Citywide Rezonings

Local context matters in planning cities

OPINION: Arbitrary citywide rezonings undermine livability, affordability and sustainability

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, October 30, 2021

Referral Report - Streamlining Rental Around Local Shopping Area

City of Vancouver eligibility map for rezoning up to 6 storey rental apartments on and off arterials, called Streamlining Rental Housing, goes to public hearing November 2, 2021. Source: City of Vancouver


There are many different ways that needed city growth can be accommodated. To achieve positive outcomes that avoid negative impacts on the climate, affordability and livability, growth needs to be managed very carefully. This requires a holistic approach to planning that considers the local context of each neighbourhood.

However, Vancouver continues arbitrary citywide rezonings without neighbourhood context. The Vancouver Plan just implements the previous council’s initiatives without any meaningful planning process.

One of the “quick starts” of Vancouver Plan, going to public hearing on November 2, is called Streamlining Rental Housing . This citywide rezoning of up to 6 storeys is for rentals in all C2 zoned shopping areas and pre-approved spot rezonings on-arterials and off-arterials in single detached housing RS/RT zones. These can include multiple site assemblies of up to a full block per project, without limits on numbers of projects in any area. This has no neighbourhood context, no notification of affected residents, nor consideration of the accumulated affects of other development that may be happening in these areas. Continue reading

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Vancouver Plan is a sham

Common Ground Magazine – October 2020

by Elizabeth Murphy

Midway in the civic election cycle, Vancouver continues the policies of the decimated Vision council in spite of the current Council’s attempt to steer a new direction through a city-wide plan. The Vancouver Plan has been hijacked as a COVID recovery program to advance unrelenting spot rezoning for the foreseeable future, without proper planning.

Housing affordability is the main issue in Vancouver. But staff ranked it as the fifth of ten goals in the Vancouver Plan, based primarily on input from special interest groups. The first goal is reconciliation through decolonization, even though reconciliation is a federal responsibility.

Start perhaps with decolonizing the American takeover of city hall.

Gregor Robertson was an NDP MLA installed as the Vision mayor in 2008 by American investor Joel Solomon and the developer lobby. Senior city staff have since been dominated by American recruits, such as city manager Sadhu Johnson.

The major turnover of staff in the last decade has resulted in loss of institutional memory. This has been particularly problematic in the planning department, as the formerly renowned high standards for urban design and liveability are being targeted and dismantled as impediments to unlimited redevelopment.

An example is our built heritage, which is most of the older more affordable buildings. As these are demolished and replaced by more expensive new construction that displaced people cannot afford, it inflates land values, which in turn increases unaffordability and homelessness. Redevelopment also increases the ecological footprint. Continue reading

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Vancouver’s COVID-19 Response

It’s time for Vancouver to pause and pivot

OPINION: Urban design and livability are an important part of sustainability and should not be sacrificed for expediency.

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, August 22, 2020

Construction cranes tower above condos under construction near southeast False Creek in Vancouver. DARRYL DYCK / PNG


Dr. Bonnie Henry said at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown “this is our time to be kind, to be calm, and to be safe.” In contrast, the City of Vancouver carried on with an all-time record for controversial rezoning public hearings in the month of July, sometimes multiple council meetings in a day, under virtual council with reduced democratic processes through the state of emergency provisions.

Meanwhile, recent data disclosed by city staff show that there has been more new dwellings produced than household growth since 2001, and that there are enough new projects in-application for the next decades of projected population growth to come. This shows there is no legitimate reason for the city’s current rush to rezone without proper planning.

July rezonings included the most controversial public hearing for the 28 storeys at Birch and Broadway, with about 1,000 written submissions, including three petitions of thousands in opposition, and multiple days of speakers.

Another controversial public hearing for rezoning all the C2 zones city-wide went multiple days, including hearing from speakers on a Friday night, which is generally avoided. Thankfully, a majority of council supported Coun. Adrian Carr’s amendment to refer the rezoning report to the Vancouver Plan process.

Rather than just implementing the arbitrary city-wide programs and policies of the previous Vision council that was voted out, it is about time that the new council reconsiders policy based on the new context and a new mandate.

A council-approved motion by Coun. Colleen Hardwick has done exactly that. It directed staff to provide data by July 31 for a recalibration this fall of the current housing targets.

From the data provided by staff, it confirmed the census population growth was about one per cent per year, or 5,500 people. At the census average of 2.2 persons per unit, that is 2,500 units per year or 25,000 units per decade. Compare this to the city’s current housing targets of 72,000 units per decade, at almost three times the actual census population growth rates.

