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The Daily Scot: Portlandifornication

August 31, 2015

PDX CA 1Scot saw this in PDX:

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After speaking with people at various Portland drinking establishments it appears their version of wealthy Chinese money flowing into real estate comes in the form of Californians cashing out and heading North for the Portlandia dream driving housing out of reach for locals.

Fitting then to come across this art installation across the river on East Burnside.

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PDX CA 2

Gold Rushes and Earthquakes in the West End

August 31, 2015

For several decades, the West End has remained remarkably stable for the 30,000 mostly lower-middle-income tenants, many who have lived there for years and who have seen only steady but small rent increases.  (For those who ask how anyone of average income can afford to live in Vancouver, the answer was in neighbourhoods like the West End.)

Nor has there been much new development.  Councils since the 1970s have taken redevelopment pressure off the district through downzonings and rate-of-change bylaws.  And though there have been controversies, notably over the STIR highrise projects on Broughton and Bidwell, that’s more a sign of how little change there has been, not how much. (Priceism: “As the rate of change decreases, people’s perception of change increases.”

But there are signs now that the ground is shifting:

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CBC rent

A shortage of rental stock and unprecedented demand in the Greater Vancouver area are creating the perfect storm for a “rent increase tsunami,” according to a veteran realtor’s report.

David Goodman, principal of HQ Commercial, says in the July edition of the Goodman Report that vacancy rates are hovering around 0.5 per cent, and rents are going up by 10 to 20 per cent whenever there is a suite turnover.

“It seems that the already severe [rental] shortages have been worsened or have been exacerbated because of a lack of new supply and again, many people are opting to rent as opposed to buying,” he told On the Coast‘s Stephen Quinn.

“The pot has been boiling for many, many years and I think it’s coming to a head right now because of the heightened demand for rentals.”

According to Goodman’s report, the average rent for a two-bedroom suite in the Vancouver area in April 2015 is around $1,352 — roughly a 5.6 per cent increase from the same time period in 2014.

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Some of the usual suspects are taking advantage:

From CBC News:

Tenants of a building in Vancouver’s West End say the owners are exploiting a loophole to increase rent by up to 20 per cent annually …

Rent increases in B.C. are regulated under the B.C. Residential Tenancy Act to protect tenants against sudden, sharp rent increases. Landlords are not allowed to increase rental rates beyond a percentage amount decided by the province each year, which has been around two to five per cent. Tenants also have to be given three months’ written notice.

The loophole in that regulation comes with fixed-term leases that have a specific move-out date. Annual increase limits don’t apply to those, as the lease is completely renegotiated when it comes to an end. …

Chris Nelson, one of the building’s owners, says his company, Gordon Nelson, isn’t exploiting anybody. He said the company is open and clear with all of their tenants about their leasing policy.

He added that they provide a valuable service and they’re simply charging market rates for the valuable renovated apartments.

“Real estate’s getting real expensive in this city and we’re all having to navigate these waters of a city that’s in high demand,” said Nelson.

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The Vision council made rental construction a priority (hence the STIR program), and can point to several thousand new rental units as a result.  But given the incentives, it remains a mystery why they did not set more upper limits on the rental rates. In one instance, the Lauren in the West End, what was assumed to be ‘afforable’ rental housing has become a poster child for the new high-end market:

From Sun Columnist Barbara Yaffe:

High-end rentals are latest trend

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Colliers calls multi-family property “the most stable asset in major Canadian cities,” and the most sought after.

LAuren

In Vancouver’s West End, the Lauren was completed last year at 1051 Broughton, exemplifying the trend. …

These types of developments, with monthly suite rents between $1,450 and $2,100 depending on size, have been prompted by municipal rental incentive programs. For example, under the 2009 Rental 100 program, Vancouver granted developers a $10-million break on city fees to encourage the construction of rental buildings.

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The traditional lower-middle-income rental stock – the thousands of wood-frame low-rise boxes built in the 1940s and early 1950s – are also being seen as seams in this gold rush:.

Goodman & Co photo

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From ceo.ca:

I have a friend (Mr. X) who is one of the top minds in real estate in the city. He’s a man who has bought and sold hundreds of apartment buildings throughout North America over a nearly four decades long career. …

Over dinner one night, we got to talking about the real estate industry in Vancouver. More specifically, we were chatting about what a wealthy investor should do with a substantial sum he wanted to keep safe.

We got to talking about the West End.

