Developers’ YIMBY Lobby

Vancouver must stop allowing the development community to set the agenda

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday December 14, 2018


This last Vancouver civic election in October was the first under new campaign finance rules that were intended to remove corporate and union big money influence from civic governance. What we learned is that this influence still prevails through the lack of third-party controls. The public clearly voted for change, but because some of the dark money remains, it is unclear how much we will meaningfully move in a different direction this term.

Since third-party campaign finance rules only applied during the six-week election period, it gives broad licence for third parties to be unregulated throughout the rest of the four-year term. Some of this was obvious.

The Vancouver and District Labour Council was very public in its support of a slate. Developers were less transparent in support of candidates, such as the $85,000 donation by developer Peter Wall for billboards promoting Hector Bremner’s Yes Vancouver party just before the third-party controls came into effect for the election period. This was exposed by the media.

So the big money continues to flow into campaigns. And it is even darker and less transparent than before, with multiple sources of third parties, most of whom the public are completely unaware.

One of these political action groups is modelled on the San Francisco “Yes-In-My-Back-Yard” (YIMBY) group. Realtor Bob Rennie endorsed the first of these groups in June 2016 speech to the Urban Development Institute titled, We have to change the narrative.

In the speech, Rennie said that San Francisco’s pro-housing groups that advocate at council for housing projects were the model needed to change the narrative in Vancouver. Sonja Trauss, the founder of the Bay Area Renters Federation, BARF, had a mantra that you have to support building even when it’s a type of building you hate. She said, “Is it ugly? Get over yourself. Is it low-income housing in your neighbourhood? Get over yourself. Is it luxury? Get over yourself.” Trauss continues, “We really need everything right now.”

The groups started to appear simultaneously with the UDI speech in June 2016, first as a twitter account “YVR-YIMBY.” They tweeted “Inspired by SF-BARF … VOMIT — Vancouver Objective: Mass Infill and Transit.”

In March 2017, the institute brought Trauss to Vancouver for a seminar. “Today Sonja gave us a game plan,” Anne McMullin, president and CEO, said in a media release.

For more than two years, these industry supported groups have been active on social media and advocating at city hall. They claim to represent Millennials, but the new housing they promote is generally unaffordable to young people while what they can afford is being demolished. Continue reading

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Vision’s ghost still lingers

Vancouver City Hall staff shouldn’t ignore clear voter support to rescind flawed rezoning

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday, November 23, 2018

Character houses can be converted into multiple units rather than being demolished for more expensive new duplexes. Photo: Elizabeth Murphy


Although Vision Vancouver was wiped off city council in last month’s civic election, its influence is still being felt. Current policy approved by Vision is still in play as the staff who implemented it are moving ahead with that agenda. Although some effort has been made by the new council to correct this, staff are putting up false barriers to moving in a new direction.

For example, Coun. Colleen Hardwick recently put forward a motion to rescind the unsupported RS-zoning amendments implemented citywide without public consultation in Vision’s dying days. Although Hardwick supports duplexes in principle (she even lives in one), she recognizes there are many better ways to implement them than what was approved.

But when the new council asked staff for advice on how to proceed, the answer was spun to undermine the motion.

At first, staff misrepresent the way the zoning amendments were implemented. They claim that there was extensive public consultation when in fact there was none that was meaningful. The city consulted with the public on whether there is a housing crisis which, of course, they concluded there was. But the specific actions to rezone for outright duplexes citywide had zero meaningful consultation with the public, only with some industry input.

There are many different ways to allow for population growth and required services but the specifics of the RS zoning amendments are not in the public interest nor with public support. For context it must be remembered that even before this recent duplex amendment there has been no single family zoning in Vancouver since secondary suites were added in 2004 and laneway houses in 2009, so there already were three units allowed on RS-zoned lots. Continue reading

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Vancouver votes for change

Vision’s reign of error finally ends

The city budget has ballooned over the last decade, much higher than population growth would justify.

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Monday, October 29, 2018

Vancouver City Hall will have a very mixed council with no clear majority.

Vision Vancouver, having pushed though their failed agenda for the last decade, was wiped off city council in the Oct. 20 election. They exit leaving an affordability crisis, record homelessness, unsustainable development policies and a ballooning debt and tax burden. But Vision’s developer backers prospered well.

The public has made a clear and decisive vote for change. It’s about time.

The only remnants that remain of the party are those who didn’t run under the Vision name. Mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart, an “independent,” only won by less than 1,000 votes. He has no council majority or mandate to implement his policies that mirror Vision’s.

Stewart talks to the media as if he represents council opinion, but that is far from the case. Only one of the councillors for One City, Christine Boyle, has a similar platform to his.

Both the Greens and NPA voted against the controversial recent city-wide RS rezonings, and they both have made significant gains in the election, in part because of this stand.

The Greens elected nine of their 10 candidates, with a substantial breakthrough on council from one to three councillors. Two of whom got the most votes, more than the mayor by a significant amount. The NPA won five seats on council, with their mayoral candidate Ken Sim coming close. And one seat for COPE’s Jean Swanson. It’s a very mixed council with no majority.

The yes-in-my-backyard crowd have made lots of noise on Twitter, but they counted for few actual votes. They don’t represent the millennials’ interests, as they claim, mainly just the development industry that endorses and funds them. In 2016, Bob Rennie encouraged the YIMBYs advocating for development in San Francisco to be replicated here.

