by B.C. Housing. Most are in need of renovation or regeneration. However, if the controversial redevelopment of the Little Mountain social housing complex by the province and the city is any indication, this will have to be managed with much more thought and care.

In the 1970s, the federal government transferred responsibility for the delivery and management of public housing to other levels of government and specially formed non-profit groups and charitable organizations. New National Housing Act rental social housing projects were built by organizations such as the Lions Club, Kiwanis, the Society for Christian Care of the Elderly and numerous ethnic-based societies.

Organizations such as Columbia Housing took advantage of the new National Housing Act's non-profit co-operative housing program and oversaw the creation of dozens of projects. Unlike New York's Park Avenue co-ops, and earlier Vancouver co-ops, however, the residents of these new projects have not enjoyed equity appreciation. But they have enjoyed security of tenure and a communal co-operative lifestyle.

One of my favourite 1970s programs was the Assisted Home Ownership Program -- or AHOP -- that provided incentives to developers building a home that sold for $47,000 or less. Some purchasers of single-family homes had to hang their own closet doors, since they did not come with the units. But their homes are worth considerably more today.

Recently, the City of Vancouver announced the Short Term Incentive Rental program, or STIR, to encourage construction of market rental units. While this is a first for Vancouver, there have been numerous federal rental programs: Limited Dividend, Assisted Rental Program, Canada Rental Supply Program, and the Multi-unit Residential Program. How can we forget MURBs?

When it comes to seniors' housing, there has been private and non-profit independent living, personal care, intermediate care, extended care, congregate housing, assisted living, and most recently, supportive housing. While nearly all has been rental, some condominium ownership projects have been built in North America as both independent living and care facilities.

Another seniors' tenure option is life lease. One excellent example in Vancouver is the Performing Arts Lodge at Bayshore Gardens near Coal Harbour, which allows seniors to purchase an apartment at a reduced price on the understanding that when they move out, their initial payment will be returned, but without any increase.

A once-popular U.S. life-lease program offered seniors the right to purchase at a reduced price, based on their age, and remain until their death on the understanding that their estate would receive nothing back. This worked for many years until residents started to live longer in their attractive and supportive environments and "beat the annuity tables."

Today an increasing number of American projects offer an innovative new tenure option for seniors. It is called rental!

Michael Geller is an architect, planner, developer and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University. From 1972 to 1981, he worked for the CMHC, overseeing the development of thousands of government-assisted housing units across Canada. He can be reached at geller@sfu.ca

What is a Fee-Simple Rowhouse?

As a result of the recent passing of Art Cowie, and many references to his efforts to promote 'fee-simple rowhousing' a number of people have asked me to define this term. The following is a brief explanation, along with a story I found on-line about a project in Chicago.

Fee simple is a legal phrase that indicates the highest form of property ownership. 'Fee' comes from the word fiefdom, which means the legal rights in land. 'Simple' in this case, means without constraints. So, fee-simple ownership of property means the absolute and unqualified legal title to the land and any permanent buildings on it; no one else has any claim to the property at all. It is the most common form of ownership.

Almost all new rowhouses sold in British Columbia are NOT fee-simple. Instead, they are strata-titled, and the purchasers are members of a condominium association. This is because while they own most of their unit outright, the exterior walls, grounds, parking and driveways are usually owned in common.

There are exceptions. Thirty years ago, a number of fee-simple rowhouse developments were built in Burnaby and Coquitlam. They are still around. More recently, Parklane Homes, which has been interested in this form of housing for a number of years, built a 'fee-simple' rowhouse development in Langley known as Bedford Landing. Since the homes had a shared wall, there was a Party Wall Agreement. Since some of the pipes connecting to water and sewer crossed over different properties, there was a Services Easement Agreement.

To prevent someone from painting his or her portion of the row of housing bright yellow, there were also Design Guidelines registered on title. I compliment Ben Taddai of Parklane for his creativity and persistence in following through on this project.

