Housing principles

Affordable housing needs systemic changes

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday August 27, 2016

Increasing housing supply is often promoted by government, and vested interests, as the solution to the affordable housing crisis. In fact, the current record-breaking level of rezoning and development in the City of Vancouver contributes to property inflation that is making the city less affordable. We need other approaches.

The city’s consultant’s report confirmed that the city has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate supply to beyond 2041 at the recent pace of residential development. This was without including the new capacity created in the just-approved Grandview Woodland Community Plan.

The city recently confirmed they are building way more than required in the Regional Growth Strategy and are leading the region on permit approvals. The city says, “this data demonstrates that new housing supply is at record levels and exemplifies the fact that we are approving significant new housing stock”.

However, when real estate is disconnected from the local economy due to global capital flows, simple supply and demand economics no longer work. Increasing zoning has proven to create speculation that drives land inflation. This adds to the cost of housing.

So from this we can see there is no rush to force yet more zoning supply that does more harm than good. Solutions to affordability are complex and multifaceted.

Although broader public policies regarding the social safety net, immigration and taxation play important roles in housing affordability, land-use policies are the focus in this article.

There are several planning principles that need to be followed to create a system that supports an affordable built environment.

  1. Do no harm. Protect vulnerable people, cultural and heritage buildings, community amenities and the environment.
  2. Upgrade, improve and adaptively reuse good-quality existing buildings.
  3. Plan very carefully for future new development and implement incrementally to avoid land inflation.

Although not fully followed, these principles generally were reflected in the city’s planning process from the 1970s to 1990s.

The proposed freeway through downtown was stopped in the 1970s. Then “Local Area Plans” were created in the inner-city neighbourhoods of the West End, Strathcona, Mount Pleasant, Grandview, Kitsilano and Marpole. These were comprehensive participatory plans that included a planning office in each neighbourhood and a strong social planning role. They resulted in plans that were community supported, with detailed design guidelines, and they lasted intact until 2006 when EcoDensity changed this direction.

Rather than embracing these area plans as models for future growth, the city embarked on a new direction of making increasing density as the primary objective. It has resulted in renter displacement and homelessness at record levels. Many people are being economically forced out of the city altogether.

The signal to industry that everything is at play, has resulted in older rental apartment buildings being bought for their redevelopment potential rather than rental income values. These apartments were mostly built before the Strata Act. Now that strata projects are so much more profitable, the older rental building stock is limited and important to retain.

Yet this older affordable legacy is being dismantled by increasing zoning where these apartment buildings are mostly located. Since 2010, these recent community plans in the West End, Downtown Eastside (Strathcona, Hastings, Chinatown), Marpole, Mount Pleasant, and now Grandview, have led to land speculation, assembly, and the resulting inflation.

Although rate-of-change policies are intended to protect rentals, most replacement units tend to be smaller and more expensive. Affordable rentals lost. People displaced.

Similarly, transit planning signals massive upzoning along new transit lines. Dogmatic application of transit oriented tower development undermines local planning processes without reasonable consideration of community scale and character. Broadway west to Arbutus is reported as being in the midst of a “land rush” in speculation of a subway that has yet to be finally approved and is potentially decades from completion if funded. This is driving land values ever higher.

So the key to housing affordability is to slow down the industry’s expectations that everything is up for rezoning and development. Spot rezoning has become the new normal. This has to change.

Then perhaps staff will have more time to process the backlog of permits that currently is taking so long to get through an overburdened city hall. It should not take many months, sometimes over a year, to get a simple interior renovation approved like many applicants are currently experiencing.

It also increases cynicism in the electoral process when people can see that the big money going into political parties is coming from the same people who get large rezoning approvals.

Worse yet is that at the civic level there is no requirement even for reporting donations between election years. So with a four-year term, three years of donations go unreported unless reported voluntarily.

Although provincial parties must report donations on an ongoing basis, there are no donation limits on amounts or bans on corporate or union donations. Civic campaign finance legislation is under the control of the province that is reluctant to make changes that would require provincial campaign finance changes as well.

So campaign finance reform, at both the civic and provincial levels, is essential to creating checks and balances that help to moderate housing prices by reducing the enormous political influence of vested interests on land use policy.

In summary, there are a number of principles with checks and balances that need to be implemented to create a system that supports more stable affordable urban living. These systemic changes, as well as other land use options that will be discussed another day, are essential if Vancouver is to have a future as more than just a resort city for the rich. Continue reading

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Housing supply clarified

Affordable housing myths and facts

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, August 19, 2016

The city’s consultant’s report of June 2014 confirmed, “the City has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.” Photo Stephen Bohus BLA / PNG

 

The province is expected to make pre-election announcements starting in September featuring housing affordability fixes. Unfortunately, it looks like the policies they are considering may be ineffective yet problematic. To find the right solutions, they need to be using accurate assumptions rather than myth.

The B.C. Liberals frequently suggest increasing housing supply as the solution to the housing affordability crisis. In the City of Vancouver, there is already ample zoned capacity. The city’s consultant’s report of June 2014 confirmed, “the City has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.”

This study only considered multi-family capacity, not any of the other zoned capacity across the city. The report also notes that the city anticipates additional capacity beyond the year 2041 in these zones. Plus, the city has done more rezoning since the report was written in 2014, to create even more supply.

The city is also approving a record number of new development permits. According to a recent city information bulletin, they are building way more than outlined in the Regional Growth Strategy and are leading the region on permit approvals. The city says, “this data demonstrates that new housing supply is at record levels and exemplifies the fact that we are approving significant new housing stock”.

Clearly, we do not have to create more zoning supply in Vancouver to meet regional growth. There may be other reasons to adjust zoning, but there is no rush. It must be done very carefully since upzoning causes speculation that drives land inflation. This has the unintended consequence of making housing even less affordable.

Increasing zoning supply generally won’t reduce prices for the end product either. In order to get bank financing, developers pre-sell their units and will only go ahead with the project if they can get their price.

Simplistic supply and demand economics to create affordability may work in a closed economy, but not with the global capital currently flowing into the Lower Mainland, and the City of Vancouver in particular. As long as real estate is disconnected from the local economy, it doesn’t matter how much new stock we build, it will be beyond what most local residents can afford.

The 15 per cent property transfer tax surcharge for foreign buyers may not be the windfall of revenue expected. There are many ways to get around this tax. Foreign capital can be exempt from the tax if it goes through a local purchaser or corporation. The tax may also be successfully appealed through trade agreements such as NAFTA. Other regulatory measures will be required to deal with foreign investment and its impact on affordability.

Provincial investment in infrastructure, such as transit, is dearly needed, however, the province must not further download onto cities to achieve this by appropriating from the limited civic tax base of property taxes and development fees.

The costs of growth are enormous and mostly paid at the civic level. Development fees such as Development Cost Levies (DCLs) or Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) only cover about 10% of the costs, with general revenue (mainly property taxes) covering the majority of capital and operating growth costs.

If the province expects these fees to go towards funding transit instead of civic infrastructure, there will be more density bonuses required to pay for transit and less civic revenue for the needed amenities for the increased population.

Even as it is, the city is becoming amenity deficient for the amount of growth we have taken on to date. There is a structural loss of green space and recreational facilities. Building housing on School Board and Park Board land, such as proposed for the Britannia Centre in the recently approved Grandview Woodland Community Plan, is adding many more people with less amenities. The school and park systems need to be protected, funded and expanded, not used for yet more housing.

Tying provincial transportation funding to transit oriented development is not a vote-getter. It tends to be implemented in a dogmatic way that forces tower forms that are disconnected from the surrounding community context.

Vancouver was built prior to the common use of the automobile. It was designed around the streetcar system that has all areas of the city within a 10 minute walk of an arterial, making the city inherently transit oriented. All we need is more frequent reliable electric transit to support mode shift. In the city we need transit to serve the existing population rather than having transit form new land use patterns like in the developing suburbs.

Using transit to dictate massive changes in land use in an establish transit oriented city like Vancouver, is letting the tail wag the dog. Land use should be based on local community planning with transit oriented development in scale with the neighbourhood context.

For example, the Canada Line along Cambie Street was already at peak hour capacity upon completion. That was entirely due to mode shift without any upzoning. Although some of the rezoning since then may be justified, there is no justification for the major tower developments at Oakridge and Marine Drive that put the transit way over capacity. And phase three of the rezoning process for the Cambie Corridor is still yet to come.