Based on platforms and the campaign, the votes on council will likely vary depending on the issue. Stewart can’t take anything for granted.

The lame-duck, outgoing Vision council is bringing the final citywide RS rezoning bylaw for approval on Oct. 30. Despite Stewart’s support for the rezoning, the new council could repeal it a few weeks later at the next public hearing opportunity. Continue reading

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Election 2018

Vancouver Civic Election 2018 Slate

This is a critical election. There is finally an opportunity for a big change at city hall with most incumbents not running again. We need a new direction from Vision’s failed decade in power.

The challenge is that there are too many people and parties running for office. Many have good intentions, but will not likely be elected and are only splitting the vote. Unfortunate.

Many people have been asking what to do. Here is a slate with rationale that I support below.

The Character House Network has people from across the political spectrum concerned about the unsustainable and wasteful demolitions across the city. This is a root cause of the affordability crisis: demolishing of the older more affordable housing stock and replacing it with more expensive new construction.

The current Vision council has failed to do anything about this and their policies have only made it worse. Growth and improved affordability could be achieved much more sustainably while retaining neighbourhood character and allowing new development where appropriate. People who live and work here need to be properly and meaningfully involved in the process.


 Election Candidates 2018: Character House Network Slate

The following slate for the Oct. 20, 2018 civic election is intended to guide those who care about saving character houses and the neighbourhoods throughout the city. Below is a basic slate for consideration with rationale.

MAYOR:   SIM, Ken (NPA)  


  • CARR, Adriane (Green)
  • FRY, Pete (Green)
  • WIEBE, Michael (Green)
  • WONG, David (Green)
  • HARDWICK, Colleen (NPA)
  •  NOBLE, Penny (Independent)


  • MACKINNON, Stuart (Green)
  • DEMERS, Dave (Green)
  • DUMONT, Camil (Green)


  • FRASER, Janet   (Green)
  • GONZALEZ, Estrellita (Green)
  • CHAN-PEDLEY, Lois (Green)


Current city councillor Adriane Carr (Green) has been an early and consistent supporter of character house retention. Greens recognize that the greenest policies are those that allow for adaptive reuse of existing character buildings, including for more affordable suites, strata and infill. Because of this record, we support the whole Green slate.

The Vision dominated council has had a decade to stop the demolitions, but instead has just made it much worse. And recent rezonings without any community consultations show this would continue. The two “independent ” mayoral candidates, Kennedy Stewart and Shauna Sylvester, are both related to Vision and their policies reflect more of the same, so not viable options. One City is also the same.

The other front running mayoral candidate is Ken Sim (NPA). He has confirmed that he supports policies that meaningfully retain character houses. He would revise zoning and building bylaws to make it easier to retain character houses or renovate, and that the recent rezonings would be reconsidered with character retention as part of community consultation and planning.

Colleen Hardwick (NPA) is strongly committed to character house retention as part of planning for growth within a sustainable city, supported by a more affordable surface electric transit network than the unsustainable subway and towers.

Penny Noble (Independent) has been part of the Character House Network and is committed to the cause.

Slate Options:

The above is a small base slate so that those who want to can either vote just for these candidates or there is room to add more from the NPA, other parties, or independents. Lots to choose from. Be mindful of vote splitting. At minimum, please vote for all the Greens.

But mainly it is important to vote. Advance voting is until Wed. Oct. 17, with election day on Sat. Oct. 20.

Find out more here.

Please consider signing the Character House Network petition here.

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Jane Jacobs’ wisdom needed now

Vancouver voters need to think about the city they want before they vote

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Tuesday, October 9, 2018

This heritage house was recently demolished that could have instead provided for more units and infill, argues planning activist and private project manager Elizabeth Murphy.


Vancouver became renowned for participatory community planning based on the principles of Jane Jacobs. But over the last decade, this reputation has become undeserved. There has been a shift from a sustainable complex city of neighbourhoods for people to bland density obsession for the benefit of developers. Vancouver has lost its way.

Jacobs’ influential writing was central to stopping major highway and urban renewal that was destroying inner-city neighbourhoods in the 1960s. She stopped the Lower Manhattan Expressway through her neighbourhood of Greenwich Village in New York City, the Spadina Expressway when she moved to Toronto and this also inspired the 1970s cancellation of Vancouver’s proposed highway through Grandview, Strathcona, Chinatown, Gastown and the waterfront.

This set Vancouver on a new sustainable path based on Jacobs’ principles of neighbourhood-based participatory planning.

Prior to 2007, the planning process in Vancouver included meaningful involvement from the people who lived here, such as CityPlan and earlier Local Area Planning. This was a basic principle that resulted in a sustainable mix of neighbourhoods that focused on social capital. However, the shift over the last decade from livability to growth, at both the regional and civic level, has resulted in housing primarily as a commodity that has caused a severe affordability crisis and increased homelessness.

Globalization has only made this worse as over-development has been consumed by inflationary forces that locals cannot compete with. Yet those who live here are increasingly being excluded from the decision making process that is dominated by the development industry that benefits through their control of city council.

Recent citywide rezonings are a case in point. Without community consultation, the outgoing Vision council is forcing through rezonings that affect the majority of the city right before an election when few are running for office again. Adriane Carr (Greens) and the NPA voted against the rezoning while Hector Bremner (of Yes Vancouver) voted with Vision for the rezoning.