Aragon Homes, another innovative development company, also built a fee simple rowhouse development as part of its Port Royal development in Queensborough, New Westminster. While I haven't checked the title, I assume that there were similar agreements in place there as well.

There are a few reasons why we have not seen more fee-simple row house developments. Firstly, they cost more than a conventional rowhouse complex. Instead of one hook-up to sewer and water, there are many. There are also additional costs associated with the party wall construction. Another key reason is their legality. In order for such developments to succeed, the party wall agreement needs to run with the land in perpetuity. The City of Vancouver and other jurisdictions have taken the position that this is not currently possible under current Land Title Act legislation.

As a result, Councillor Suzanne Anton, a proponent of innovative housing, and a longtime friend of Art Cowie is trying to get the province to amend this legislation to make it easier to build such housing in the future. When the Act is amended, she hopes it will be known as 'Cowie's Bill'.

The following is excerpted from a Chicagoan's experience living in a fee-simple townhouse complex. It is interesting in that notwithstanding the advantages of not being part of a legal association, his complex decided to create an association! Read on...

In a fee-simple rowhouse or townhouse, there is nothing that is owned by the association. The owners own their roof, their windows, the land under and around their townhouse. That means the individual owners are responsible for taking care of any lawn, painting the outside, fixing leaks in the roof, and shoveling the snow.

In my case, I live in a courtyard townhouse. There are two rows of homes with a beautiful little courtyard filled with trees and flowers (or mounds of snow) between them. A sidewalk runs down the exact middle. Only the end units face the street. I own, and am responsible for, the part of the courtyard that extends from my front door to the middle of the sidewalk. I have to pay for and plant the flowers. I have to cut my grass. I have to clean my gutters. I have to rake the leaves that fall on my bit of grass.

The only thing that I share with anyone are the walls dividing my home from the homes on either side of mine. If something were to poke a hole in either of those walls, both my neighbor and I would have to pay to have it fixed. If the damage is just on my side of the wall…it’s my problem.

Luckily, this complex of townhouses decided that it was nuts for each person to mow their own 10 foot x 10 foot bit of grass, shovel half of the side walk, and clean only their gutters. About 20 years ago, well before I bought here, they formed a loose association. We all pay a very small assessment so we can hire someone to do all these odd jobs that impact all of us. In our case, the association owns nothing. It just exists to buy services that all of us need and benefit from. This is why I was at the meeting last night—looking at expenses.

What Are The Pros & Cons of a Fee-Simple Townhouse?


The first pro you will notice is that there are no assessments. This, in my opinion, is a very big advantage. It means that you can pay more for the home. When you are looking to buy and you know you can spend $1,000 a month, that whole $1,000 can go toward your mortgage. None of your monthly payment is going toward an assessment. The added benefit is that all of the interest on a mortgage payment is tax deductible where an assessment payment is not.

The other pro that springs to my mind is the feeling of independence you have versus a standard condo. You don’t have to worry about what the neighbors think; they can’t make a rule about the size of your dog or how you empty your garbage.

The cons are just the other side of the same coin: you can’t control your neighbors in any way. So, if your next door neighbor—the person you share one wall with—decides to paint their house black with lime green accents, there’s not a thing you can do. If they decide to dig up their bit of grass and replace it with a spongy-floored play area for their kids, your hands are tied.

Geller's Note: Well, not exactly. As I noted above it is possible to put in place Design Guidelines to help control the aesthetics of the complex. For this and other reasons, while this housing form and tenue may not be for everyone, it might well serve those who don't want to live in a conventional single family home, or a 'shared ownership' rowhouse complex.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why I Do Not Trust the DTES's Wendy Pedersen

On Monday November 23, 2009 I decided to attend a forum on homelessness and the Olympics at SFU Harbour Centre. Below is a description:

When the Olympic bid process was underway, the Inner City Inclusive Commitment was signed in 2003 and included commitments around a housing legacy and protection from Olympic related evictions. This public forum, hosted by the Impact on Communities Coalition, will look at the impacts of the 2010 Olympics on housing and other urbanization processes underway in Vancouver including the crisis of affordability, the proliferation of homelessness and loopholes in tenancy legislation which are resulting in evictions.