The dogmatic application of transit oriented development is not considering the capacity of the system or the surrounding neighbourhood impact.

So increasing housing supply and tying it to transit funding are not the solutions to affordability. But there are real solutions, although complex. These will be for a future discussion. Continue reading

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Grandview Woodland Community Plan

Affordability jeopardized in new Grandview plan

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, August 8, 2016

Elizabeth Murphy believes the newly passed Grandview-Woodland Community Plan jeopardizes affordability by putting existing affordable rentals, heritage and character at risk in spite of community opposition. Photo courtesy Stephen Bohus, BLA.

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Vancouver just approved a new Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, in the neighbourhood known as the Commercial Drive area. The plan jeopardizes affordability by putting existing affordable rentals, heritage and character at risk in spite of community opposition.

There are references in the plan to retaining existing rentals and protecting heritage, but the adopted policies do just the opposite. Incentives for redevelopment increase land speculation, leading to land, unit and rent inflation with loss of community character.

At the start of the planning process, the planners opened their presentations stating that Grandview needed to increase density to meet projected growth under the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) since 160,000 people were coming to Vancouver.

This was later found not to be the case when the RGS was changed to reflect the 2011 census for a 148,000 population increase from 2011 to 2041. Further, the city’s consultant report from June 2014 confirmed, “The city has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.” This is without including the Grandview Plan.

The consultants used only part of the existing zoned multi-family capacity that was most likely to be developed. It did not include other zones such as duplex or single family that allows multiple suites and infill, or any further rezoning that was done since 2014, two years ago.

This shows that there is no rush to create more city-wide zoning supply.

Most of the Grandview neighbourhood was built out in 1910. From the 1940s after the war to the 1970s, many houses were converted into multiple-suites, rooming houses, rental apartments, co-ops and social housing, most of which still remain. This created more growth than most other areas of the city. The fact that the neighbourhood population has gone down by 6.5 per cent in the last few years is not a reason to upzone in a way that puts this existing affordable housing at risk.

Vancouver’s practice up to 2007 was to avoid policies that would add development pressure into inner-city neighbourhoods with Local Area Plans, approved from the 1970s to 1990 in Grandview, Mount Pleasant, Strathcona, Kitsilano, Marpole and the West End. All are relatively dense and have the majority of the city’s affordable purpose-built rental housing as well as a large amount of the heritage character.

Sam Sullivan’s EcoDensity in 2007 promoted increased density everywhere. After Sullivan and his NPA council were removed from office in 2008, Gregor Robertson’s Vision council rebranded EcoDensity under Greenest City. Then these older more affordable neighbourhoods were targeted for increased redevelopment which was an unwise shift of policy. Grandview is the most recent victim of this direction. Continue reading

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Business in Vancouver – Affordability

Rezoning is increasing land speculation, reducing affordability

By Elizabeth Murphy, Business in Vancouver, July 22, 2016

The rush to rezone fuels speculative land inflation that’s further exacerbated by unregulated foreign capital flows. The fact that the City of Vancouver already has ample zoned capacity for 20 to 30 years of growth needs to be considered before proceeding down this road.

Governments are reluctant to address the real causes of unaffordability, such as foreign capital flowing into real estate and selling citizenship through Quebec’s foreign investor program, whose investors land in Vancouver. These factors are disconnecting residential prices from the local economy.

Instead, the government points to simple supply-and-demand economics, even though that is no longer working. Industries that promote the status quo are primary contributors to campaign funding that elected political parties rely on. Increasing zoning to allow more housing supply will not make prices drop when the demand side is coming from outside of our local economy.  Continue reading

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Zoned Capacity – Grandview Plan

Housing affordability – Rush to Zone

By Elizabeth Murphy, Common Ground Magazine, July 15, 2016

Grandview-Woodland slated for rezoning under the draft community plan is being rushed through for approval by City of Vancouver council before the end of July 2016, only four weeks after public release. Every part of the neighbourhood will be affected.

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The Vancouver housing affordability crisis is being addressed by a rush to zone, on the false premise that unaffordability is being caused by a lack of zoning supply. This is like the former Bush administration’s rush to war with Iraq, based on false information about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction.” Vancouver’s rushed actions, based on false information, are causing enormous damage to our city.

Rampant rezoning to add zoned capacity is driving speculative land inflation, which is further exacerbated by unregulated foreign capital flows. The fact there already is ample zoned capacity to meet future growth must be considered before going further down this road.

Governments are reluctant to address the real causes of unaffordability, such as foreign capital flowing into real estate and selling citizenship through Quebec’s foreign investor program, whose investors land in Vancouver. These are disconnecting residential prices from the local economy. Instead, the government points to simple supply and demand economics, despite the fact that is no longer working. Those industries that promote this status quo are primary contributors to campaign funding that elected parties rely on. Increasing zoning to allow more housing supply will not make prices drop, especially not when the demand side is coming from outside of our local economy.

Increased zoning often inflates land values, making the housing crisis worse

Generally, land values are a big part of Vancouver’s crazy real estate that causes unaffordability in both existing and new development. By increasing zoning, it drives speculation on land values, which increases property prices, overall.

Regardless of whether or not a property is developed, the new development potential gets priced into the land. This is then part of any property sale price or becomes the expectation of an existing owner for a return on their investment. If they are not getting enough return, rental rates will be raised to make it worthwhile. Or they will demolish and build new.

New rental apartment development is often twice as expensive and a fraction of the size of existing affordable units. New houses are usually twice as expensive to buy and much larger in size.

Not to say there should never be any rezoning. But what currently exists should first be very carefully considered as well as what would be gained or lost if an area is rezoned. Since development pressure adds increased inflation, which means more expensive housing, rezoning is generally not in the public interest.

Existing rental buildings are often bought on speculation that the City will be removing its decades-long Rate of Change requirements of one-to-one replacement of rentals. If anything, in this climate, the Rate of Change policies should be expanded, not reduced. Governments often use the excuse that more zoning supply is necessary to meet anticipated growth. However, this is not the case in Vancouver.

Existing zoned capacity can already meet future population growth

Regional planners have estimated how much population growth there will be based on current and past trends. The updated Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) estimates the population of the City of Vancouver will increase by 148,000 from 2011 to 2041.

The city’s consultant report from June 2014 confirmed, “The City has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.”

Emphasis is on the “over” 20 years. The estimate includes only a small portion of the zoned capacity, mostly concentrating on either recent multifamily zoning, or an estimated percentage that is likely to be built out. They are projecting the existing record pace of development will continue into the future. The report was intended to show that supply was not restricted by city policies. And it certainly has not been.

The report did not consider that all “single family” lots can have three units – or the capacity in RT duplex/infill zones. We also have to add the further substantial rezoning that has taken place since the report was completed in June 2014, two years ago. The full-zoned capacity is, therefore, much bigger than the amount included by the consultants.

So if there is already so much zoned capacity, why rezone more affordable neighbourhoods like Grandview-Woodland (the Drive)? This is a good question, especially when the Drive already has so many existing affordable rentals, co-ops, social housing units and multi-suited heritage houses. Continue reading

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Housing Supply

Affordability Crisis: More of the same not the solution

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, July 8, 2016

City of Vancouver consultants reports confirmed there is sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent record-setting pace of residential development.Photo courtesy Stephen Bohus, BLA.

 

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Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis is being driven by development speculation and the unchecked flow of foreign capital. But rather than deal with these real issues, the crisis is being falsely framed as a lack of housing supply. In fact, rezonings for increased density inflates land values, which is a big part of the problem.

Vancouver has an enormous amount of existing zoned capacity, but the amount of zoning already in place for increased development has yet to be built out.

The city’s 2014 consultant report confirmed there is sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent record-setting pace of residential development. They only counted recently rezoned new multi-family supply, and even more has been added since 2014.

No lack of supply issues here.

Yet, even though there is so much capacity for new housing supply, prices have been escalating at record levels. Developers only build once they can get their price at presales required for financing that ensures escalating prices. Increased zoned capacity in new community plans has not brought in more affordability either.