The reasons why this approach is failing Vancouver are many. In simple terms, it is because we are demolishing the older more affordable housing and replacing it with new, more expensive units that most locals cannot afford. So as rezoning increases outright supply, this cycle continues. Continue reading

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2018 Civic Election:

Vancouver: To change or not to change 

By Elizabeth Murphy, Common Ground Magazine, October 1, 2018

The 2018 civic election has an opportunity for change, with most incumbents not running again. The question is: will the new council lead a new course in direction or just be more of the same? There is hope for the former. 

The current Vision dominated council is ending its decade in power with a dismal record. But this election could mean a new direction if people become informed and vote.

The initial good intentions of Vision were undermined from the first term they controlled council in 2008. Big campaign donations from both unions and developers were how these influences set us on an unsustainable path. Vancouver now has record homelessness, an affordability crisis, unsustainable demolition of older more affordable buildings, replaced by more expensive luxury units for the global market that most people who live here cannot afford.

The city has been reversing decades of practice for community participatory planning that Vancouver used to be highly regarded for. Now the institutional memory is being lost as the experienced staff are hollowed out. No longer are citizens consulted as citywide rezonings are imposed that makes the character of each neighbourhood dissolve into banality with locals displaced and priced out.

Vision’s majority council are responsible for the last decade. Although only one of the current Vision council is running this election and “apparently” no mayor, they are still working to get a majority to continue this abysmal record of destruction. So called “independent” mayoralty candidates such as Kennedy Stewart and Shauna Sylvester are either from or surrounded by the forces that brought in Vision. With the further support of One City, this same crowd would have the numbers to continue dominating the city.

The one shining light on council has been Adriane Carr of the Vancouver Greens, who topped the polls in the last election. She has supported genuine citizen involvement and sustainable options that would retain character buildings while allowing for more affordable options for growth. This is where we need to go.

And although the Greens are not running a majority nor a mayoralty candidate, they have a quality team of four for council, and three each for Park Board and School Board. We need them all elected.

The big question is who will also work for a change in direction. There are many options, perhaps too many. And although many are good people, will any get elected in such a split broad field. When the public are confused, they tend to go with familiar names.

Read More…

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Rezoning undermines affordability and character

Vancouver city hall is slamming through destructive new zoning without giving citizens a say

The City of Vancouver is on a mad rush job to rezone 68,000 properties across the city, including Kitsilano and Cedar Cottage, in a move that will only benefit developers.

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Monday, Sept. 14, 2018

Broadway will soon experience development similar to what is happening along the Cambie Corridor, which is mostly unaffordable, argues project manager and former city property development officer Elizabeth Murphy.


Recent information on the costs of transit and utility upgrades for growth raise concerns and questions. What is becoming clearer is how much the public is being asked to subsidize the transit providers and development industries that benefit from these plans while making life less affordable, livable and sustainable for people.

Neighbourhoods are being rezoned in an incompetent, mad rush to accommodate this growth agenda — most of which is unaffordable and unnecessary to meet population growth — without community involvement or adequate consideration of the impacts on finances, society or the environment. This is not in the public interest. Continue reading

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High costs raise questions on growth

City’s high housing growth rate making homes less affordable

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday, Sept.1, 2018

Marine Drive and Cambie Street is part of the Cambie corridor plan that requires $750 million in utility upgrades as part of the billions of dollars of upgrades required for city-wide growth. Elizabeth Murphy


After more than a decade of high levels of growth in the city of Vancouver, we can now see what that is achieving. The results are record homelessness, an affordability crisis, inflated land values and unsustainable demolitions. But on top of that we are only now being given a peak under the hood at what the costs of servicing that growth will be. And it is enormous.

In July, the city approved a report on city-wide utilities financing growth strategy and a Cambie corridor utilities servicing plan. It disclosed, in somewhat of an opaque and incomplete way, anticipated growth and the costs to service that growth that is in the billions of dollars. It also posed some significant environmental sustainability issues that had not previously been raised by the city and puts in question the current growth agenda. Continue reading

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City-wide rezoning without consultation

Unprecedented rezoning rush continues

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday, August 4, 2018

Vancouver city councillor Adriane Carr. Gerry Kahrman/PNG


The City of Vancouver continues its rush to rezone city-wide without a prior public consultation process, counter to standard practice. Their clear objective is to push everything through in advance of the civic election in October. Since most of the current council are not running for re-election, they are not accountable for the transformative changes. The many calls for these decisions to be made by the next council is falling on deaf ears.

On the heels of a massive number of reports brought to council in June, the last few weeks in July has proven to continue that trend while most citizens are away on summer holidays. After a break in August while council is shut down, the unprecedented number of public hearing dates reserved for September looks daunting.

The most substantial city-wide rezoning is of all the RS-zoned detached residential areas. Plus they are rezoning all the RT7 / RT8 character retention duplex zones in Kitsilano, mostly located north of Broadway and 4th Ave. to the waterfront. These both have now been referred to public hearings in September without public consultation. Continue reading

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Property surcharge against municipal interests

B.C. property surtax undermines municipal tax base

By Elizabeth Murphy, Business in Vancouver, July 12, 2018

Graph source: Metro Vancouver report 2016.

The B.C. provincial government’s proposed property tax surcharge encroaches onto the municipal tax base.

The B.C. take of 40% will increase to 70% and more as it escalates on higher-value properties. This precedent-setting tax grab also makes life less affordable for both owners and renters, so it needs reconsideration.