I was particularly attracted by the quality of the panelists...including Nathan Edelson, a former City planner, Reverend Rick Matthews, Martha Lewis of TRAC, and Monte Paulson. Also on the panel was Wendy Pedersen, someone with whom I have had numerous disagreements over the past two years and who, despite her advocacy for the poor and downtrodden, has effectively halted what I consider numerous worthwhile initiatives in the DTES community.

The first speakers were all very thoughtful, and the general consensus seemed to be that while the Olympics have had negative ramifications, in fact, there have also been many benefits, including the purchase and renovations of many SRO hotels. Furthermore, the evictions that were predicted, really haven't happened.

However, when Ms. Pedersen began to speak, I was stunned by her remarks. Before accusing City Councillor Geoff Meggs of saying that having a low income community is unethical, she made the following statement which she attributable to Jack Poole.

"The real purpose of the 2010 Olympics bid is to seduce the provincial and federal governments and long-suffering taxpayers into footing a billion-dollar bill to pave the path for future real
estate sales."

While I suspected that Ms. Pedersen had distorted Meggs' comments, I knew in my heart that Jack Poole would never have said, nor thought what she attributed to him. Unfortunately, Jack is no longer with us to defend himself, so I decided to source out the truth. I found it in a June 2002 edition of the Western Investor.

As I expected, it turned out that Jack Poole never uttered these words. While he was referenced in the article, they were editor Frank O'brien's words, written as part of his lead editorial. Ms. Pedersen probably knew this too, but it was far more effective for her to attribute the quote to Jack Poole, former Chair of VANOC, to an audience comprising many of her supporters....one in which I was the only person wearing a tie!

This is not the first time Ms. Pedersen has altered the truth to suit her purposes. She often does it and while it might seem petty of me to point this out, I do so because I truly believe that she has had a very negative impact on worthwhile efforts to achieve progress in the DTES community. Notwithstanding her 'sweet little girl' manner, she is a very harmful lady.

I have written to Ms. Pedersen, pointing out that she misquoted Jack Poole, and expressing the hope that she try not to misquote others in the future, especially when they are no longer around to defend themselves. I shared my note with some of the other panelists, including the highly respected Monte Paulson, who was booed off the podium at the same forum by some of those in attendance who didn't like the very sensible message he was bringing.

I doubt my email will have much effect. Ms. Pedersen has a particular agenda and while her following is much more limited today than it was 2 years ago when I started volunteering in the DTES community, she will continue to do her best to block condo developments and other regeneration efforts if they might reduce her fame and popularity as a community activist, one who often gets to appear on radio and television and speak at community forums such as the one I attended on Monday night.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Funeral Date set for Art Cowie

I have just learned that the funeral date for Art Cowie will be Wednesday December 2nd, 2pm, at St. Mary's church at 37th and Larch in Kerrisdale. A Celebration of Life will be held after at the Tea House restaurant in Stanley Park from 4-7pm.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In memoriam: Art Cowie


Below is a media release that was sent out today on behalf of Art Cowie's family

Art Cowie
, a well known and popular public figure in Vancouver passed away suddenly on Saturday November 21 at the age of 75. A professional planner and landscape architect, he served the citizens of Vancouver on the Park Board, City Council and in the provincial legislature. Elected as an MLA in 1991, he voluntarily gave up his seat in fall 1993 to allow Gordon Campbell to run provincially.

As founder of Eikos Inc. Mr. Cowie was an early proponent of environmental planning, He worked on a wide range of land use, environmental and urban design assignments throughout British Columbia and in England, Scotland, Australia and Nigeria.

He was widely known as an ideas person who promoted a broad range of activities including innovative landscapes, alternative forms of affordable housing, integration of transit and development, and memorial park planning and design.

His most recent venture, a new form of housing in Vancouver-individually owned ‘fee simple’ row houses, is currently under construction in Vancouver. After many years in the planning and development stage, he and his wife Cathy were preparing to move into one of the homes early in the new year.