For example, the West End Community Plan, approved in November 2013, allowed increased zoning in some areas up to 60 storeys. One of these sites was an assembly of two older, more-affordable low-rise rental apartment buildings, reportedly bought by Peter and Bruno Wall for $16.8 million in 2014. Recently sold to foreign investors for $60 million, they were flipped a month later for $68 million, all without paying property transfer taxes due to it being a bare trust.

This will result in luxury condos built to replace existing affordable rentals. The new community plan that allowed the 60-storey development instigated the land speculation and inflation. Increased density equals loss of affordability. These projects are often exclusively marketed overseas.

The recently released Grandview community draft plan similarly puts a large amount of older affordable rentals, co-ops, social housing and heritage buildings at risk. There is no justification for approving this plan.

All along the Cambie Corridor there have been significant increases in development potential. This has resulted in land speculation and assemblies for condo development. Mostly six to 10 storeys, with 32 storeys at Marine and 45 storeys at Oakridge. Even though the Canada Line was at peak hour capacity from the day it opened in 2010, new rezonings continue to be approved. Land and unit values continue to escalate despite increased supply while transportation and amenities are diminished and cannot keep up with increased needs. Continue reading

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Extravagant Transit Plan

Opinion: Metro Vancouver needs an affordable transportation plan

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, June 26, 2016

Transit announcement 2016

 

Recent announcements on transit funding in B.C. with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left to right) seem to be premature, says commentator Elizabeth Murphy. JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

 

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All levels of government are now coming to the table to fund transit. However, their current proposals are not adequate, sustainable, affordable or in the public interest.

We need a better plan.

The federal Liberal government is rolling out its infrastructure spending commitments, but recent announcements on transit funding in B.C. with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Christy Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson seem premature.

The budgets, sources of funds and final plans have yet to be confirmed, and many proposals are problematic, including related development deals.

The proposed funding is being spun as a “down payment” on the Vancouver region’s $7.5-billion wish list. Phase 1 breaks down as $370 million federal, $246 million provincial and $125 million from unidentified regional public land sales. We are effectively selling the farm to buy a fancy car.

Current estimates are out of date, so final budgets will be significantly higher.

The most extravagant of the transit projects is the Broadway subway, from the Millennium Line at VCC-Clark Station along Broadway to Arbutus Street. This line will siphon off much of the transit budget that could be going to provide broader transit expansion options.

This has been raised by UBC Professor Patrick Condon, as shown in the accompanying maps, from his study comparing a subway with streetcars. For a fraction of the cost of a subway on Broadway, we could have streetcars and an expansion of electric trolley buses across the city and region. Continue reading

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Transit Funding

The unaffordable subway

By Elizabeth Murphy, Common Ground Magazine, June 2016

Map2_streetcar

Equivalent electric streetcar network deliverable for same cost of proposed Broadway Corridor subway (Prof. Patrick Condon, et al, 2008, “The case for the tram; learning from Portland, Sustainability by Design: An examination of alternatives to an underground extension of the Millennium Line to UBC.” Foundational Research Bulletin, No. 6.) Using electric trolley buses or a mix with streetcars would even allow much broader coverage across the region for the same funds as one subway on Broadway.

 

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Providing an expanded and improved transit system is vital to Metro Vancouver and the provincial economy. However, the subway is a poor choice for the Broadway east-west thoroughfare. The current plans and funding models are promoted for corporate interests, but they are not in the public interest.

Last year, the public voted down, by a large margin, the plebiscite for a sales tax increase to cover the Metro Vancouver transportation plan. This plan is actually a real estate and tower development scheme led by a subway. Now the same plan is being put forward again – this time with much more problematic funding options that would put the public in unnecessary massive debt, without any pretence of public support.

The provincial government is failing to provide adequate funding for much needed transit while, at the same time, looking to benefit financially from development along an unaffordable Broadway corridor subway. So the civic level that receives only seven percent of the tax base is being required to take on this provincial funding responsibility (referred to as downloading) without the resources to fulfill it.

The province refuses to consider using the obvious and appropriate funding source: the carbon tax. Funding options being considered are property taxes and development that would be downloading onto cities. Transit fare increases add to the cost of living for those who can least afford it and further discourage transit use.

Property taxes are the main source of funding for civic governments that have correctly resisted provincial moves to try to take them for provincial purposes to fund transit. That resistance is now softening.

Although the property tax mill rate per thousand dollars of property value is considered low in Vancouver, actual property taxes are based on sky-high assessments that affect the cost of homeownership and are passed on to renters. Property taxes are already tapped out for civic purposes.

The proposed property tax increase for funding transit is a wedge in the door to future increases. Current budgets for the subway and the plan are likely way out of date and based on a previously stronger Canadian dollar. The estimates will go up significantly during each phase over the projected 10 years.

Using development to fund transit is another problematic proposal. This contribution is generally put towards paying for part of the civic amenities needed to service increased populations, such as parks, recreation, daycare and community centres. If the province uses development fees for transit, there will be large increases in tower development with fewer amenity resources left for the city to service the increased population.

Then there is the issue of the plan itself. There was little public input or demonstrated support for the options proposed. Although upgrades to the current transportation system include a few more buses that are urgently needed, the major projects in the plan are expensive. A large amount of the funding is slated for a short, stubby subway from the Millennium Line at VCC along Broadway to Arbutus rather than to serve the broader city or regional transit needs.

This has been raised by UBC professor Patrick Condon – as shown in the maps here – from his study comparing a subway with streetcars. For a fraction of the cost of a subway on Broadway, we could have streetcars and an expansion of electric trolley buses that would electrify the transit system across the city and region.

When looking at the capital costs, the best options are obvious. The subway is $350 million per km; streetcars are $20 – $40 million per km and electric trolley buses (both rapid lines and local services) are only $1 million per km plus $1 million per articulated double trolley bus. Making the best use of the most affordable options should be the priority to complete a broad and integrated plan servicing the entire city, not just select property developer nodes.

Electric trolley buses could carry the bulk of the network since they are the most affordable. Streetcars could be used in areas where they are most suited, such as the Arbutus right-of-way that has just been purchased by the city from CP Rail, and which could be expanded along the original inter-urban route to the Fraser Valley.

The City of Vancouver is particularly suited to this option since Vancouver was developed before the broad use of the automobile. It was designed around the streetcar system with the main arterials accessible within a five to 10 minute walk from any location, thus Vancouver inherently has a transit oriented land use pattern. All it needs is adequate, improved trolley bus or streetcar transit service throughout the grid. Continue reading

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School Demolitions

Opinion:  Queen Mary heritage school demolition short-sighted

Province’s refusal to consider future school facilities costs more down the road

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  February 12, 2016

Queen Mary Elementary School in West Point Grey is being reduced in size just as the adjacent Jericho Lands are being planned for substantial growth in population. This same short-sighted approach is about to be played out across Vancouver with about 20 school closures despite projections that the city is expected to grow substantially over the next 30 years. This lack of planning is undermining the next generations’ future.

 

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Queen Mary Elementary School in West Point Grey is being reduced in size just as the adjacent Jericho Lands are being planned for substantial growth in population. This same short sighted approach is about to be played out across Vancouver with about twenty school closures despite planned projections that  the city is expected to grow substantially over the next 30 years. This lack of planning is undermining the next generations’ future.

In 2011, the Vancouver School Board undertook a public consultation process to redevelop Queen Mary Elementary School. This was prompted in part by the need for seismic upgrading of the two heritage buildings and partly because the school population at the time was expected to drop because of the opening of a new UBC elementary school.

At the consultation, the school board refused to consider future potential growth of the community with the expected redevelopment of the Jericho Lands. The consultation matrix of comparing various development options was using a baseline comparison of a new school reduced in size by 31 per cent from the existing school.

This was to be achieved by demolishing both the 1914 and 1926 heritage buildings. Fortunately, the 1914 red brick heritage building was retained and seismically upgraded. However, the 1926 Art Deco concrete heritage building has now been demolished along with the 1955 wing, with an overall reduction in size of 21 per cent for the completed facility.

The alternate option that residents were advocating in 2011 was rejected by the school board. It was to retain the full-sized heritage school, upgrade it seismically and repurpose any excess space until future school needs were established. This would have been consistent with the 2010 City Council-approved West Point Grey Community Vision direction that strongly supporting the retention and maintenance of heritage buildings.