Property taxes are the main source of revenue for municipalities to cover civic services. But rather than using its own provincial tax base, such as the progressive top bracket of income taxes, the government has chosen to impose a new surcharge on property taxes. It is a provincial tax grab of the municipal tax base. Continue reading

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Rezoning increases the divide

Outgoing Vision council doing ‘chainsaw massacre’ to city zoning without public consent

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Monday, July 2, 2018

City of Vancouver maps from 2016 show how ‘hot’ properties that inflated beyond the average are distributed across the city. They closely reflect the areas of the city that have undergone planning programs for increasing density and the resulting speculative inflation.


The City of Vancouver passed reports at council last month to rezone across the city without public consultation. As this council’s failed decade of policy has shown, rezoning inflates land values, which is at the root of the affordability problem. Proposed actions to be considered in July will just make this worse as it further increases the affordability crisis they claim to be resolving.

With only three business days to respond, the public got their first look at 680 pages of major policy documents proposed for approval. This posed a challenge for even the most dedicated policy wonks and impossible for the public on such short notice. These included rezoning across the city in all RS (detached) and RT (duplex/infill) zones to multi-family under the Housing Vancouver strategy and Making Room reports, as well as a planning program for the Broadway corridor.

Although most of this council aren’t running for re-election in October, the first referrals to public hearing were approved for July 18, followed by major reports for July 25. They seem determined to ruin what is left of this city as they run for the exits with most of the rats jumping ship. Continue reading

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Regressive Property Surcharge – The Georgia Straight

B.C. property surtax undermines cities and affordability

By Elizabeth Murphy, The Georgia Straight, June 14, 2018

The province of British Columbia introduced a property tax surcharge that is a substantial encroachment onto the municipal tax base. It is precedent-setting in how it is proposed to be applied and will make life less affordable for both owners and renters. The government needs to reconsider this.

Property taxes are the main source of revenue to cover municipal services. But rather than B.C. using its own provincial tax base, such as the progressive top bracket of income taxes, it has chosen to impose a new surcharge on property taxes. Although this is called a “school tax”, it is not about funding schools since it just goes to general revenue and is not based on a mill rate. It is a provincial tax grab of the municipal tax base.

Although the surcharge is currently proposed to only affect properties over $3 million, it has been strategically set at this rate to reduce opposition, while pressure is already building from some academics to adjust the threshold to $1 million. That would affect the entire city and most of the region.

Once a precedent is implemented, it would be much easier to expand the criteria to capture more properties. Property values have increased across the board, not just at the high end.

So while an ideological war on the “rich” is portrayed, the reality is that most average people will eventually be affected, including those who may not be affected initially.

The problem with property taxes is that they are not based on the ability to pay, so in that respect are regressive. Many of those affected are low income or average earners, who will be forced into debt or to sell. Deferral is a form of debt that requires a charge on land title to the benefit of the province, and not everyone will qualify. Continue reading

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BC Property Surcharge Town Hall Meeting

WPGRA Meeting on BC Surtax Presentation 

On May 27, 2018, the West Point Grey Residents Association (WPGRA) held a town hall meeting on the BC ‘school tax’ property surcharge, with MLA David Eby.

The Jericho Hill Gym was packed to capacity, including the upper balconies, at over 900 in attendance . With the exception of only a few people, the overwhelming opposition to this tax was clear. MLA David Eby committed to taking this message, including the proposed alternatives, back to the government and Minister of Finance, Carol James.

Main points often repeated by attendees:

  • Most cannot afford this tax.
  • Many cannot defer.
  • There are better options from the provincial tax base to cover needed revenue for schools rather than encroaching on the municipal tax base of property taxes.

The presentation by Elizabeth Murphy is here. BC Budget-Surtax-2018-Presentation

Copyright Elizabeth Murphy 2018 all rights reserved.  

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Proposed “School Tax” Property Surcharge

B.C. taxes need a ‘second look’

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday, May 26, 2018

Graph updated June 13, 2018

Property taxes in the City of Vancouver are the highest in Canada, and if the proposed school-tax surcharge is added, it increases the amount substantially more, says Elizabeth Murphy, former property development officer for the city.


Vancouver has the highest property taxes in Canada. The B.C. property-tax surcharge would further increase this burden and substantially encroach onto the municipal tax base. This regressive provincial tax grab will make life less affordable for everyone, both owners and renters. To understand this requires looking past ideological bias and considering the facts.

In the 1990s, a luxury tax was proposed on properties above $500,000. If that hadn’t been withdrawn by then-Premier Mike Harcourt, it would have eventually applied to all properties across the city and region, including most condos.

The proposed surtax is strategically tied to the $3-million mark to minimize initial impact of this precedent that, if implemented, will eventually be broadly expanded to capture all properties just like the 1990s’ version would have.

Everyone should be concerned.

The calculation of property taxes is very specific to each municipality. Property taxes are based on a mill rate. This is calculated by taking the total municipal budget and dividing it by the total assessed value of all properties in the class (such as residential). Continue reading

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Canadian Property Taxes

Total Property Taxes Paid 

Based on MLS Detached Benchmarks

Updated chart June 13, 2018

City of Vancouver has the highest property taxes in Canada and the Province of BC is proposing to substantially add to this burden.

Update: Prof. Andrey Pavlov explains the facts

Property taxes are based on a mill rate. This is calculated by taking the total municipal budget and dividing it by the total assessed value of all properties in the class (such as residential).

The mill rate will be low if property values are high. But then the mill rate is multiplied by the assessed value of the property to determine the property taxes paid.

