Speaking the Same Language: Market vs. Non Market Housing

My last blog post was just a moan about the current housing situation and I wanted to get it off my chest by sharing my thoughts with the public, which is very juvenile, but the situation and emotions behind it are very real. I have also made my federal political stance known which is something that I have never done before. However I feel that I have lost my core reasoning behind this blog, and that was to help educate the average Joe (like myself) on understanding certain terms and concepts that the City Council likes to throw around to hypnotize the general public while pulling the wool over our very eyes. I feel compelled to make it up to you, so let’s talk the basics on Market Housing and Non-Market Housing…

Market Housing
These are housing units that are placed on the general housing market that anyone can choose to buy into. Got it? Good!

Non-Market Housing
And now we step into the gray zone: Non-Market Housing. The common denominator with all types of Non-Market housing is that it kind of is a powerful negotiating tool that the developer has in their back pocket to acquire additional funding from the government. Sounds kind of shady, right? For example, a 50 Storey Market Condo might not sound sexy to the city however a 50 Storey Market Condo with 10 floors of non-market housing might just have the city council think differently about the proposal. Non-Market housing can also take on different funding structures as well; confused yet? Well here are some examples of non-market housing according to the City of Vancouver Website:

What defines these kinds of housing as non-market is that there is some sort of subsidy provided by the government to aid the demographic it is targeting in order to accommodate them. Shelters and modular (temporary or permanent) housing are classified differently according to the City of Vancouver’s website. And I am a little confused over whether or not social housing is included in this broad definition so I am not going to go over that today.

I have written all of this to point out to you, the Average Working Joe, that non-market may actually be our friend as most of Vancouver (those who make between $25k and $80k) may actually be able to afford something that is subsidized. I have no idea how this isn’t considered market housing as the demographic that the market housing is selling to is elusive to me, in comparison to what most people make. Most people in Vancouver make under 100k and the government shouldn’t have to subsidize housing for their workforce. But I digress.

My call to action here is to just be aware of what it truly means when developers state that most of their housing is Market Strata or if they offer non-market housing choices. Next blog will be on how to apply for non-market housing as that seems to require further research.


My Shopping Experience in Metro Vancouver

Sorry for the inconsistency inbetween posts but I have been enjoying my summer in BC since returning from working overseas. Anyhow, I have a short one for you!

When you think of shopping in Vancouver, you probably think of Robson street shopping; well this short little blog is not about that. This blog post is about my shopping experience for properties in Metro Vancouver. Now a lot of this will probably come off more critical than I would like so with that in mind I will not name the specific properties that I was looking at. However, this opinion piece comes from the average Joe who works 3 jobs (out of desire, mind you).

Port Moody
1 Bedroom in a 6 Storey Condo for 643 Sq. Ft – Starting @ $479,900 – $499,900

Coquitlam
1 Bedroom in a 6 Storey Condo for 602-682 Sq. Ft – Starting @ $425,000

Surrey
1 Bedroom in a 20+ Storey Condo for 452 – 463 Sq. Ft – Starting @ $423,900

Please note that I didn’t bother checking for properties within the city of Vancouver because I knew that they would be well above my price range. So let’s talk…

For the record, these prices are sort of within my range. I mean I am a few years away from making a purchase anyways since I have to handle my living expenses like the average Joe in Vancouver. I would have to really save up for a hell of a deposit but that would just be my own personal situation.

I am typing up this express blog to rapidly point out that BC Real Estate is still very ridiculous. Who, in their right mind, would spend half a MILLION dollars on 643 Square Feet? To relate this to the younger generations; this would be comparable to going into 6 figures of debt for an Art school. It blows my mind that this is the pricing that is put forward in the market where the majority of the individuals make between 25k – 80k. My message is this: does Metro Vancouver want to rent its workforce?

I can’t be the only one that is scratching their head thinking that half a million dollars would go a much longer way anywhere else in the world.

Thank you for listening to my outrage. If there was one thing that I walked away from with my shopping experience, it’s that I am not ready to buy into Metro Vancouver’s Real Estate market yet and I am also more willing to invest in a business.

57-475/325-343 West 41st Avenue – Rezoning Open House July 4 2019

A new week, a new re-zoning proposal! By the way folks, if you are interested in attending these re-zoning open houses, please visit this website. There is always an open house happening and you need to make your voice heard in order to drown out the loud minority (read: NIMBYs).