The cost comparison to justify demolishing the heritage buildings was based on a new school being substantially smaller than what existed. But as it turns out, the larger-capacity school will in fact be required.

Planning for the federal Jericho Lands redevelopment is now underway. With the expected increase in school capacity requirements from Jericho, the newly upgraded school that is now almost complete is anticipated to be undersized. The school should never have been demolished and rebuilt on a smaller scale. Continue reading

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Chinatown under threat

Newest tower proposal too much for historic Chinatown

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  January 8, 2016

The Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden is a true gem for not just Chinatown, but all of Vancouver. Photograph by: Arlen Redekop , Vancouver Sun

 

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Chinatown is under threat from yet another tower. This time it is in the heart of the neighbourhood. The site is on Keefer Street across from the Chinese Cultural Centre and the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park, and adjacent to the new Chinatown Memorial Square.

Opposition to the recent design comes from many fronts.

The proposal by Beedie Living and consultants Merrick Architecture is to develop a new 13-storey mixed-use building with 127 residential units, 25 senior social housing units, and commercial use on the first two floors.

The Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee, a city council-appointed group, voted against the proposal in November for the following reasons:

• Overwhelming concern for the scale of the development at a height of 120 feet, and concern that the proposed density is excessive for the site;

• concern over the livability of the units, and quantity and type of community amenity space provided in the proposal;

• concern that a richer mix of uses is required in the building;

• the proposal did not fully recognize the sensitivity of the site in relation to the Heritage Area, Memorial Square, Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden, and the nearby museum.

The city’s Urban Design Panel also voted last month not to support the proposal.

News 1130 reports that former premier Mike Harcourt says Vancouver’s historic Chinatown is “teetering on the brink” and this one huge bulky building is causing particular alarm since the high-end condominium proposal would tower over the area, including the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden and the Chinese Cultural Centre.

“Development should re-energize and revitalize Chinatown, but not overwhelm it. This building dwarfs all of the heritage buildings of the Chinese community along Pender Street and it’s just too much,” Harcourt said.

Harcourt serves as chair for the Building Community Society, which has written a letter asking Vancouver’s mayor and city councillors to vote against the current proposal.

The Sing Tao newspaper reports that the chairman of the Chinese Benevolent Association, James Chu, says we should not only look at the money involved.

“It doesn’t matter the amount. It is still a kind of betrayal to Chinatown,” he said. Continue reading

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Federal funding for transit

Federal funding should support an accountable transit plan 

By Elizabeth Murphy

Common Ground Magazine  November 2015

Article Link

As the new federal government considers going into debt to invest in transit, here are a few critical issues to consider.

Transit needs to be more affordable with more extensive coverage throughout the Vancouver region. Focusing on only a few transit corridors with very expensive mega-projects drains funding from the base transit needs of the network.

However, the public is being held hostage on transit funding until the mega-projects are built. We need affordable electric transit right now to deal with peak-hour demand.

The solution is obvious. Building a subway costs approximately $250 to $450 million per kilometre, streetcars $30 to $40 million per kilometre and electric trolley buses only $1 million per kilometre plus $1 million per double articulated electric trolley bus. Therefore, the electric trolley bus network should be used throughout the grid as a priority to disperse gridlock, using streetcar lines and subways only as we can afford them.

The City of Vancouver was designed as a transit-oriented city before the common use of the automobile. Within a five to 10-minute walk, each arterial supported our streetcar system, which was replaced by an electric trolley bus system in the 1950s. An expansion of the existing trolley buses now could eliminate diesel while providing more frequent rapid electric trolley bus service throughout the grid and reducing greenhouse gases.

Funding models are critical. Transit funding is expected to be split three ways between federal, provincial and civic levels. However, cities should not be required to pay for transit since they do not have the resources to do so. Only seven percent of the tax base goes to cities even though their citizens are primary contributors to the GDP.

Using carbon and gas taxes to supplement federal and provincial transit capital funding makes sense.

Public Private Partnerships (P3’s) have been required as a precondition for senior government funding. A major drawback is that they privatize public assets in exchange for little or no public benefit, providing the illusion that P3’s are less expensive for the public when this is not the case.

P3s keep some debts off the governments books, but the public is paying for them nonetheless. Governments raise capital debt financing at a lower rate than the private sector, so P3’s offer no public cost benefits.

Another problematic funding model is what TransLink refers to as the “Hong Kong model” where development is used to fund transit.

This means that rather than developers paying the city Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) towards civic amenities to service the increased population (such as community centres, parks, daycare, etc.), funding from CACs would go instead to pay for transit. But transit is the responsibility of senior governments so this is a form of the downloading of financial responsibilities to cities.

It means that large Metrotown-scale tower developments get added as density bonuses in established neighbourhoods unsuited to their community character or plans. We need affordable transit solutions with plans that are democratically supported by the public and compatible with local community planning.

A Broadway subway would result in a concrete jungle of density-bonused towers in Grandview, Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano and West Point Grey to feed the growing foreign luxury condo commodities market while most of the region would continue with inadequate transit service.

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Federal Housing Issues

Opinion: Federal action needed on housing 

Foreign investors: Funding and taxation regulations – even criminal laws – must be addressed

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  October 17, 2015

Canadian cities like Vancouver need federal policies to address housing affordability issues. South False Creek includes CMHC subsidized housing from before the federal program was cancelled in the early 1990’s.

Full edition below:

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Although civic infrastructure has become a federal election issue, housing has not had the debate it deserves. The federal government has a significant role to play in housing affordability; in funding of social housing and other housing programs; in tax relief as an incentive to the private sector; and in regulations regarding immigration and investment.

Funding of social housing and other housing programs:

Only about 7%  of the tax base goes to cities even though their citizens are primary contributors to the GDP. The federal government had a primary role in housing programs until the early 1990’s, at which time they cancelled the CMHC programs.

Social and co-op housing programs made economic sense. Rather than providing a public subsidy to slumlords, public funds went to pay off financing that eventually resulted in publicly owned assets. This was an investment in creating stable home environments for families and the most vulnerable in society while investing in the future. When we count the costs of reduced social impacts such as lower demand on health and judicial services there is a bargain. Most importantly, it is the right thing to do.

With the increasing economic stress to lower income citizens, it is more important than ever that the federal government restores funding for both subsidies on properties where current housing agreements are now expiring, and also to reinstating federal housing programs.

In addition to funding social and co-op housing, CMHC used to give grants to low income earners for upgrades to older housing for health, safety and energy efficiency through the RRAP program. If reinstated, this program would also help in climate change reductions.

Taxation as an incentive for the private housing sector:

Taxation policy can be used as a powerful tool to incentivise both rental and ownership housing options.

One of the most important principles of housing affordability is stability. The longer people own or live in a property, generally the more affordable it is and the more it creates resiliency through community support. However, current tax policies do not support this principle.

Many current income tax policies discourage the ownership of rentals. Rental income is treated for tax purposes as passive investment income so is taxed at a higher rate than is “active” income such as development. This creates a disadvantage to those owners who operate rental buildings over those who hold property for redevelopment.

This is the opposite of what should be happening. There should be income tax advantages to owning rental buildings and the longer the time frame the better. Generally, the longer a rental building is owned, the more likely that the mortgage will be paid off and there will be less pressure for owners to increase rents while allowing more income for maintenance. Every time a building is sold, the new owner will need to raise financing to cover the current value of the purchase and that will in turn need to be covered by upward pressure on rents. Therefore, long term ownership should be incentivised through tax policy.

Older buildings are also more affordable to rent or purchase than new construction by 25% – 50%. So tax policies should be made to incentivise retention and upgrade of solid older buildings, especially those that have character and heritage value. Continue reading

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Federal Election: Transit infrastructure essential

Opinion: Civic infrastructure funding essential

Make investment in transit affordable, and democratically implemented

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  October 3, 2015

JULY 2 2015. Transit troubles in Vancouver, B.C. on July 3, 2015. The vote is no for the proposed money for transit. Traffic congestion on Oak street. (Steve Bosch / PNG staff photo) 00037682A [PNG Merlin Archive] Photograph by: Steve Bosch , Vancouver Sun

 

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Civic infrastructure has become a federal election issue and it’s about time. Only seven per cent of the tax base goes to cities even though their citizens are primary contributors to the GDP. There is a huge civic infrastructure deficit neglected by senior governments.