“Each municipality is unique,” explains Prof. Pavlov. “The mill rates are specific to each municipality, so taking the a mill rate from one city and applying it to another city’s unrelated property values is like comparing apples to oranges. It is a misuse of data.”

In the case of the City of Vancouver, the mill rate will be low because property assessed values are so high, but once this is multiplied out, based on MLS Benchmark detached prices, it is clear that Vancouver has the highest property taxes in Canada.

The graph above shows the base rates plus the utilities that are part of the total property tax bill for most recent figures of 2017. Continue reading

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BC Property Tax Surcharge

B.C. undermines municipal tax base and affordability

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday March 9, 2018

Life is made less affordable for owners and renters by provincial encroachment into the municipal tax base.


The province recently introduced their budget, the first, full-year budget for the new NDP government. They claim it “puts people first, makes life more affordable for British Columbians.” Although there are many aspects to the budget that are a welcome shift from the previous administration, the proposed provincial infringement into the municipal property-tax base is particularly problematic.

There are a number of valid measures to curb foreign speculation and capital used to purchase real estate where provincial income taxes aren’t being paid. These concerns are now addressed in this budget through new and expanded taxes and enforcement that are long overdue. The devil is in the details of how this will be implemented, but not the focus here.

It’s the provincial increase in the school portion of the municipal property tax that works against the objective to make life more affordable for British Columbians. The main problem with property taxes is that they’re not related to a citizens’ ability to pay, such as a person who bought their home a long time ago and is on a fixed or low income.  

The surtax is posed as a luxury tax, but the reality is that it includes many older character houses that are certainly not luxury properties, nor are most owners with million-dollar incomes. New houses may have owners who are more likely to have a larger income to support more taxes, but that doesn’t justify the province to encroach on the municipal tax base.

Under the new measures, properties valued at higher than $3 million will be subject to an additional 0.2-per-cent tax on the value between $3 million and $4 million (plus $2,000), and 0.4-per-cent tax on the assessed value over $4 million (plus $4,000 per million), beginning next year. These are no small numbers and add up quickly.

This annual increase is on top of the tens of thousands of dollars that many currently pay in property taxes every year and, for a principal residence, are based on after-income-tax dollars. The increase is only the tip of the iceberg if the province gets away with this precedence of infringement into the municipal tax base meant for civic services.

Currently, the provincial school tax has crept up to about 35 per cent of the property-tax bill, plus about eight per cent for TransLink. With the new added surtax, the provincial take is in some cases to triple or more, and isn’t based on a mill rate, but directly on assessed values, a first of its kind. Citizens and  municipalities should be very concerned.

Property taxes are the primary tax base for municipalities to pay for civic services, with the province continually pushing to infringe on that tax base. The previous B.C. Liberalgovernment was pushing to use property taxes and development fees to pay for the provincial responsibility of transit, which the Mayors Council has been resisting.

Now the NDP government is going after property taxes through a huge increase to the school tax. Schools are a provincial funding responsibility, mostly through provincial general revenue. This surtax is siphoned off the municipal tax base and swallowed up by the insatiable provincial whale. There is no evidence that schools in the jurisdiction that the surtax is collected will benefit directly from it, nor the school system specifically. General revenue has a way of moving around as priorities shift.

Darlene Marzari, former minister of municipal affairs with the previous NDP provincial administration, has seen this all before.

In the mid-1990s, the province under then-Premier Mike Harcourt tried to impose a “luxury” property-tax surcharge that primarily affected the west side. There was a huge public pushback, including threatening the seats for both Harcourt and Marzari, until the proposal was withdrawn. If the surtax had been implemented, land-value inflation would have meant that in only a few years the surtax would have applied to properties across the city and eventually the region.

Marzari says this current proposal is “the encroachment of provincial jurisdiction into municipal authority and the direct percentage ‘take’ of cash from the assessed value rather than using a traditional mill rate to fulfil the civic budget. It will tax people out of their homes and threatens the NDP’s narrow majority backed by the B.C. Greens, especially for (Attorney-General) David Eby’s riding.”

Like in the 1990s, if this surtax proposal is implemented, it will eventually affect all properties across the city as property values increase over time.

The premise that if an owner can’t afford the large property-tax increases they can always defer their taxes, is setting up a system where the only options for most owners is to either go into debt or sell. Property taxes are part of the costs that affect affordability, along with utilities and mortgage payments. Taxes shouldn’t be punitive or impossible for incomes to cover.

Income taxes on the other hand are spread over a much larger tax base that the province has jurisdiction over and is based on the ability to pay. Under the B.C. Liberals, they tried to keep income taxes very low so they had boasting rights as a low-tax jurisdiction, but in fact they were just shifting the tax burden to fees and surcharges that hits those with lower incomes the hardest.

This property surtax is a similar maneuvre. However, a small increase in income taxes, based on the ability to pay, can generate significant additional revenue for schools and other programs. The issue of non-residents buying real estate and not paying income tax is being dealt with in the other tax measures the province has proposed and beyond what general property taxes that affect locals can achieve.

The unintended consequences of the property-tax surcharge hasn’t been thought through. They have already had to exempt multi-family rentals of four units and more after pushback by the rental industry. Increased taxes would have been passed onto tenants. But so to for houses divided into two or three suites, so what about them?