I’m not going to lie, I had some prejudices on this proposal based on the developer but then as I continued on with reading the proposal I quickly changed my mind and I ended up falling in love with it. Okay, on with the basic stats:

  • 2 Buildings
  • West Site has 22 Floors total; 2-3 floors are retail mixed use
  • East Site has 10 Floors total; Retail mixed use at ground floor
  • Project is 100% rental housing with a mix of 1 Bedroom – 2 Bedroom suites
  • 418 Combined Parking Stalls including vehicle and bicycle

The Neighbourhood

Located on West 41st Avenue, this street is a main arterial in Vancouver that a lot of people use to travel from East to West and vice-versa. What makes this neighbourhood a significant hotspot is the Oakridge Mall that is located just on the corner of Cambie and West 41st, as well as the connection to the Canada Line. This makes the neighbourhood a shopping hotspot being well-served by rapid transit and it is just going to get more intense with the Oakridge redevelopment that is already selling units and getting ready to start construction. 57-475/325-343 West 41st Avenue is unapologetically piggy-backing off of the momentum that the Oakridge redevelopment by Westbank has established, bringing rental housing choices to the area.

This proposal lies exactly on the Cambie Corridor. The Cambie Corridor is essentially just Cambie street only that the Canada Line is actively transporting people underneath the street. The city of Vancouver has established a Cambie Corridor plan. And for me, it is quite honestly moving a little too slowly during this housing crisis; probably because of the red-tape surrounding the rezoning development application process… but I digress. This specific proposal, again, fits the bill perfectly concerning the current Mayor Council’s political agenda featuring housing solutions and it is also fits in within the vision that the city of Vancouver has for the Cambie Corridor much like 2538 Birch street fits the vision for the Broadway Corridor perfectly.

The biggest change to the neighbourhood that this proposal is looking to implement is that they are looking to add hotel space to their retail portion. I honestly have to say that I wholeheartedly support this motion! Oakridge is aiming to become a place to visit for Vancouverites and tourists alike, and so it makes perfect sense to seek a hotel tenant. Not only that but even with the addition of hotels at Parq, we haven’t been keeping up with zoning for hotel accommodation spaces to support our Tourism industry. The hotel at this location will definitely drive other retail businesses whether it comes in the form of guests going out for dinner on W. 41st or if the hotel needs to find a local Florist to purchase seasonal flowers from. I see the hotel as nothing but a great addition to the neighbourhood from an economic perspective.

Sustainability and Moral Conduct

The key sustainability strategies that are jumping out at me include the addition of electric car charging stations, high efficiency heat recovery ventilators to reduce energy demand, and low flow fixtures to reduce water demand. They will also be installing resilient drinking water access that doesn’t use electricity.

In the proposal I can see that they will be “displacing” some SFH’s. I’m not sure exactly what the standard procedures are on this kind of thing however I imagine that it involves the company purchasing the properties from owners based on what it’s worth. Which sounds like it will be a good deal for them (as it should!). As I understand the strategy now; I don’t feel sorry for the displaced home owners for making good money.

Final Thoughts

This is another proposal that is articulating the exact changes that I want to see in my city. It is adding more housing choices along 2 major arterials in Vancouver: being Cambie street and W. 41st. This building is not attracting the same NIMBY’s as 2538 Birch Street did which I find odd. In fact, the open house was fairly quiet which leads me to believe that the people living in these neighbourhoods are generally accepting of it. I believe this because NIMBY’s are a small group that are loud.

This is another average-Joe friendly proposal that we need to see pushed through for the sake of working individuals. Rental towers like this all need to be approved. Although I personally think that it is a little short for me, there is nothing but support from this small corner of Vancity. As with my last open house I am going to leave you with contact details to voice your support:

Michael Lee MLA of the local area – michael.lee.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Kennedy Stewart – Kennedy.Stewart@vancouver.ca
John Horgan – premier@gov.bc.ca
Covalent Group Developer – info@covalentgroup.ca

Speaking the Same Language – Mixed Use

Raising awareness, for me, means that we need to update our communication strategies to the level of the decision-makers in Vancouver. I believe that by being specific on the housing solutions we want to see in our city that we can shape the future of the city to abide by the people’s vision for the future. When we speak about mixed-use, mixed-income, rental, condos; what are we really asking for? Because technically we can have all of the above in one complex (read: unlikely). This post is about simply explaining the different kinds of purposes zones serve. Now I won’t bore you by going over the different kinds of home ownership or different kinds of commercial ownership. We are just fine-tuning the language we use to convey our wishes and desires to the politicians of Vancouver.