Public transit funding has been proposed by all the federal parties, with the Liberals offering the most ambitious plan. However, as we already learned from the failed transportation plebiscite in Vancouver, conditions on a number of fronts need to be met before transit is funded:

accountability, sustainable funding models, and a democratically-created affordable plan.

One of the main concerns in the Vancouver metro region is the accountability of TransLink. Ever since the province altered regional authority for transit by replacing municipal elected officials on the board with a provincially appointed board in the early 2000s, there has arisen significant controversy over TransLink’s governance.

After the plebiscite failed last spring, it was made clear that changes were needed. But instead of returning to the regional governance model of elected members, the province has again filled the board with appointments. This is going in the wrong direction.

As previously reported in The Vancouver Sun, the provincial NDP’s TransLink critic George Heyman has said the appointments don’t address the issue of accountability on the TransLink Board because more elected officials are needed.

Of further concern is that one of the new appointees, former Police Chief, Jim Chu, is employed by a major local development firm. He has been named vice-president of special projects and partnerships for Aquilini Investment Group. Heyman has also raised the issue of conflict of interest: discussions that would happen at the TransLink board about future transit plans will certainly affect land values and development plans.

To be effective, TransLink needs more local elected regional governance and less provincial interference.

The choice of appropriate funding models is another issue needing to be resolved. Public Private Partnerships (P3s) are sometimes used for public infrastructure. P3s may keep some debts off the governments books, but the public is paying for them nonetheless. Governments can generally raise capital debt financing at a lower rate than the private sector, so P3s provide no public cost benefits.

Another problematic funding model is what TransLink refers to as the “Hong Kong model”, where development is used to fund transit.

This means that rather than developers paying the city Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) towards civic amenities to service the increased population (such as community centres, parks, daycare, etc.), funding from CACs would go instead to the province to pay for transit which is the responsibility of senior governments. This is a form of the downloading of financial responsibilities to cities. It also means that large Metrotown-scale tower developments may be imposed as density bonuses for transit oriented development in established neighbourhoods without addressing compatibility with their community character or plans.

Which brings us to my last point; we need affordable transit solutions with plans that are democratically supported by the public and compatible with local community planning. One of the reasons the transit plebiscite failed was that the plan was not supported by the public. The plebiscite even failed in Vancouver where the main project was a subway on Broadway that would have brought in large scale tower development in Grandview, Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano and West Point Grey, while most of the region would continue with inadequate transit service. Continue reading

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Heritage retention a priority

Opinion: Retaining our character and heritage homes must be a priority

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun September 14, 2015

Elizabeth Murphy believes that Vancouver needs a balance of incentives to encourage retention that is fair to homeowners, so that home like the Walkem house can be preserved. Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann , Vancouver Sun

 

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To their credit, the city of Vancouver has been working on a heritage action plan. Although Shaughnessy has a moratorium on demolitions until a heritage conservation area is established, character houses continue to be demolished at a record rate across the city. It is critical that measures are put in place soon to protect heritage and character homes before this important housing stock is further depleted.

However, the devil is in the details. We need a balance of incentives to encourage retention that is fair to homeowners. There are ways this can be done. The city has many tools it can use, but the city also needs support from senior governments.

In addition to enhancing neighbourhood character and livability, retention of character and heritage homes aligns with the city’s stated goals of sustainability, affordability and family housing.

Sustainability

The best way to divert waste from the landfill is to adaptively reuse buildings. Less new material is used for a renovation than for new development. It therefore has a much lower environmental footprint.

Affordability

The existing older character and heritage housing stock is generally valued at close to land value. Renovation provides an opportunity for owners to add sweat equity to adapt to current needs at a relatively modest cost.

With incentives such as rental suites for mortgage helpers or extended family, this can provide economic advantages over owning a single strata unit. New houses are typically twice as expensive as the older stock.

When reviewing the single family (RS) zones, it should be kept in mind that there is no such thing as real single family zoning in the city. Now every RS lot can have up to three units; the main house, a secondary suite and a laneway house. This just needs to be rebalanced as an incentive to retain the character and heritage houses over demolition and new development.

Also, the RS zones are non-strata rental zones. There are a huge number of secondary suites across the city, mostly in the older character houses; these are some of Vancouver’s most affordable housing. If strata is allowed in RS zones this rental stock could be lost. Although strata can work well in some areas, this should be very selectively applied.

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Transportation Plebiscite: The plan is the problem

Transit plebiscite vote was a rejection of TransLink’s plan

Look at more affordable transportation options to cover more of the region is needed

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  July 13, 2015

At $40 million per km, light rail is more affordable than the $250 million per km cost of subways, some say. Photograph by: Richard Bergeron

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The 62 per cent No vote result in the transit plebiscite was not simply a rejection of the sales tax or a renunciation of TransLink; it was, more important, a rejection of the plan generally.

Improvements to Lower Mainland transit is an urgent requirement. We need to learn from this plebiscite and establish a supportable plan with a funding model.

The areas of the region with the highest No vote are those that would benefit the least and also have the greatest transit infrastructure deficit.

The plan was also rejected in Vancouver. Although it had the biggest ticket item, the Broadway subway, putting most of the resources into only one corridor, with the huge tower development that would follow, is a mistaken direction that needs to be reconsidered.

Rather than a few mega-project corridors, we need to look at the transit network as a whole. If the transit resources were more broadly distributed using more affordable technology, benefits would be achieved throughout the region.

The city of Vancouver was initially planned and built before general use of the automobile. It was laid out as a transit-oriented city, having everyone within a five- to 10-minute walk of an arterial to access transit.

Improving service on all arterial routes would achieve much broader benefits at a significantly lower cost. The most cost-effective electric technology is the trolley bus. Most of the infrastructure exists already in the city. It could be expanded and improved as a clean, quiet transit system. Some areas would also support streetcars since the city was originally designed for streetcars.

There should also be interurban routes to the suburbs, as in the early pre-automobile days. Many of the rail rights of way still exist.

Comparing costs:

  • Subways are $250 million per km;
  • Streetcars and light rail are $40 million per km; and
  • Electric trolley buses only $1 million per km plus additional double articulated buses at $1 million each.

The more affordable options could cover more of the region at a fraction of the cost.

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Vancouver’s growth by the real numbers

Opinion: Let’s plan for people, not profit

Misleading: Figures city uses to justify increased residential zoning don’t stand up to scrutiny

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  April 2, 2015
Vancouver can do better than build a concrete jungle of towers and monster homes.

 

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The City of Vancouver’s justification for a plan to increase market residential zoning capacity is that a million more people are coming by 2041, so we have to prepare. But these numbers are misleading and do not tell the whole story. This estimated million more people is for the whole region, with only a small fraction headed to the City of Vancouver.

Also, Vancouver has a huge amount of zoned capacity that has yet to be built out. Some of this is in long-standing plans established decades ago, and some of it has been planned and zoned more recently. The city has refused to provide in any transparent fashion the actual total numbers of zoned capacity city-wide.

The push for major tower rezoning is motivated by those who will benefit financially, but there is no urgent lack of supply for new market housing capacity in the city. The public has ample time, years in fact, to choose among many different forms about how the city is to grow.

To understand what is really happening, one needs to look at the actual numbers rather than just the public relations sound-bite.

Based on the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) approved in July 2011, Metro Vancouver has established growth projections. The projection of a million more people is for the whole region from 2006 to 2041. Only a portion of this growth is expected to happen in the City of Vancouver. Part of this growth has already happened since 2006.

The RGS used the 2006 census numbers for population and number of housing units, and estimated how much both would increase over 35 years to 2041. For the City of Vancouver this was an increase of about 140,000 people and 75,000 units.

In July 2013, the City of Vancouver raised the estimate to 164,000 people and 97,500 units. As a footnote under a high growth scenario, this was further increased to over 180,000 people and 108,500 units.

But there has never been any publicly transparent analysis to show how this increased estimate was determined.

Looking at the census, the actual population growth from 2006 to the most recent census in 2011 was about 25,000 people and 13,000 units.

Those figures should be subtracted from the 35-year projection to estimate future needs. The adjusted estimate of increased population between the most recent 2011 census and 2041 should be only 115,000 more people and 62,000 more units. The city seems to have added 24,000 instead of subtracting 25,000 people.