Also of interest is the staff admission that the housing targets are aspirational and not a reflection of anticipated population growth. In fact, previous census figures show that there have been more dwelling units than population growth for households, with thousands unoccupied that may be converted to rentals due to taxes and market shifts. Current projects in-application are already enough for decades in further population growth, with over 36,000 units, of which 28,000 are condos. This growth doesn’t include secondary suites, laneway, infill or duplexes. Or any existing zoned capacity.

So this raises the question why the rush to rezone without first doing the proper planning required. Continue reading

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Vancouver Housing Policies

New direction in housing policies needed

OPINION: Renovating existing homes can accommodate growth

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, August 31, 2019

Artist’s rendering of a 14-storey tower proposed at Broadway and Alma St.


For a decade, the top issue in Vancouver has been housing affordability. Yet every policy response from the City of Vancouver has not improved the situation, in fact making it progressively worse. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. That is the definition of insanity.

Ending homelessness has not been achieved and has increased by multiples. The contagion spread to price out almost every income bracket. The exponential growth and supply economics has proven to be a dismal failure as the older more affordable housing is demolished and replaced with new, more expensive stock. Yet we see these policies continue to play out as history repeats itself.

In the Great Recession of winter 2009, Vancouver’s new Vision council was dealing with most large condo developments being cancelled. Many developers were considering building rentals instead of condos since the market was entirely stalled for strata.

Then-mayor Gregor Robertson was looking to partner with the development industry on rental housing. This was the first evolution of the Vision rental incentive programs called Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR).

Ironically, this was initiated through industry consultation in a graveyard. So began the death of liveable Vancouver.

A large meeting was held with the biggest players of the development and real estate industry at the city-owned Mountain View Cemetery’s just completed architectural modernist crematorium. Only a few token “others” were invited, including myself.

Driving up the heavily guarded graveyard roadways that were lined with luxury cars, it was an indication of what to expect at the meeting. The industry attendees had their calculators out and directly demanded that the city officials get to the point. How much of a density and height bonus was the city prepared to approve?

The resulting STIR program created large controversial projects such as 1401 Comox St. in the West End and the Rize at Broadway and Kingsway. These and other STIR projects were grossly out of scale with the surrounding communities.

In January 2012, then-director of planning Brent Toderian, outlined the problems with the STIR program: huge height and density increases of mostly strata condos were used to secure very few rental units; waived amenity contributions; and STIR rents were high.

The program was then cancelled and replaced with the Secured Market Rental Housing Policy, and Rental 100. This would be 100-per-cent rental and limited to six storeys, but generally still out of scale with surrounding areas, with waived amenity contributions and unaffordable rents.

The high rents from these programs have inflated market rents generally and also set precedents for land inflation, with increased development expectations in surrounding areas.

Then in 2018, in the dying days of the Vision council, they initiated another rental program to attempt to include affordable rents. The Moderate Income Rental Housing Program (MIRHP) is currently being carried forward by the city under the new council. Continue reading

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Vision 2.0

Vancouver under the influence

By Elizabeth Murphy, Common Ground Magazine, July 2019

The same outside influences established under the former Vision-dominated council continue to drive Vancouver city policy


The results of the last civic election in October 2018 were a clear signal that the public wanted change, but what started out with so much hope has given us more of the same. The Vision dominated council was eliminated but their policies continue. Campaign finance reform has not removed the influences of the big money unions and developers, while the old Vision-appointed staff continue to guide the process.

The recent launch of the City-wide Plan is a case in point. The outline of the four year planning process was publicly posted only days before it went to council – with no prior public input. At the time of writing, the council decision was delayed, but the proposed planning direction was clear.

As outlined, the planning process is little more than a data-mining exercise while continuing the policies and programs established by Vision. Things are going in this direction because the same background influences driving the previous council are still in play, despite many good intentions to change this.

Although Mayor Kennedy Stewart ran as an independent, as a former federal NDP Member of Parliament he came with party ties and endorsement from the Vancouver and District Labour Council (VDLC).

Provincial campaign reform did not include adequate third-party restrictions for municipal elections, essentially creating the equivalent of US-style “super-PACs” that do not have to disclose political funding outside of the six week election period.

The influence of the development industry continues as well. Stewart has had a series of ten meetings with former councillor Raymond Louie and the major developers he is advocating for. These include Ian Gillespie of Westbank Projects Corporation, Bruno and Peter Wall of Wall Financial Corporation, and Brian McCauley of Concert Properties. Stewart also had lunch with Bob Rennie and met with Ryan Beedie of Beedie Development Group.