Mixed Use
Starting with the most popular key term to leave a developer’s lips for this series… Mixed use; did you know that this actually could mean a lot of things? You can have a mixed use building… but it’s light industrial and office. But don’t worry the designations of buildings that can be constructed (including mixed use) is all something that is zoned by the city. You won’t be finding any surprising mixed use industrial/office buildings surprising you out of nowhere.

The most common idea held by the public is that mixed use will mean retail at-grade with residential ontop. However in the Metro Vancouver area there are plenty of examples of buildings having more complex mixed uses. 3 Civic Plaza in Surrey Central comes to mind as it has a Café on its street level combined with a hotel on a number of floors. Then it further mixes its functions by having offices and then condos ontop that complete the tower. This can make taller towers more flexible with multiple purposes.

Another politically-friendly development trend that is being shown in the mainstream media these days is proposals for buildings that have a mix of rentals and owners. Personally I feel that it is the developer’s moral obligation to replace rentals lost in their development however now that we are getting into a very sensitive real estate situation in Vancouver, developers are adding some sort of a mix of rental in with their strata units.

I would like to highlight some mixed-use proposals that are effective in making a difference in Metro Vancouver:

Strathcona Village – East Vancouver

https://www.vancouvernewcondos.com/properties/theheatley

This bold addition to East Hastings combines light industrial, retail, social housing, market housing, and rentals. It is all made out of shipping containers which is another green trend happening around the world. Although I personally wish it was taller for its location, this complex really delivers on bringing a positive and appropriate change to the neighbourhood. In fact I hope to see many more projects like this on East Hastings and this would be a top contender for me for one of the best buildings in the last 5 years. You can read more about the industrial/retail opportunities here.

Shangri-La Vancouver

https://media.pixilinkserver.com/upload/building/90/1111_alberni_-_shangri-la.jpg

This building is the pinnacle of high-end luxury in Vancouver. Even though I do take a narrative more relatable to the general public, I can eagerly admit that Vancouver’s current tallest (as of 2019) ushered in a new sub-culture with the way it was designed. The Shangri-La Vancouver hosts the Market by Jean-Georges restaurant (which is Canada’s only 3-star Michelin Chef rated restaurant), the hotel itself, a spa, the Rolex watch store and then condo units make up the remaining floors. From there, this building set itself up as an anchor to a high-end market with Trump Tower rising from across the street and with other high-end brand stores like Louis Vuitton and Prada popping up nearby. None of this is something that you or I could relate to however I can appreciate the difference that this mixed-use highrise has ushered in. After all there has to be a place for everyone; it’s just that everything is now high-end prices.

English Bay Residences

Welcome to English Bay Residences
https://www.usedvancouver.com/classified-ad/Welcome-to-English-Bay-Residences_32809647

This Luxury Rental is far from affordable… Now that that is off my chest, this new and completed addition to the West End is worth mentioning because it is a simple Retail/Rental mix on Davie Street. Davie street is going through a revival with more rental and condo towers being constructed. In this case, the retail portion of the tower does its best to maintain the commercial opportunities on Davie Street. This isn’t a neighbourhood changing proposal like the other two proposals; instead it is a proposal that uses its mixed functions to keep Davie street economic and dynamic with businesses that you can walk to.

When you write feedback to the decision makers of the city you should specify what kind of mixed use buildings you would like to see. Because giving feedback saying that you are fine with mixed use when you really mean that you want to see a retail/office mix, could miscommunicate your feedback by not being specific. Also something to keep in mind is how a mixed use building can add to your neighbourhood; like with the Strathcona Villages, it was able to address social needs while creating an economic opportunity with its light-industrial mixed zoning. Something like that can change the neighbourhood for the better.

2538 Birch Street – Rezoning Open House June 27 2019

In order to see the change that I want in my city, I have to start by changing myself. For me I have just begun a journey of putting my thoughts and feelings publicly on social media to raise awareness that we have a housing problem. And yesterday, attending my first open house for a rezoning application is one of many steps that I am willing to take to start seeing changes in my city as my city will affect my future.

Millennials, that was for you.