Further, the true number of overall housing units that should be rezoned for as of 2015 would be reduced by the huge amount of zoning capacity that has been approved to date but not yet built. Continue reading

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Spin city – transit plebiscite

Scratching the surface of the plebiscite 

By Elizabeth Murphy

Common Ground Magazine  April 2015

Article Link

Oakridge Mall redevelopment of 11 towers up to 45 storeys tall is an example of what the City has identified as potential development for the Broadway Corridor if a subway is approved.

We must look beyond sound bites coming from the multi-million dollar, publically funded Yes campaign for the transportation plebiscite. The evidence shows that the plan for the Broadway Corridor is more about implementing Metrotown-scale development than it is about transporting people.

With foreign capital taps wide open into local real estate and development, Vancouver is demonstrating the kind of deregulated extraction capitalism opposed by Naomi Klein in her latest book, This Changes Everything.

Manipulated growth projections are used to justify development we do not need. This is leading to overbuilding of about 2,000 units per four-year census period. By 2011, this amounted to a total of 22,000 unoccupied units. The point is not how do we force these expensive new units to be rented out, but why do we permit overbuilding?

Like the 1950s and 1960s neighbourhood clearing and urban renewal highway projects, this current tower oriented redevelopment of established neighbourhoods will prove to be a mistake.

Affordable older housing stock is being demolished to be replaced by tiny-unit, expensive cookie cutter condo towers or new monster houses. These are not affordable or viable options for most people or families in Vancouver. Increased development pressure will increase rents and the cost of home ownership.

This plebiscite is a crucial step to fulfilling the decade’s long play initiated under former premier Gordon Campbell and Kevin Falcon when they set up TransLink to push forward the Canada Line for the winter Olympics.

As shown by the City of Vancouver’s policies under Transportation 2040, and explained further through the City’s KPMG report, development along Cambie at Oakridge and Marine Drive stations are examples of what to expect along the Broadway Corridor if the plebiscite is approved.

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City’s Grandview Planning

Opinion: 

City’s Grandview planning: Will The Drive survive? 

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Province  January 8, 2015

zoningmap

Source: City of Vancouver existing zoning map. This map shows the broad mix of existing land use and housing. Photograph by: City of Vancouver , Submitted

 

VANCOUVER, BC – In December, after the November 2014 civic election, the City of Vancouver held a sub-area workshop for the Grandview community plan. It proved to be an exercise in manufactured consent. That charade undermined the Mayor’s pre-election day apology and promise; the promise that if he were to be re-elected the city would listen to the community and be more transparent.

Grandview is the neighbourhood centered around Commercial Drive, affectionately known as The Drive. Its boundaries span from Clark Drive to Nanaimo Street and from Broadway north to the waterfront.

The Drive has a lively shopping district along Commercial Drive; spectacular private and public views to the mountains and downtown; and it is well served by transit and by the Britannia Community Centre. The Drive is a great neighbourhood that is still affordable for many.

This community is a model of diversity, with a broad mix of age, of ethnic, and of economic demographics. Currently 50% of the area is made up of the original heritage character built prior to 1920, generally well maintained and adaptively reused as multiple-suite buildings that tend to be more affordable than new. Many streets are entirely intact with the original buildings. The area also has a large concentration of purpose-built rentals and more social housing than any neighbourhood outside of the Downtown Eastside. Development pressures from rezoning would put all of this at risk.

PLANNING REBOOT

In 2013 the city came forward with a proposed plan for the area that was broadly rejected by the community. The proposed increased tower forms of development were highly criticized and rejected. The planning process was extended beyond the 2014 civic election. That process included creating a Citizens Assembly requiring residents to apply, who were then categorized based on their profiles. The group was selected from each category by lottery.

I have been actively involved in the neighbourhood as an owner for over 20 years, and have followed this planning process with sceptical interest. It has been a comedy of errors, yet the potential loss is so tragic for the city.

THE WORKSHOP

I attended the December workshop on a rainy Saturday before Christmas with a low community turnout.

Topics were assigned to each of the multiple tables. Even though most of the neighbourhood is covered with heritage character housing, the topic of heritage was separated from housing. It was included with the topic of arts and culture at a separate table. Faced with this dilemma, I chose the heritage, arts and culture topic table.

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Vancouver City Green Policies:

Vision’s “Greenest City” mostly greenwash 

By Elizabeth Murphy  Common Ground Magazine  August 2014 Edition

Article Link

The City of Vancouver’s Greenest City policy update was presented to council in July. Although there are some successes in the plan, the majority of the city’s development policies are greenwash and are actually increasing the city’s environmental footprint rather than reducing it.

For example, the weekly food scraps pick-up has diverted some landfill to compost, which is a positive thing. However, demolitions of mostly older character buildings increased to over 1,000 last year, with about 100 tons per average 2,200-square-foot house going to the landfill. During the first six months of this year, the city approved an all-time record of $1.12 billion in building permits Most of those permits will require the demolition of an existing building, leading to another record year of demolitions.

In addition to building material waste, each demolition usually results in clear-cutting the lot of mature trees and landscaping with a further net loss to the urban forest canopy.

Key findings and analysis in a report by Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservations included the statement: “Building reuse almost always yields fewer environmental impacts than new construction when comparing buildings of similar size and functionality.” In our climate type, it takes 50 years for a new, single-family home of similar size to overcome, through efficient operations, the negative climate impacts related to the construction process. And it takes 80 years to overcome urban village mixed use redevelopment.

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CKNW – Bill Good Show:

Bill Good Show – July 21, 2014 Interview

Communities shut out of planning

Radio Interview with Elizabeth Murphy 

Interview Link

CKNW

From CKNW online post:

We are expecting fireworks between Gregor Robertson and Kirk LaPointe in the race for the mayor’s chair this fall. Last week we heard from both Kirk LaPointe and Mayor Robertson and Kirk LaPointe was quick to state that Mayor Robertson is too cozy with developers. Are communities shut out of the planning process? Mount Pleasant, West End, Marpole, DTES (including Strathcona, Chinatown and Gastown) have all been recently rezoned without community support. Elizabeth Murphy says “welcome to the world of double speak, disengagement, loss of democracy and the end of genuine community involvement in planning.” What would sufficient community engagement look like? Will neighbourhood rezoning cost Mayor Robertson politically? Guest: Elizabeth Murphy, Private Sector Project Manager and Formerly A Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing and Properties Department, and for BC Housing

thebillgoodshow

https://soundcloud.com/cknwnewstalk980/bill-good-show-tue-july-21-communities-shut-out-of-planning

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Community planning by lottery

Opinion: Communities shut out of planning 

Grandview residents upset: They feel city is paying lip service to their input on changes

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  July 16, 2014


The grassroots community in Grandview feels the city continues to avoid its involvement so it is now organizing its process, called Our Community Our Plan.

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The most recent neighbourhood plan in Vancouver is for Grandview, an area centred around the Commercial Drive area. Contrary to past practice, to participate in their community’s plan, residents must apply to the city and be chosen by lottery.

The city now also focuses participation in most of its consultation processes based on profiling. The city claims this is more diverse and representative; in reality, it is prejudiced, stereotyped and designed to avoid genuine grassroots involvement.

To appreciate how seriously this new process is in conflict with the City of Vancouver’s international reputation as a leader in public engagement, we must review the context through which it has evolved.

The new community planning process for Grandview is called a Citizens’ Assembly. This is entirely new for Vancouver and has only once been used in British Columbia for an issue-based initiative called the Citizens’ Assembly for Electoral Reform. The process was never intended for community planning and is inappropriate for this use.

Interested Grandview community residents will be required to apply to the city to be on the committee. Based on personal data (such as age, gender, renter or owner) they are allegedly categorized into profiles by a computer, then randomly chosen through a lottery process selecting 48 people to represent the community. Each selection in the lottery will need to attend a “planning school” for nine sessions over eight months to learn the city’s spin.

The community voiced huge opposition in 2013 when the city came to them with a plan to which the community had no input. That plan included a large number of towers of up to 35 storeys and included other rezoning around the area, such as the 15-storey tower at Commercial Drive and Venables Street.