A prolific writer, Mr. Cowie’s articles were printed in numerous professional publications. He was also the author of Vancouver Hot Spots, (www.remembernow.com) a website devoted to articles about development issues and trends in Vancouver and the surrounding region.

“He will be missed by many friends in landscape architecture, planning and political circles” said Michael Geller a long time friend who first got to know Mr. Cowie when he was a TEAM City Councillor in the early 1970’s.

Former City Councillor Gordon Price described him as one of Vancouver’s Renaissance men – a landscape architect, planner, and politician-from Park Commissioner to MLA, developer, commentator, and writer – and always with a passion.

Another long time friend Bob Ransford had this to say upon learning of his death. “Art's ideas were vital, his interests many and diverse and his persistence admirable. Art was motivated entirely by a desire to do good, to be innovative and to serve because he cared about this place we call our community."

Mr. Cowie leaves behind his wife Cathy, daughters Lisa and Sharon, step-daughter Corrie and their families. Details of a memorial service will be announced in the coming weeks.

Corrie Okell can be reached at 604 240 1909


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sad News: Art Cowie passed away last night

Dear friends, I had a call from Art's daughter Lisa this morning to tell me that Art passed away peacefully last night. While we all knew he was in poor health, the news of his passing came as a shock for me as I am sure it will for many others.

Art and I had been working on another row house project in West Vancouver and I spoke with him at 6:30 last evening. He was up and about, cleaning up files and throwing old documents away. When I told him to keep his papers for his book, he reminded me that much of what was important to him was on his blog. You can find his years of writing at http://www.cowierowhouse.ca/

I first met Art 35 years ago, and have always marvelled at his incredibly diverse interests and accomplishments and enthusiasm for life. He was a renaissance man, and always slightly ahead of his time.

For those who didn't know, until the past year, Art was very active and certainly didn't look his 74 years until an accident when he hit his head and fell in his crawl space. He then started to stoop over, but was still very involved in various projects including a three unit 'fee-simple' row house development on Cambie Street at 33rd. This dream project had been a long time coming, and after a few aborted attempts, was finally nearing completion. He was planning to move in early next year.

However, immediately after a wonderful 75th birthday party at one of his daughters' home, he was checked into hospital and diagnosed with ALS. He went downhill very quickly. I saw him in the hospital a few times, and in our last meeting, he asked me to write a small book on fee-simple row housing and his efforts to make it a viable housing choice in Vancouver. I will finish the book as soon as his project is completed.

One of the challenges building his project was the fact that for whatever reasons, the Vancouver Law Department had reservations about registering party wall agreements on title. This is despite the fact this form of housing is common in most other parts of Canada and around the world. Ironically, in recent weeks, Councillor Suzanne Anton, a long-time friend and colleague had been in contact with the city and province to accelerate legislation facilitating party wall agreements in BC. I am sure Premier Gordon Campbell will help to move this along since he knew Cowie for many many years. In fact, it was Cowie who gave up his legislative seat to allow Gordon to run provincially.

In a note I received today, our mutual friend Bob Ransford had this to say about Art:

"Art's ideas were vital, his interests many and diverse and his persistence admirable. Art was motivated entirely by a desire to do good, to be innovative and to serve because he cared about this place we call our community."

My thoughts are with his wife Cathy, his daughters Lisa and Sharon and step-daughter Corrie, and the rest of his family. I will keep readers apprised of details regarding a memorial service.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Vancouver council’s first year: Accomplishments and a to-do list


The following is an op-ed from the Friday November 13, 2009 edition of the Vancouver Sun.

I have always liked to commemorate important events, both happy and sad. This coming weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the last municipal elections in British Columbia. While that was not a particularly happy day for me, I think it is worthwhile to take a look at Vancouver city council’s first year, particularly in the areas of housing, planning and development.

One of the first problems the council successfully tackled was the financial mess of the Olympic Games athletes’ village.