I was at the open house right at the 5pm mark, and as predicted, it was dominated by the Baby Boomer generation. Now that is definitely not a complaint: that generation is willing to stand up for changes in their city. However my contempt for a generation that has handed its children the worst economy and livability circumstance since the Great Depression is no match for my colossal disappointment in my generation of Millennials who refuse to fight for change. Now that I have publicly laid out my feelings towards two clashing generations, the open house was a great success in that it generated a ton of interest. Let’s get to the basic stats that we can all understand:

  • 28 Storey mixed use building.
  • a maximum height of 84.25 m (276.40 ft)
  • a total of 248 secured rental units (53 units are designated as MIRHPP units)
  • 187 underground parking stalls and 438 bike spaces.
  • 100% of the 248 residential units are secured rentals.
  • 39% (or 97 units) of these units are family-sized (two bedrooms or more) which is 4% higher than the minimum
  • 11% (or 27 units) are three bedrooms. All exceeding City of Vancouver’s requirements.

The Neighbourhood

https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/broadway-plan.aspx

Located on Broadway and Birch street, this high-rise proposal appropriately establishes itself inbetween the future Skytrain stations of Granville and Oak street. The Broadway corridor is Vancouver’s second largest job centre outside of the downtown area already boasting taller structures like the VGH Jim Pattison Pavilion. In fact this tower is even shorter than the VGH Jim Pattison Pavilion building. What’s to hate, NIMBY’s?

Ok so what this building and the MIRHPP program that is associated with this building is looking to achieve is a higher density housing choice for people that make between $30,000 and $80,000 a year. That would include anyone working who is making an honest dollar that isn’t a CEO, that doesn’t own a mutli-million dollar business, and folks that earn their salaries in emergency fields like nurses, police officers, and firemen; I don’t know their wages off the back-of-my hand but I know that those professions aren’t pulling 6 figures a year. Highrises like this would bring in a positive influx of working professionals and families.

Not only that but it also introduces some retail opportunities on ground level generating jobs on a high capacity transit/job corridor. This is a no-brainer especially since we are adding working people into the neighbourhood who will support businesses in the local area. We aren’t building empty condos here, folks. This is really simple math for me.

Sustainability and Moral Conduct

I am open to learning about the details of the closure of the restaurant on that corner however to me this says that no one is being displaced because of this building. We are literally growing the neighbourhood without any guilt.

Some key sustainability features that I found truly appealing to this building include it meeting the City of Vancouver’s new Zero Emissions Building Plan by Air to air heat recovery which provides “free” heat to incoming ventilation air. More can be read about the Sustainability strategies here. I don’t know about you, but extra sustainable heat in winter is a good thing for me!

Final Thoughts

This building is the exact change that I want to see on Broadway. This zero-emissions highrise tower conforms to what the city council promised us when it came to the solutions on the housing crisis. The fact that this modestly taller structure is facing such scrutiny from the NIMBY community only goes to show that there are a lot more deeply corrupted and immoral folks that would rather watch genuinely hard-working people suffer. These new homes are being proposed to be built within an urban neighbourhood that’s only going to get denser with the Millennium extension. If this proposal was to not go through, then we as everyday working citizens need to comb over who is in our City Council’s pockets.

70% of Metro-Vancouver said that they wanted to see denser housing solutions and this highrise is a small piece to a bigger picture. This family friendly sustainable highrise perfectly fits the housing solutions that our political decision makers were campaigning for in an area that is crying for more density. Are we going to let the ultra-rich/NIMBY’s dictate how we live our lives? Make your support heard here:

George Heyman – MLA of the Broadway area george.heyman.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Kennedy Stewart – Kennedy.Stewart@vancouver.ca
John Horgan – premier@gov.bc.ca
Tony Wai, IBI Group, tony.wai@ibigroup.com
Marcel Gelein, Rezoning Planner, 2538Birch@vancouver.ca

Basic Understanding of Different Types of Ownership

Tackling Vancouver’s housing crisis from an average citizen’s perspective is going to require a better understanding of different kinds of home ownership.  When asking for changes in our neighbourhoods, it will serve us all well to know exactly what we are asking for and what to expect.  I’m not an expert on different kinds of home ownership however I want to spread a basic awareness on how each kind of ownership works so that our feedback to the decision-makers of this city can be more effective.  The images that I have created reflect what it takes to own or rent in each of these types of ownership. They are very simplified equations that don’t get into the complexities of property ownership such as insurance.