The grassroots community in Grandview feels the city continues to avoid its involvement so it is now organizing its process, called Our Community Our Plan.

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City’s Heritage Action Plan needs work

Opinion:

City’s plan insufficient to preserve heritage homes Building-codes changes needed to make renovation, restoration viable

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  June 9, 2014  3:29 PM

Dorathies Moved
Two Tudor-style houses known as the Two Dorothies were recently saved from demolition by being moved, but may be stripped down to the studs because they are going to be strata titled, that kicks in provisions that would require them to be rainscreened and seismically upgraded.  Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, Vancouver Sun

 

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Demolitions of heritage character houses are the subject of the City of Vancouver’s heritage action plan going to city council this week. Although it is a step in the right direction, concerns remain.

The city’s report is in three parts: (a) Steps to enhance protection of First Shaughnessy and pre-1940s character houses; (b) Encouraging reuse and recycling of construction waste from pre-1940 homes and construction and demolition-waste diversion strategy; (c) Vancouver heritage register annual update

A few of the proposed actions may help discourage a repeat of the more than 1,000 demolitions in 2013, however, many of the interim actions may not be effective, and most of the long-term solutions will not happen until 2015, after the next election in November 2014.

The demolition of character houses undermines the city’s green initiatives, affordability objectives, and neighbourhood character. It is a result of current policy, some of which is recent.

Although demolitions in Vancouver have been a problem for several decades, recent changes have made the situation worse. Under EcoDensity approved by the NPA council in 2007 and then implemented by the Vision council in 2009, there have been a number of zoning and policy changes under which demolitions increased dramatically.

Contrary to Vancouver Heritage Commission recommendations, laneway housing was approved for new house development outright rather than being reserved as an incentive to retain existing character homes. Then, further, the city added increases in height and density to the zoning. In essence, this has created a bonus to demolish and is responsible for much of the recent increase in demolitions.

The current report to council attempts to counter this pressure to demolish character houses. However, the most glaring omission is the report fails to deal with the building code.

The current building code is biased toward new construction and adds significant impediments for renovation of existing character buildings. The city, through its powers under the Vancouver Charter, should remove these impediments immediately so retention and renovation of character buildings is more viable and affordable. Home owners should not be forced into upgrades that increase the financial burden of maintaining or renovating a character house.

Many of these buildings have stood for a hundred years without problems. Yet the building code requires a character house to upgrade to full building code compliance when it undergoes a substantial renovation, or is moved even a few inches off its existing location on site, or to another lot.

The current code is based on new construction technology, not the materials and craftsmanship of a different era. The rules often require the removal of the very character defining features that make the building worth saving and result in little of the original house remaining when the renovation is complete.

A recent example are the code upgrades triggered by moving of the twin Tudor-style homes known as the Two Dorothies, which were moved two blocks in Kerrisdale. Among other upgrades, these buildings may be required to be rain-screened.

Rain-screening of a character house would require the entire outside finishes to be removed, including siding, stucco, trims, windows and doors. Then it would need to be wrapped with building paper and strapped, allowing air flow, even though most character building envelopes already breathe because of how they were originally built. The outside finishes would then need to be reassembled, but generally are replaced because the dimensions will have been changed and materials damaged in their removal. This destroys the building’s character and is very unnecessarily expensive. Rain-screening should not be required for character buildings.

The insulation requirements can also be unreasonable. To meet code, a character building’s exterior walls may need to be changed from 2x4s to 2x6s to allow for thicker insulation. (Yet in new construction the city allows glass curtain-wall with concrete construction that has almost no thermal value.) To change to 2x6s, the interior trims, plaster, windows and doors would be removed, ruining the interior character. Again, this should not be required.

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Saving Character Homes

Opinion: We’ve saved character homes before 

Vancouver could improve policies to reduce demolitions of character buildings

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  May 24, 2014

Legg House

The City of Vancouver has approved a demolition permit for the Legg House, an 1899 mansion, in the West End at 1245 Harwood  Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, Vancouver Sun

Demolitions of heritage character houses are undermining the city of Vancouver’s green initiatives, affordability objectives, and neighbourhood character.

There were more than 1,000 demolition permits issued in 2013, most of them for single-family homes. Each demolition sends more than 50 tonnes of waste to landfills and results in a more affordable home being replaced by a very expensive, much larger house, which is frequently left vacant.

The loss of these solid livable homes, affordable secondary suites and mature landscaping is dramatically transforming the character of entire neighbourhoods.

The city claims there is not much it can do, but that is not the case. The city’s own zoning bylaws and building codes are largely responsible for the current rate of demolitions. This is under the city’s control.

Although demolitions in Vancouver have been a problem for several decades, recent changes have worsened the situation. Under EcoDensity approved by the Non-Partisan Association council in 2007 and implemented by the Vision council in 2009, there have been a number of zoning and policy changes that have resulted in demolitions increasing dramatically.

Contrary to Vancouver Heritage Commission recommendations, laneway housing was approved for new house development outright rather than as an incentive to retain existing character homes. Then further, the city added increases in height and density to the zoning. In essence, this has created a bonus to demolish.

Trish French, a retired senior planner with the city of Vancouver, wrote the 1994 zoning bylaw that has preserved the character houses of Kitsilano’s RT-7 and RT-8 districts (RT signifies a two-family dwelling district). It has stood the test of time and shows there are proven ways that retention of character buildings can be achieved.

Development of these zoning bylaws involved plenty of technical work detailing various types of houses and used economic analysis to ensure the end result would be fair for all stakeholders. It also involved a detailed survey given to every household to gauge support for a proposed zoning. This has proven to be successful and the economic balance has resulted in a house retention policy fair to existing owners. Property values in the Kitsilano neighbourhood areas that encourage character house retention have remained the same as in the areas that do not. A reasonable balance was achieved.

However, French noted on a recent blog posting, “Has anyone at the City contacted me about how the zoning was developed, and how it functions, to ask about pros, cons, pitfalls, how-tos? Nope. History does not exist for the current Council and senior management.”

Equally concerning is the possibility the City will just present its solution without first gathering community input. This requires very careful consideration to prevent even more demolitions than if we did nothing. Most of the affected areas have CityPlan community vision processes through which this could be implemented.

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Local funds shouldn’t pay for transit

Opinion: If Victoria and Ottawa don’t pay, property taxes and development fees are diverted from other programs

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun July 23, 2013 5:04 PM

Transit Funding

TransLink’s Canada Line trains were already at capacity at peak hours when it first opened for business. Photograph by: ian Lindsay , Vancouver Sun

 

Using development to fund transit shifts to municipalities a provincial/federal funding responsibility and undermines local community planning objectives.

It is time to dismiss this model and look at sensible options, with broad consideration of more affordable transit alternatives.

Public transit is a very important part of the city’s infrastructure and needs to be expanded. However, transit is a provincial/federal funding responsibility that would be transformed into a development regime and cash cow for TransLink at city taxpayers’ expense if development is used to fund transit.

The city uses fees from development (such as development cost levies and community amenity charges) to fund civic infrastructure like daycare, parks, community spaces, heritage and affordable housing. These development fees cover only a small part of the cost of servicing the new developments. It is not well known that the majority of these costs are paid by city taxpayers through property taxes and borrowing through the city’s capital plan.

Every year the city borrows hundreds of millions of dollars to finance and subsidize growth. Fees from development projects help to offset a small portion of the costs of growth. However, if fees from development are used to fund transit, the city will lose that source of funding. Civic costs to service new development would also increase to match that imbalance.

There is a mistaken belief that development fees from creating density is free money from selling air, but in truth all new density is subsidized by taxpayers who pay for the supporting infrastructure and services.

While city policy recognizes the need for other public amenities, the unspoken but well-understood reality is that rapid transit is so expensive it will cannibalize all potential for funding of civic amenities from development, while creating additional costs from development to be subsidized by city taxpayers. This amounts to provincial/federal downloading onto municipalities.

Shockingly, using development to fund transit was approved as an option in the city’s transportation plan last fall and in the city’s official development plan last month, by our Vision-dominated council without prior public consultation.

The provincial and federal governments get 93 per cent of the tax base, leaving municipalities with only seven per cent. It is time that senior levels of governments fulfil their obligations to provide funding for transit.