“West of Denman’s as good as gold,” the tycoon said..

1847 Pendrell

1847 Pendrell: “a 23-unit building West of Denman for $9.45 million”

Yaffe again:

Vancouver realtor David Goodman, who specializes in multifamily property sales, says, “We’re almost out of product.”

Goodman, a principal at HQ Real Estate Services who, with son Mark, has sold 18 properties worth more than $135 million so far this year, says: “Our product is being snapped up by sophisticated investors at a lightning pace. Owners who previously would never consider selling are now being swayed by mindblowing dollar amounts.

“Unprecedented demand is propelling selling prices past recent highs.”

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Expect commensurate rent increases to follow – combined with changes in the rate and scale of new development in the West End.

While the new West End plan retains the scale of the centre blocks of the West End, allowing only small-scale infill, particularly in the laneways, there are already the beginnings of what will be a rush of highrise proposals along the outer blocks, some up to 50-storeys, and at the western ends of Robson and Davie.

As with the STIR projects, there will be blowback from residents who were either not paying attention to the planning process or who dislike change of any significance.

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West End

Small and large infill development in the centre blocks of the West End.

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The Vision Council sometimes seens remarkably inept at anticipating or responding to the political consequences of change.  In the West End, they had best get ready for the already-predicted earthquakes to come.

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Freeways for Vancouver 2.0

August 31, 2015
We are in a new era:

(1)  Metro Vancouver voters have rejected transit (whether they meant to or not) as a way of shaping growth.

(2) The regional vision and plan are irrelevant.  It’s now Motordom by Default.

(3) This will lead to demands for de-facto freeways into and through Vancouver.

For example, PT commenter Eric just added this to the post below:

The transit tax losers need to realize that they lost, quite profoundly badly too …  It will now have to be the provincial government that makes the important decisions on smoothing the flow of traffic into and out of the bottlenecks to the north shore, along 1st and south down Knight and Oak.

Ah yes, “smoothing the flow of traffic.”  Eric’s description is essentially the polite way of justifying the freeway plans that began when Vancouver city manager Gerald Sutton-Brown initiated the first regional transportation committee in the mid-1950s to plan for future freeways and that by the mid-1960s led to the plans were pretty much identical to what Eric suggests: traffic corridors parallel to East 1st, Knight and Oak, and a Third Crossing from the North Shore.

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Freeways 1960s

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We built the red: the Expo SkyTrain, the Canada Line, the B-lines and SeaBus.  Will the provincial Liberals be prepared to push through the blue as traffic congestion becomes intolerable to their suburban base and transit funding is seen to be for ‘losers’?

For Discussion: Building Freeways for a Better Vancouver

August 26, 2015
Here’s something to keep you commenting while I’m away, based on a  response that Guest, PT’s best balloon-pricker, placed on this post from the Daily Scot: Gentle Density in Portland:

If you zoom out on the Portland map, the continuous line of larger buildings (retail commercial, presumably) on those east–west “smaller” arterials is quite striking.

By comparison, Vancouver has much smaller pockets of retail strips, even along the arterials, and generally not parallel to each other for great length. i.e. Main Street, Cambie Village, and South Granville may be on the same latitude, but Oak is devoid of a commercial strip, and only Main Street’s commercial zone extends any great length.

Dare I say that these east-west Portland streets can afford to remain small because of the existence of the I-84 freeway, so long-distance travellers from the east will not need to traverse the neighbourhood on surface streets. i.e. these roads do not “need” to be stroads because of the existence of the freeway, so they can remain smaller and more neighbourly.

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Portland

Click to enlarge.

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Scot and others decry the heavy traffic on our old streetcar arterials like Main, or the lack of pedestrianized streets like Robson, or the concern about the Viaducts coming down without lessening the impact on Prior.  And the counter argument is that none of that is possible because those streets have to perform the contradictory functions of local street and through arterial, both for car traffic and transit.

In other words, they have to be stroads.

So is Guest’s implication right: would Vancouver have more options if we had built a freeway like I-84 to handle the through traffic so that now we could create more local mixed-use streets like Division?

This is not just an academic exercise.  The Citizens Assembly in Grandview has called for a tunnel under their neighbourhood to handle the volumes currently on East 1st.  If, in a reorganization of TransLink, the Major Road Network was turned over to the Province, then the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure could, for instance, come up with a plan like this:

  • Absorb the median to the east of Nanaimo to widen East 1st
  • Build underpasses under the cross arterials
  • Dig a tunnel from Victoria to Clark
  • Redesign a route across the False Creek Flats to serve downtown and the new hospital.