The first challenge facing the new council was the financial mess at the Olympic village. While I do not want to further debate who to blame, I think city hall is to be complimented for the manner in which it arranged financing and took steps to resolve the situation.

I hope council can reach a sensible solution for the expensive social housing. The choice is not just between social housing and market housing. Instead, city hall should consider a more innovative solution to cover its costs, while not competing with the sale of the market units. I recommend that the housing be sold as shared equity ‘workforce housing’ to firefighters, police officers, emergency workers, teachers and others who would like to live close to work. Vancity’s SFU Verdant project is a model for this form of affordable housing

Council is also to be congratulated for the manner in which it conducted the Burrard Bridge bicycle lane trial. The ultimate solution was much better than the campaign proposal for an alternating middle lane, and the experiment has given some motorists a new pastime — counting cyclists as they cross the bridge.

Speaking of cars, council also approved some significant changes to the city’s parking bylaws. While these changes had been under discussion for years, the revised standards will help reduce housing costs and facilitate new developments on under-utilized parking lots. Now council should consider whether to continue subsidizing neighbourhood residents who purchase cheap on-street parking permits, especially in areas where vacant underground parking spaces are available.

In early summer, council approved zoning changes around the city’s central business district, eliminating the right to build housing in favour of larger office complexes. While this had been considered by the previous council, I was surprised to witness a ‘leftleaning’ council favour larger office building over more economically viable and vibrant mixed-use developments.

In July, I was pleased to see council approve the previous council’s laneway housing initiative and a new proposal for suites within suites, similar to those at SFU’s UniverCity.

Little has been said about the Short Term Incentive Rental housing program. It offers incentives to developers to build market rental housing. Had the program been initiated by an NPAdominated council, I suspect there would have been howls of outrage about unnecessary benefits to developer friends. However, given the economics of rental housing, council was correct in recognizing incentives are needed to encourage new guaranteed rental units.

As council’s first year draws to an end there are other initiatives that could affect the look and economy of our city. The view/capacity study is asking residents whether they want to give up view corridors in order to allow for taller developments. Not surprisingly, residents are generally saying no. In reality, there are some older view corridors that should be reconsidered, especially if council wants to encourage larger office and mixed-use complexes.

Council has also directed staff to examine potential zoning changes for lands around the Canada Line stations, and along Cambie Street between the stations. While the city was previously criticized for being slow off the mark, I agree with the director of planning that it may have been a fortuitous mistake to wait for the line to open.

One should not ignore the Greenest City Task Force and its Vancouver 2020 ‘green capital’ plan. While this initiative seems more like a wish list at the moment, I agree with the general desire to build a stronger economy around sustainability. However, I encourage council in its second year to look at how land use planning and zoning changes can help achieve the desired results.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A review of That was the Year that Was

Thank you to everyone who came out today. I hope you found the event as worthwhile and gratifying as I did. While I would have liked to have seen a few thousand more people in attendance, Gord Price, Bob Ransford and I were delighted with the many people who took time away from their Saturday morning to attend.

I would like to offer a complete review of what was said, but I don't have the time. Hopefully some others in attendance will post some comments. Below are some notes for Wendy Turner and Janet Fraser and a few others who wrote to say that they were sorry they couldn't be there, but were looking for a report, along with some of the images prepared by Gord Price that were used for our presentation with Jim Green.
Olympic Village We all agreed that the City had generally done a good job of sorting out the financial mess caused by the economic meltdown (we didn't discuss who else to blame.) However, we disagreed on the appropriate future for the social housing. Jim thought it should remain social housing; Gord thought that Vision had to keep it as social housing for political reasons; and I thought that if the city was going to lose money on the Olympic Village, it should sell the units as shared equity affordable 'workforce' housing, which would still ensure some social mix.
Burrard Bridge Bike Trial While we all agreed the Burrard Bridge bicycle trial went better than expected, due in part to a much better communication program than for the previous effort, no one seemed to think this is the long term solution. I thought it was a much better solution than the alternating lane proposition put forward by Vision during the election campaign. Remember that?
Parking. I wanted to talk about this matter since I think it can significantly impact the affordability of development and redevelopment opportunities. We all agreed that the city was to be congratulated for following up with reductions to the parking requirements it should now go further, both to generate revenues, and try to reduce the number of cars on city streets. In other words, let's extend the hours the parking meters are in operation, let's re-price the resident parking permits, and let's consider further reductions if developers are prepared to take the risk building projects with even greater reductions, as long as visitor requirements are established and met.
Woodward's Knowing that Jim would want to talk about Woodward's, we included this image but he got to the topic much earlier! I also wanted it on the program since earlier in the week Jim Green had accused me of being 'the only developer in the city who didn't support the project'. This was nonsense and I sent him a newspaper clipping revealing that I supported the project with a mix of uses...but he didn't. In 2002, he was arguing that there should be no private housing in the project.