Property taxes should be affordable to people and not punitively forcing people into debt. Taxing people out of their homes isn’t making life more affordable for British Columbians. And the provincial encroachment into the municipal tax base undermines the cities’ ability to provide the civic services that property taxes are intended for. Continue reading

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Supply-side Development

City of Vancouver needs treatment for its overbuilding addiction

By Elizabeth Murphy, Business in Vancouver Magazine, December 1, 2017

The City of Vancouver has finally admitted that it has an addiction problem. The addiction is increasing density through rezoning that has been inflating land values. Along with large speculative inflows of capital that treat housing as a commodity rather than a home for people who live and work here, this has created an affordability crisis. Continue reading

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Community Planning

Vancouver’s housing strategy needs a rethink

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Monday, November 27, 2017


The City of Vancouver has an addiction. Like all addicts, the first step is to admit they have a problem. The city has finally taken that step.

The city’s addiction is to increasing density through rezoning that has been inflating land values. Along with large speculative inflows of capital that treats housing as a commodity rather than a home for people who live and work here, this has created an affordability crisis. It is positive that for the first time, the city has finally made this admission as part of the new housing strategy going to council this week.

Unfortunately, typical of an addict, the city’s solution to this problem is to increase the addictive substance. They claim that if they increase density and housing supply — this time, the right kind of supply — affordability will get better. This is unlikely for a number of reasons.

The city’s addiction is not like drugs or alcohol that one can stop all together if one chooses. It is more like an eating disorder in which one must learn how to eat healthily and in smaller quantities. In many ways this is much harder to achieve.

So the city may have taken the first step to recovery, but the plan is flawed. What the city needs is the civic equivalent to Overeaters Anonymous, such as Overbuilders Anonymous.

The problem for overbuilders is that they are stuck in the supply-side dogma that has proven to be a complete failure. This is promoted by the industry and special interests who benefit directly and up to now have also funded government election campaigns. Now that the province has banned corporate and union campaign donations this is about to change.

The supply-side dogma has been recently countered by Dr. John Rose, an instructor in the department of geography and environment at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

He used data from the Statistics Canada censuses and the Demographia Survey House Price Data, and he also looked at supply in housing markets elsewhere in Canada, the United States and Australia for reference. Continue reading

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Britannia & community centres city-wide

Parks and recreation system under threat

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday September 30, 2017

Britannia school and field, part of the community centre complex. Elizabeth Murphy


The manufactured consent coming out of the city and Park Board bureaucratic machines has intensified over the last month as they take aim at the parks and recreation systems.

Britannia Community Services Centre is being targeted for housing. Meanwhile, community centre associations are being forced into a new agreement many consider a shotgun marriage that undermines independent community involvement in programming in favour of centralized controls. The community centre associations and the independently elected Park Board stand in the way of the city’s access to these lands for a similar housing fate as now being considered for Britannia.

Vancouver’s parks and recreation system cannot solve the housing crisis. Opening up these large historic sites to housing will mean the public open spaces and amenities that make the city livable will be encroached upon just when increased density throughout the city puts more demand on their use. Many neighbourhoods are already underserved for parks and amenities. This would make it worse.

First, some background on Britannia. Located in Grandview near Commercial Dr., it is a large site that was put together in the 1970s under the Dave Barrett NDP government that recognized the community was drastically underserved for services. Continue reading

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Parks, community centres & schools

Are amenity spaces destined to become housing development sites?

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday September 9, 2017

Parks and schools open green space are irreplaceable and become even more important as the city densifies.


Vancouver is designed to have neighbourhoods with parks, community centres and schools on large historic sites that make communities walkable and sustainable. These amenities and open green spaces will become even more critical as the city densifies over time, as they are the heart and lungs of the city.

However, rather than being protected, they are increasingly under threat of being sold or redeveloped for housing. Astonishingly, we are moving in this direction now.

Vancouver is unique in its independent Park Board structure. This has served us well since it has ensured that publicly elected park commissioners have been in control of parks and recreational lands, facilities, programming, and revenue. It protects the park system from being undermined by the shifting priorities of City Hall.

The Park Board had its own planning and facilities department that up until only a few of years ago controlled all parks facilities, including community centres, pools and ice rinks. Now, these facilities are managed through the city’s Real Estate and Facilities Department. The Park Board only manages programming, no longer the facilities themselves.

Park Board chairman Michael Wiebe has requested a review of shared services, including facilities management. He said, “This is very important to commissioners as we have seen our service levels drop with little controls to resolve it.”  Continue reading

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The Vancouver Special

‘Vancouver Specials’ offer many lessons

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, August 23, 2017

The Vancouver Special, centre right, would have replaced a demolished character house, such as the house on the left that is converted into multiple units. Elizabeth Murphy


The infamous “Vancouver Special” house has had a profound impact across the city, especially on the east side. It is important to put some context to where it came from and lessons applicable to today.

Builders developed them on spec for immigrant families in the 1960s and ’70s. But Specials were broadly detested because they were large, sprawled across the lot, ugly and resulted in the demolition of character houses that destroyed the streetscape.

The Special was credited for being easily converted to two units. However, the original character houses had future potential to be converted into multiple suites and infill that Specials couldn’t achieve since they sprawled over the rear yard. So the original character house wasn’t just more attractive and made of superior materials and craftsmanship, but also could accommodate more future growth.

Construction costs of the Special were reduced by stripping out everything that was unnecessary beyond basic building-code requirements. It maximized the floor-plate size to build the largest house possible within the allowed setbacks without having to build either a below-grade basement or a second storey. Up to 1974, the area of the lower floor wasn’t counted if it was one foot below grade. So the earlier versions of the Special took advantage of this option with another storey above. Later, versions were the same except slightly smaller with a slab-on-grade entrance.

