Last April, I posted “Vanishing Vancouver: The Dilemma of Incompatible Values” in response to a column by Barbara Yaffe on the loss of Vancouver’s pre-1940s stock of character homes.  But as she illustrated in a column last month,  heritage (and, analogously, affordability) are all very fine – until you affect someone’s property values:

CoupleIan Todd was surprised to learn last month, entirely by chance, that a new city of Vancouver policy aimed at preserving west side character homes has reduced the value of his own property by at least $500,000. …

And because the buyers next door face no such restrictions on their new build, that lot sold for $3.5 million in April. Todd’s home, after being designated as having character merit in September, is valued at $3 million. …

Todd expects when all these other homeowners learn what city policy has done to their property values, the fur will start flying.

Here are some questions I raised back in August, addressed to owners of property and homes in Vancouver:

  • Who is willing to take a loss on the sale of their property – if the City could indeed come up with a way to lower land values?
  • Who will take less than the market would pay by constraining a subsequent owner to ensure the preservation of the existing home?
  • houseWho is willing to have their property taxes raised sufficiently to allow the City to compensate the difference between what the character home is worth on the market and the value if it were designated and protected as a heritage property?  Which is what the law requires.
  • Or yet another way: Who is willing to rezone neighbourhoods or other parts of the city so drastically that it would flood the market with housing sufficient to make the character homes competitive?

And then a question for anyone who would run for office;

  • Who, in fact, is willing to run for office on a platform of lowering property values or increasing taxes enough to protect homes almost a century old?  Or to put in place regulations so onerous it effectively prohibits demolition?  Or do anything that would negatively affect the current owners before they can cash out?

It’s basically the same question with respect to affordability:

Are you willing to bring in any policy that would, by design or result, negatively affect existing property values?

Because if you’re not, how can you address affordability generally – that is, beyond targeted non-market projects or special programs for rental housing?  If existing values don’t fall, won’t all new housing be just as expensive as determined by the market if not by the higher costs of new development?

Since it comes down to voters, not abstract questions, will you tell the couple above that their loss of half a million justifies your interventions for the greater long-term good?  That they should be happy with the incredible increase they’ve seen on their house, not the relatively minor loss.

And if you can’t, why should the rest of us believe that you intend to do anything that would bring down values enough to make this city ‘affordable’?