There was full agreement that the project will be good for the neighbourhood, but Gord thought it was important to point out that only a COPE council could have approved the significant height that was ultimately built. I would now like to see more condominium and mixed income projects developed in the community. This need not lead to gentrification, but it will lead to regeneration.


HEAT shelters. Opinions differed on how well the city had managed the creation of the HEAT shelters. However there was no doubt it was a learning experience. I reserved my support for the interim housing strategy for the homeless, which was subsequently approved by Council, including my proposal for relocatable housing modules.

Laneway Housing. There was unanimous support for bringing in laneway housing and 'suites within suites'. Suzanne Anton, the only councillor in attendance was horrified when I thanked Vision for bringing in the latter, reminding me and the others in attendance that this was also an EcoDensity initiative. However, there was concern over the complicated submission requirements and guidelines that accompanied the laneway housing.

Metro Core Jobs I again noted the irony of this council approving changes to zoning in and around the Central Business District which will effectively eliminate housing in favour of larger office buildings. I couldn't believe Vision would support this.
View/Capacity Study The view study was discussed in general terms. The consensus seemed to be that there should be no net loss in views, but some of the existing views could be reconsidered.

North East False Creek and BC Place Stadium precinct Gordon Price expressed concern about the increased density being proposed for North East False Creek. While there was full agreement that a 'convertible roof' on BC Place is not an appropriate amenity for all the additional housing, Jim seemed to be in agreement with some reduction in the park space requirement to accommodate additional density elsewhere in the area. Most of the attendees and especially the UBC journalism students were shocked to hear him say this.

On a related matter, Gord and I both thought that this council was being too generous with density in order to encourage more rental housing. While supporting the STIR program in concept, we questioned whether it was necessary to give condo density bonuses for market rental housing. Jim kept calling it affordable rental housing, but it's not. It's market rental. An NPA Council would never have gotten away with such give aways.

The Greenest City Task Force initiatives were generally applauded, although it was agreed that they need much more specificity. I expressed concern that it seems we are even allowing the water to turn green. Jim was not amused.

There followed a very good Q&A session, and I like to think that everyone in attendance thought the dialogue between the three of us was worthwhile.

The second panel, featuring James Fletcher of Think City, John Tylee of the Vancouver Economic Development Commission Gord Price (again) and Peter Ladner, looked at the economic strategy for the city and region, the proposed budget, and Green Capital. In response to a question by Ladner about the 4% increase in most city fees, Fletcher noted that most respondents to their budget survey were not aware of this measure. The Greenest City Task Force initiatives were generally applauded, although it was agreed that they need much more specificity.

While the economic panel discussion was substantive, I thought the following media/pundits panel was extremely interesting although at times, a bit uncomfortable as bloggers from the left and right (Jonathan Ross and Mike Klassen) accused each other of being too partisan! Frances Bula was superb as a moderator and also for providing the audience with a good overview of the changing face of media. All agreed that the mainstream media is not what it used to be and more and more people are looking to the bloggers for information, even thought there may be a lot more bias than what one might expect from MSM.