This meant that most of the lot was covered by the house, which eliminates the option for a laneway house. Even more so when the garage or carport was attached at the back and the rest of the lot was a paved driveway. Continue reading

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STIR Resurrected

City repeating mistakes on affordable housing

Density bonuses provide unintended consequences.

By Elizabeth Murphy,  The Vancouver Sun  August 5, 2017

“Size matters for a number of reasons, not only because the buildings will not provide a proper fit for the neighbourhood. The increased height and density inflates the land values around the site as it sets precedents that increase development pressures on older, more affordable surrounding housing stock.”


The City of Vancouver continues its relentless crisis capitalism to address the ongoing housing affordability problems that are, in part, its own creation.

The recent city proposals are to use a density bonus scheme to create more “affordable” rental housing supply. This looks remarkably like a repackaging of the failed Short Term Incentives for Rentals (STIR) program cancelled in 2012 and the subsequent Rental 100 program, but now with more density bonuses.

At least the city is now acknowledging that supply alone is not the answer. 2016 was a record year for new unit starts, about double the 10-year average. Yet affordability continues to worsen as most of the supply is expensive and disconnected from local incomes. The city’s proposals attempt to address this, but through potentially problematic means.

At a news conference on July 23, the city outlined the incentive options for developers, including extra density, parking relaxations and development cost levy (DCL) waivers. The Oakridge Municipal Town Centre pilot program will include a variety of housing around the Oakridge Centre mall. Midand highrise housing in the area would have to be either 100 per cent rental, with 20 per cent of those units meeting below-market affordability targets, or a blend of 30 per cent social housing units and 70 per cent strata or condo units. Following the Oakridge Town Centre pilot, the options would be considered for expansion across the city. Continue reading

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NDP government

BC Election priority: ending big money in politics

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Monday, July 10, 2017

B.C. citizens voted in May’s provincial election to end big money in politics at the provincial and municipal levels. This was the primary election platform that both the B.C. NDP and Greens campaigned and agreed on as a priority.

The B.C. Liberals, backed by many development industry donors, raised $13.1 million. Realtor Bob Rennie was their head fundraiser. However, the NDP, with unions as their largest donors, only raised $6.2 million, less than half of what the Liberals’ raised.

Even with substantially lower funding, the NDP with the help of the Greens are now forming the government. This shows party endorsement by the development industry has become a handicap with the public.

The strong results for the NDP in Vancouver shows that citizens are fed up with the systemic corruption caused by the big money in politics that has resulted in the development industry having excessive influence on housing and transportation policy. Continue reading

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Chinatown: 105 Keefer St. Public Hearing

Historic Chinatown becoming Yaletown North?

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday May 20, 2017

A rendering from the City of Vancouver report for the public hearing to rezone 105 Keefer Street. Handout / PNG


The controversial Chinatown condo tower rezoning at 105 Keefer St., beside the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden, is going to a public hearing on May 23. It continues to be strongly opposed since 2014.

The Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee (CHAPC), a city council-appointed group, voted against the proposal again in January, stating that their previous concerns had not been addressed. These concerns included excessive height and density, livability of units, quality and types of community amenity spaces in the building, and a richer mix of uses required.

CHAPC noted that “the proposal does 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 proposal is 12 storeys with commercial space, 106 condo units and 25 social housing units. It has 75 per cent non-support in city consultation, yet the city continues to push through essentially the same design.

Helen Lee, an urban planner and chair of CHAPC, confirms that the current report still doesn’t address the group’s concerns. Lee says “each revised version provides only minor tweaks mainly focused on the architectural design elements rather than the more important issues of bulk and height. The proposal is too much for this very important site in the heart of Chinatown.”

These huge increases in height and density are proposed in exchange for only 25 units of so-called “social housing” that are in fact mostly market rentals that B.C. Housing will buy from the developer for $7.3 million. Hardly a public benefit, yet it also means waiving of development cost levies. The developer, Beedie Group, are large donors to the B.C. Liberals. Continue reading

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Housing reset

Supply myth exposed, but more of the same

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, April 15, 2017

Vancouver keeps building housing units that few Vancouverites can afford. JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS


The City of Vancouver is finally admitting that they cannot build their way out of the housing affordability crisis. The supply myth has been driving ever-escalating amounts of market housing, but affordability is getting worse, not better. The city now says that “we have plenty of supply — what we need is the right supply.”

This is the conclusion of a recent report to council that proposes a housing reset. Although they correctly identify that a change of direction is needed, the city instead proposes more of the same.

The city has been approving market development at a record pace, yet prices continue to escalate. The new supply is not bringing affordability and never will if we continue doing the status quo.

In fact rezoning has been inflating land values while demolishing the older more affordable housing stock. People are being displaced and priced out of their city. This is what happens when the real estate market is disconnected from the local economy.

Many of the needed solutions are out of the city’s jurisdiction. However, the city’s own land-use policies of promoting unsustainable levels of market redevelopment has been largely responsible for enabling this crisis to escalate.

The problem is that they don’t seem to know what the right supply is, other than it needs to be affordable. And they do not know how to achieve that affordability. So it still falls back to the same old doctrine.