Owning a Property

For these basics I’m not going to get into the 99-year land leases yet…. That will be a separate post that I will eventually put some effort into researching. Owning a house and its land in Vancouver will cost you an arm and a leg…. and another leg, and maybe even a finger.  Sarcasm aside, single family homes (SFH’s) make up the majority of the zoning in the Metro Vancouver area and this kind of zoning is a huge limitation that is pushing people out of the city and pushing prices higher since they take up most of the land.  Less land + demand for more housing = more value in the land = more expensive housing prices. 

As I understand it the property owner puts down a down-payment, secures a mortgage, secures an insurance plan, pays property taxes and their utilities monthly, and maintains their own repairs.

To be clear, there are plenty of situations where you can own a townhouse and you would just be sharing a wall or two depending on the complex.  Owning a home and its land isn’t just restricted to SFH’s.

Owning in a Condo Complex


Condos can come in many forms; from townhouse complex to mid-rise buildings, from towers to even multi-family low rise dwellings.  The bottom line that defines condo owners from property owners is that the owner owns the unit and shares the maintenance costs with the other residents.  These maintenance costs and the rules and regulations of the condo building, in B.C, are governed by a Strata Council.  

As a condo owner they put down a down-payment, secure a mortgage, secure an insurance plan, pay property taxes and Strata fees month, and also pay for their own utilities.

The biggest advantage here is that all of the residents are contributing to the maintenance and upkeep of the property.  If the Strata council is effective, they will continue to solve small problems such as replacing public light fixtures and be able to add a portion of the monthly Strata fees into an emergency fund for the event of a larger maintenance item being demanded.

Renting


Renting can also come in many forms just like condos.  People can rent out their houses or their rooms.  If you want to see how ridiculous renting can be, just do a brief search in Vancouver.  You can even rent out closets as living spaces!

Renting is a hot-topic in Metro Vancouver; let me explain: if you can’t afford to own a 300k+ 1 bedroom condo (which is ridiculous) then you have to rent.  And guess what?  The discord between the average salary and the average price of home purchases is so gargantuan that it has now created a steep demand for rental accommodations.  They don’t come cheap either.  In the Vancouver, a 1 Bedroom Apartment starts at $1500 CDN per month.  And that wouldn’t be for a luxury apartment either!

Renting is a convenient way to live because all you have to do is pay your rent and your maintenance fees are covered for your unit.  Some rental agreements will include utilities but this is dependent upon the property. 

Co-Op Living


I understand this one the least so please bear with me if I am misunderstanding this style of living.  According to my research, members purchase a share to join and elect directors to govern the co-op.  Collectively you all own the entire complex and lease particular units for the member’s exclusive use.  Members will share the benefits and responsibilities of home ownership.

Housing co-operatives are incorporated and regulated under provincial law, which gives them special status as not-for-profit organizations. In most housing co-ops, only members have occupancy privileges.  Most housing co-ops receive financial assistance from the federal government (through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation), in the form of mortgage guarantees and subsidy funding for income-tested members.

All you need to do is buy into the “corporation” and then you need to pay your housing fees monthly.  Housing fees are kind of like strata fees, only Co-ops usually demand direct involvement from the shareholder (you, in other words) so you would have a stronger say in where the money goes; or atleast you will know where the money is going.

A lot of people that are demanding diverse housing are also demanding co-op housing as a means to allow people with stricter incomes to live better quality lives.

Where to Speak your Piece

Part of raising political awareness in Vancouver about the housing crisis is advising people where to share their opinions on upcoming projects. Twitter, facebook, social media, and city development forums such as skyscrapers.com are all excellent ways of sharing your feedback on proposed/constructed developments across the city. However we need to take a more active role in propelling our feedback by bringing our opinions directly to the political forefront.

Sometimes it’s nice when certain governmental bodies develop initiatives to engage the public pre-emptively such as Translink’s Transport 2050 consultation website. But sometimes we just have to take our opinions directly to the political shores. And here’s where some of them are:

City of Vancouver – This is an interesting website as it lists all of the rezoning applications and their statuses. All you have to do is click on a project of interest, and then find the email to get into contact the rezoning planner or even the applicant. Why not both?

Mayor of Vancouver – You can email him here. Does he respond? Who knows!

MLA – Absolutely perfectly appropriate to send feedback to your MLA. On the Legislative Assembly website, pop in the postal code, find their email, and send them your thoughts!

Talk Vancouver – Mostly completing surveys straight from the municipal government. But have your say anyways!

Translink – Join the online advisory panel to give feedback on transit projects. Also Transport 2050 is asking for what needs to happen in the future.