Voila, a de-facto freeway to handle the cross-city traffic that would connect to and from  Highway 1.

Arterials like Hastings and Prior could then become neighbourhood service streets, narrowed and densified to create more livable, bikeable, mixed-use environments.

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Vancouver

Click to enlarge.

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And once they’ve got the boring machine going, how about other connectors to the south and north?  Then Main, Cambie, Fraser and others could be our new Division Streets.

So maybe we should build that freeway that never was. After all, we’re not funding new transit.

Off Celebrating: Back next week

August 26, 2015
Off for a few days to celebrate 10th anniversary in Whistler.

If PT readers have suggestions on what to do or see in Whistler literally off the beaten track, or places to drink and eat with the locals, add ’em to the Comments.

Ce Soir Merveilleuse

August 26, 2015
Yesterday evening, over on the decks of Canada Place – Dîner en Blanc.

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Just up harbour at CRAB Park – the first-ever Ce Soir Noir.

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Or as The Sun cleverly described the two: Black and White and Bread All Over.  But in my opinion, heh, CRAB took the cake:


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2d

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One of the biggest differences in the two events, in addition to colour and demographics, was how the respective crowds arrived:

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Something never seen before: a playground full of kids, all in black.

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Bravo to the creators and organizers.  Just the right amount of people, creativity and civility.

bubbles

Photo by Michael Alexander

DSC09895

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Easy prediction: Ce Soir Noir will become a global complement to Dîner en Blanc.

Danger:  It will become so popular, it too may have to limit capacity.

And then: La Fête Gris.

The Damage Being Done: Density in a Post-Referendum Region

August 25, 2015

 

It’s just a matter of time before those fighting the densification of their communities figure something out: When high-density neighbourhoods are being justified by planners because they are supportive of transit, what’s the justification when there won’t be any assurance of more transit?

From today’s Sun:

Townhouses replace trees in south Surrey neighbourhood

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In Sunnyside Heights … a parcel of land has been stripped clean and covered with townhouses baking in the sun. A grove of trees shades an old rancher next door, but a city sign suggests officials will punch a road through those trees to connect with the city grid on the other side.

“It’s extremely worrisome,” said Clinker’s neighbour, Sybil Rowe. “The total character of south Surrey is being erased. This is one of the last beautiful parts of the Lower Mainland left.”

Such cries are coming from all corners of south Surrey, following massive transformations in areas such as Morgan Creek, Elgin and Sunnyside. Many residents lament the loss of the mature trees, while others like Clinker worry the city doesn’t have the infrastructure, schools or transit to handle a flood of people to the area.

City officials, often criticized for the pro-development stance, argue they have little choice. With Surrey welcoming 1,000 new residents every month, planner Jean Lamontagne said the city must create higher density around its town centres, including south Surrey.

This has led to a shift in zoning in some areas from suburban to urban, or bylaw changes to allow more units on two- or five-acre lots that have had just one home on them. Nearby Clayton, for instance, once a farming community bordering Cloverdale, is now wall-to-wall development.

“The reality is that with the price of land and the price of housing, if we want to provide an affordable product, the type of development is much more dense,” Lamontagne said.

Lamontagne acknowledges south Surrey lacks in transit and other infrastructure, but attempts to address those issues by building transit hubs and collecting development cost charges to build utilities and widen roads. The rest is out of the city’s hands, he said, as it counts on the province to upgrade Peace Arch Hospital, transit and build new schools.

The situation has led to a grassroots movement among residents, such as those in Royal Heights and Crescent Beach Annex, who have convinced the city to preserve their neighbourhoods’ character with special zoning to keep small homes on residential lots. Such zoning requires 80 per cent support of neighbours in an area.

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What this seems to be saying is that Surrey will continue to zone for high-density transit hubs, but the only money on the table will be for widening roads – no doubt connecting to the widened freeways being funded by the Province.

How long before a Council, in the face of public protest, refuses to upzone – or more dramatically downzones – a neighbourhood plan because TransLink affirms that there will be no more service (unless it removes some from elsewhere in the region, leading to more protest)?

That would send a shockwave through the development community, which so far seems to think that it is business as usual; somehow money will be found to fund the transit on which their strategies are based.

In the event of a reversal, I wonder what they would then say to the Liberal Party fundraisers.

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