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Vancouver’s new Official Development Plan lacks public input, while Vision “engages” on city-wide block parties

by Elizabeth Murphy in the Georgia Straight 

The city of Vancouver prepares to quietly approve the city-wide Official Development Plan without any public input prior to a referral to public hearing on June 11.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force is released with great fanfare declaring the virtues of earlier public involvement in the planning process.

This proves George Orwell’s premise that governments will say one thing while they do the opposite.

Vision Vancouver is proposing city-wide block parties as a means to engage citizens, rather than including people in meaningful discussions on how they want their city to develop over the next 30 years.

The Official Development Plan and Regional Context Statement is Vancouver’s overarching plan. It will direct all development in the city of Vancouver for the next 30 years, which presently includes proposals to hand over regional designation of large swaths of the city, yet it is being fast-tracked through the system without public involvement.

All of the city’s development and land use policies are bundled up into this one document and presented with a plan to Metro Vancouver for approval.  The plan is second in importance only to the Vancouver Charter, which legally governs the city.

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Vancouver’s development plan lacks public input

Opinion: If you haven’t heard about it, you’re not alone

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  

RGS Vancouver RCS - high res

(Shown above) Vancouver’s over-arching plan that will direct all development in the City of Vancouver for the next 30 years has been referred to a June 11, 2013 public hearing without prior public input. This is where all of the city’s development and land use policies are bundled up into one document and presented with a plan to Metro Vancouver (the Region, GVRD) for approval.

 

Called the Official Development Plan and Regional Context Statement, the plan is second in importance only to the Vancouver Charter, which legally governs the city.

City hall has been working on these plans with the region, province and TransLink under the public radar for more than a decade. It continues to present them as merely procedural, even though they will affect the future of every neighbourhood and every citizen of Vancouver.

Our previous regional plan was the very successful Liveable Region Strategic Plan. The current regime replaced it with the Regional Growth Strategy in July 2011. Within two years, by July 29, 2013, every municipality in the region is expected to submit its own plan to show how it intends to achieve the growth strategy goals set out in the Regional Growth Strategy.

Each city’s draft plan must be submitted to the region for approval accompanied by TransLink comments. The region is required to ensure TransLink’s plans are supported by the city’s plans, thereby increasing Metro Vancouver, TransLink and provincial influence into our Vancouver civic land use authority.

Darlene Marzari was on city council with TEAM from 1972 to 1980. She was elected to the provincial legislature from 1986 to 1996, and served as Minister of Municipal Affairs for 2½ years. About the proposed plans, she says “Fifty years ago I fought a highway through Strathcona and advocated for neighbourhood involvement in land use decisions. The wheel has turned full circle. The issues are the same today.”

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Vision Vancouver chooses subway option without consulting

By Elizabeth Murphy, Contributing writer Vancouver Courier 

TransLink recently released its Phase 2 study report on the three proposed shortlisted options for the Broadway-UBC corridor. Vancouver had already announced the subway option as preferred before engaging the affected communities on the three recent TransLink study options.

The city instead worked with UBC on a $100,000 consultants report to justify only the subway option. Then Vision Vancouver sponsored a meeting March 10 in Kitsilano with Mayor Gregor Robertson and Geoff Meggs promoting the subway as if it is the only option and quoting the consultant’s report to justify it.

Journalist Frances Bula tweeted: “Whoa, big roar of protest here when moderator says that studies show a subway is the preferred option for a #BroadwayLine.” There were many people at the Vision meeting unhappy that the city did not consult them about the future of their neighbourhood before announcing the subway.

In early 2010, a community group called ‘Businesses and Residents for Sustainable Transit Alternatives‘ (BARSTA) organized a meeting in Kitsilano. Over 300 people listened to a variety of community leaders, local business leaders, and transit academics speak and present slides about sustainable transit alternatives. Attendees included city hall staff, UBC students, local residents, local businesspeople and residents from many Broadway communities.

An open microphone discussion at the end of the meeting asserted the unanimity of the group and a final motion was unanimously adopted: “BARSTA supports improved surface electric public transit that is affordable, efficient, and effective, with land use that respects existing zoning and neighbourhood-based planning.”

There was strong opposition to the Hong Kong model of using proceeds from development to fund transit and a subway with out-of-scale tower nodes.

The proposal to funnel transit resources into a few very expensive transit corridors and draining the rest of the system of transit resources is neither practical nor sustainable.

Even if a subway on Broadway is approved immediately, it would not be in operation for 10 to 20 years. But development based on the Hong Kong model of funding transit with upzoned development would occur immediately, adding new demand without transit in place for a decade or longer. This would worsen the current transit situation.

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Flawed policies doom Vancouver’s old buildings

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun

Waldorf2

In recent years new development has caused the loss of many arts, culture and community assets including local theatres such as the Ridge (and Bowling Alley), Pantages, Hollywood, Varsity, Granville 7 and Playhouse; music and entertainment venues such as the Starfish Room, Richards on Richards and Maxine’s; community space of St. John’s Church, and the list goes on.

Although the public generally supports the arts, culture and related amenities, city policies have not been enacted to ensure their retention. Instead, we have a chronic state of crisis management where last-minute attempts are made under threat of demolition, often after the building has been abandoned and degraded – as it was with the Pantages and York Theatres.

This comes at a high cost of either huge density bonuses or demolition. The solution would be to protect these assets under policy rather than rely on desperate initiatives. While council’s recent approval of mapping existing cultural assets is a step toward addressing the issue, the problem is broader than a few specific sites.

What these assets have in common is that they are old buildings, some heritage-listed. Current city policies do not recognize the role older buildings play in creating a city that is affordable and vibrant.

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Transportation 2040 report fatally flawed

Opinion: Both the funding model and land-use planning strategy take power away from municipality

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun

T2040Map

This map of rapid transit station areas and corridors appears in Appendix A of the City of Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 Report to Council of Oct. 30, 2012. The final report map defines rapid transit station areas and future rapid transit corridors, covering the majority of the surrounding neighbourhoods for potential transit-oriented development. This was not in the draft for consultation.

The City of Vancouver recently approved the city staff policy report on Transportation 2040. Although presented as a transportation policy document, it is in fact the long-term land-use plan that will direct future development and inform the upcoming regional context statement required under the regional growth strategy.

Public transit is a very important part of the city’s infrastructure and needs to be expanded. However, the city’s transportation policy has been transformed into a development regime and cash cow for TransLink at city taxpayer expense.

In summary, Transportation 2040 is not about transportation, affordability or environmental sustainability.

Transportation 2040 is:

• Based on the flawed “Hong Kong model” of funding transit with development, thus creating a provincial tax grab on civic taxpayers with a complicit city hall that is not looking out for the civic public interest; and

• A land-use plan with provincial override of civic land-use authority.

Transit-oriented development has merit. However, the location and scale of development should be under the full control of the city and in context with local community plans. Civic developments should never be dictated by the province to fund TransLink or any other provincial responsibilities.

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New policies will not make Vancouver housing affordable

Rezoning concepts from Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Task Force on Housing are more likely to put existing older units at risk of demolition

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun 

MTF-Map

Map  by:  courtesy , Stephen Bohus BLA  – (Originally submitted to the Sun but not published.) The City of Vancouver’s identified “arterials” and projected 100 meter potential transition zones of 3.5 storeys for the Interim Rezoning Policy that will allow up to 20 projects.

Improving housing affordability and building rentals are important priorities. However, rezoning policies resulting from the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability will not provide affordable housing. The policies will instead increase inflationary land speculation, which is the main cause of the affordability crisis in Vancouver, and will put existing older affordable rentals at risk of demolition.

Vision’s Mayor and Council approved the city-wide rezoning policies on October 3. They were immediately implemented without any public consultation on these specific initiatives. (The policies were opposed by Councillors Carr, Affleck and Ball after Carr’s motion to delay for public consultation was voted down by Vision.)

This reckless approach demonstrates an absence of understanding of the complex issues at stake. Mayor Gregor Robertson is continuing Sam Sullivan’s NPA policies despite election promises to the contrary. Robertson’s current rezoning policy is essentially Sullivan’s EcoDensity rebranded falsely as an affordability initiative.

The rezoning policy is so poorly conceived that it cannot work effectively and is creating public backlash by overriding community planning processes. It is the worst of all scenarios.

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