While I hesitate to try and summarize the discussion, here are 5 points that I noted:

  1. Miro Cernetig noted that Gregor did not distinguish himself as an MLA and so he was keen to see how he would perform as mayor. As he put it, while no one disputed his GQ, there were some questions re: his IQ. However, he thought the administration had generally done well and the mayor had shown good judgment overall, especially when ducking some matters, such as regional transit, on which he might be vulnerable.
  2. Frances questioned whether CityCaucus.com was being too personal and petty in some of its attacks on Vision personalities. She mentioned its criticism of Penny Ballem's efforts to protect private emails as an example, adding that she wondered whether they knew about such things since the previous administration did them as well!
  3. Jonathan Ross accused CityCaucus.com of being too partisan for an entity that claimed to be non-partisan. Klassen denied ever pretending to be non-partisan. "We are most definitely partisan" he replied, adding that he thought CivicScene.ca was equally partisan.
  4. Monte Paulson had reviewed Vision's campaign promises before coming and thought that they had failed when it came to dealing with affordable housing. He also thought they were being somewhat 'Sullivanesque' in their re branding of old ideas (proposed by earlier councils) as new ideas.
  5. Paulson also noted that the mainstream media are not covering local politics, thus leaving it to the bloggers, who by nature tend to be biased.

I thought the best questions of the pundits' panel came from James Fletcher of Think City who questioned why the Mayor, who promotes sustainability, had been so ineffectual on promoting improved funding amongst the Mayors' committee for transit in the region. Fletcher also wondered whether the partisan attacks on personalities were the result of the fact that Vision and NPA are so very similar in so many of their policy positions, one must resort to attacking the personalities.

Frances had the best line in response to those who claimed an addiction to politics..."There is a supervised injection site, you know."

If I had to summarize the big idea of the day, there is no doubt that Vision has been instituting programs and policies that are not unlike those of earlier NPA dominated administrations. Moreover, they have been quite effective in doing this given their various constituencies. Now, some of those who have or had prior association with the NPA are concerned they may be going too far, especially in the area of higher density neighbourhoods and density bonusing for market rental housing.

All in all. A good day. Maybe we'll do it again next year.

Friday, November 13, 2009

THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS: A community forum


SATURDAY NOVEMBER 14, 20009 marks the one year anniversary of the last election day in Vancouver; a day that resulted in a significant change in the political landscape and leadership of our city. This community event marks this anniversary with a review of the highlights of the past year in Vancouver municipal politics, particularly in the areas of housing, planning and development; fiscal management and economic development; and leadership.


While some of the participants have past ties to the NPA, others do not. It is proposed that this not be a highly-charged partisan event. Rather, the intention is to celebrate the one year anniversary of the election, take a look at what has been happening, and engage in substantive discussions on key issues to hopefully identify strategies and actions for the coming year.


8:00 Coffee and Muffins

8:30 WELCOME, Bob Ransford, Moderator


8:45 to 9:55 Visual Presentation and Panel Discussion: How the city is changing

Moderator Joost Bakker, HBBH Architects Panelists: Gordon Price, Michael Geller, Jim Green. Topics to include Olympic Village, HEAT shelters, laneway housing, bicycle lanes on Burrard Bridge, the rental housing incentives, the homelessness initiatives, the CBD policy changes, the view/capacity study, and the Cambie Street planning process.


10:00 to 11:10 Panel Discussion: Balancing the books and creating a green economy

Moderator: Peter Ladner. John Tylee, representative of Vancouver Economic Development Commission ; James Fletcher ThinkCity and a representative of Greenest City Task Force; Topics to include balancing the books and improving Vancouver’s economic prospects through a green economy.


11:15 to 12:25 Media Panel: The view from the Pundits

Moderator: Frances Bula Panelists: Mike Klassen CityCaucus.com, Monte Paulson The Tyee, Jonathan Ross CivicScene.ca and Miro Cernetig Vancouver Sun. Topics to include highlights of the past year, key accomplishments and outlook for the coming year.


12:25 to 12:30 Wrap up Ransford

Venue: Wosk Centre for Dialogue –Lower Level

Admission by donation to go towards room rental and refreshments