By engaging with limited interest groups and insiders, the city has set emerging directions before broader public input. This is putting the cart before the horse. The focus of the emerging directions is of course reflecting that feedback, which is — the same old response — more supply. But none of the income levels identified as needing housing options will likely be able to afford the proposed new housing options. Continue reading

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BC Provincial Election

How big money corrupts politics

BC’s Wild West of campaign funding needs reform  

By Elizabeth Murphy

Common Ground Magazine  April 2017

Of the corporate donations to the BC Liberals, the largest group among the top donors are property developers.

The provincial government has jurisdiction over election rules for both the province and municipalities. Here in BC, the wild west of campaign fundraising, provincial and municipal campaign finance rules are currently among the least accountable in Canada. This has been a huge problem for decades and will not change until the province takes action. The British Columbia provincial election on May 9 brings an opportunity to raise the issue of big money in politics and campaign finance reform.

Large donations and cash for access to candidates (often from vested interests) are standard practice with multi-million dollar campaigns. We are becoming the equivalent of a banana republic as globalized capital increasingly influences our governance.

Having the regulators funded by those they regulate is a form of systemic corruption. Limits on individual donations and banning corporate, union and foreign contributions are standard practices in many provinces and at the federal level. But not in BC. Here, at both the provincial and municipal levels, few restrictions exist and existing rules are often ignored.

The Vancouver Sun reported that, from 2005 to the first few weeks of 2017, of the corporate donations to the BC Liberals, the largest group among the top donors are property developers, with 21 of the top 50. Condo marketer Bob Rennie was the BC Liberal’s head fundraiser up to January 2017, leaving the party well funded for the May 9th election. Rennie has also been a prominent supporter and fundraiser for Vancouver’s ruling party, Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson.

These developers include the Aquilini family at the #2 spot ($1.43 million); Adera Group ($1.1 million); Wesbild ($929,576); and Peter Wall and nephew Bruno Wall ($914,425), who own and manage Wall Financial Corp., including the Wall Centre in Vancouver where the BC Liberals held their 2013 election victory win. The top 50 list also includes Polygon, Concord Pacific, Beedie Development Group, Onni, the Redekops and Ilichs.

There are also 10 natural resource companies in the top 50. The coal and metals miner Teck is at the #1 spot ($2.82 million); energy company Encana ($1.18 million); miner Goldcorp ($1.08 million); forestry company West Fraser ($990,320); and also Imperial Metals of the Mt. Polley Quesnel Lake recent mining dam disaster.

The troubling part of all this is the perceived or real influence these donors may have on government policy. Cash for access to government officials or candidates are reported to be a common practice. Continue reading

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Character house zoning backpedaled

Saving character houses needs incentives and zoning

By Elizabeth Murphy, Business in Vancouver, March 17, 2017

The city is moving away from downzoning, especially on non-character lots. This is a good thing because much public pushback was generated when they went too far by not adequately balancing the economics. But now the city must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Incentives for retention do need a supportive conditional zoning framework for them to work, as is the case in Kitsilano. But the economics must be very carefully balanced so that it is fair to owners, allowing the retention option to provide property values that are roughly equal to – or in some cases greater than – those resulting from the non-character new construction option. This has been achieved in Kitsilano, and the city should learn from past successes.

Continue reading

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Character house zoning

Saving Vancouver character houses through incentives

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, March 2, 2017

The City of Vancouver is reviewing incentives to retaining character houses, such as allowing additional suites. Elizabeth Murphy / PNG


The City of Vancouver is doing a character house zoning review to consider saving character houses through incentives such as increased size, number of units, and infill. This retains character while accommodating growth in a more sustainable way.

Although this is good in principle, additional options need to be considered.

There is an urgent need for the review. Since city zoning rules were changed in 2009, demolitions increased to over 1,000 a year with replacement construction of much larger and more expensive “monster” houses. On average, home demolitions have increased 80 per cent between 2009 and 2015, and by 73 per cent on average for pre-1940 homes.

Most of these demolished homes were livable and structurally sound, many substantially upgraded, many with secondary suites. Prime old growth wood was sent to the chipper, materials sent to the dump and little, if any, materials reused. Many of the new houses, often twice as expensive as the older ones they replaced, are left vacant purely as investments. Hardly a green or sustainable city.

City of Vancouver survey results show that 90 per cent of citizens think the retention of character buildings should be encouraged. 

Some in the development lobby say retention of character houses through incentives is freezing single family zoning. In fact, it is doing just the opposite. Character zoning is proposed to conditionally allow a variety of additional options to meet current needs through adaptive reuse. This is by far the most sustainable way to accommodate growth, increase rental and ownership options, provide more affordability and mortgage helpers, and retain neighbourhood character. Continue reading

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Heritage and character houses

City hall must act quickly to save Vancouver heritage homes

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, December 2, 2016

Home at 4255 West 12th in Vancouver is yet another heritage home in the city that will soon be torn down. 

The City of Vancouver is finally considering options to create incentives for character house retention. After years of character and heritage houses being rampantly demolished and replaced by ugly new monster houses, it is way overdue for changes to address this issue. Continue reading

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Business in Vancouver – Transit Funding

Victoria’s civic tax grab a threat to local land-use authority

By Elizabeth Murphy, Business in Vancouver, November 1, 2016

The province is about to impinge on the civic tax base, land-use authority and democracy by using development fees to fund transit and by making increased density zoning a requirement of transit funding. The City of Vancouver and regional mayors are also complicit, in desperation to get their pet megaprojects approved. Continue reading

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