Similar to former mayor Gregor Robertson, Mayor Stewart recently cited how the city is working with their developer “partners” on building new rentals. He then voted down a motion to protect existing rentals in commercial zones to discourage displacement through demolition.

Although Mayor Stewart doesn’t have a council majority, the Vision-appointed (largely American) senior staff guide the new council to continue with old policies.

The procedure bylaw and code of conduct rules are used to muzzle individual councillors, advisory committees, and even the public. Criticism of how city staff interprets the narrative, data, analysis, assumptions or intentions of city policy are met with hostility, censorship and reprimands that closes down full discussion. Continue reading

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Neighbourhoods vs. Corridors

The Costs of Corridors

OPINION: Each neighbourhood is distinct and different in how they have evolved over time so need to be planned in that kind of context

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, July 6, 2019

The project at Broadway and Birch at the former Denny’s site was previously approves as a 16 storey tower, but is now proposed to go to 28 storeys, Elizabeth Murphy notes. _____________________________________________________________

Vancouver was established on a grid pattern of arterials for streetcars (replaced by trolley buses) to serve separate and distinct neighbourhoods across the city. Each neighbourhood was designed to be walkable and transit oriented, with a commercial street, schools and parks.

But current planning directions are undermining these historic patters by massive land-use corridors like the Cambie corridor and now the Broadway corridor. It is an enormous mistake at a high public cost.

The Broadway corridor land-use planning is now underway in anticipation of a subway from VCC-Clark Millennium Line station to Arbutus and Broadway, even though it could be a decade away from completion. The boundaries for land-use planning are Clark Drive to Vine Street, and 16th Avenue to 1st Avenue. It crosses multiple neighbourhoods that are broken up into sub-areas, that do not fully follow historic neighbourhood boundaries.

For example, the neighbourhood of South Granville, with its many heritage rental apartment blocks, goes from Burrard Street to Oak Street but is not defined as a sub-area of the corridor. It instead is split between Kitsilano and Fairview South.

The city recently had walking tours as part of the Broadway corridor planning process. On a tour of the sub-area they call Kitsilano South (that includes South Granville to Granville Street), the planning staff who guided it were very nice young planners but were mostly not from here and did not understand the historical context of neighbourhood boundaries. Clearly institutional memory is being lost due to senior staff turnover.

The planners did not understand why it was important to distinguish Burrard Street as the boundary of Kitsilano that divides between the RT duplex zoning in Kitsilano and RM apartment zoning in South Granville.

Why this matters is that these neighbourhoods are distinct and different in how they have evolved over time so need to be planned in that kind of context. This is what the city-wide plan is supposed to do, however, large portions of the city are being taken out of that process and instead planned as part of a corridor.

The city-wide plan is looking like it will just be an implementation of the former Vision council’s policies and programs at a cost of $20 million. It will not be determining what the people who live and work here want for their neighbourhood like the previous CityPlan program. Quite the opposite.

If a subway is extended to UBC, the Broadway corridor is proposed to include all of Kitsilano and West Point Grey as well. Staff are redefining corridor planning as being neighbourhood-based when that is not the case.

Each neighbourhood should be able to have its own land-use planning response to transit. Instead, the tail is wagging the dog as transit is dictating a land-use typology regardless of neighbourhood context.

Planning for the future needs to start with what exists now and who lives and works in the city. Displacement should be avoided as much as possible since the older more affordable housing will be demolished and replaced with more expensive new construction of both rental or strata. Displacement has the domino effect of the most vulnerable people being put at risk of homelessness. Continue reading

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Housing Strategy

Vancouver growth targets don’t add up

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, June 7, 2019


The current Vision agenda needs to change if we are to have an affordable sustainable future for the people who live and work here in Vancouver.  Elizabeth Murphy _____________________________________________________________

Vancouver’s housing strategy is based on population growth targets that are much higher than projections that census data would justify. City policies, programs and budget are based on faulty underlying assumptions. These unit projections were high even during the housing market expansion and do not reflect the current market correction. The housing strategy needs to be reconsidered.

The former Vision council approved these directions before being tossed in October’s election. Yet the new council has approved the plans and policies set in place, including the budget to implement them. Staff have been pushing through their agenda by guiding a mostly inexperienced council with advice that continues to be blindly followed.

An exception is Coun. Colleen Hardwick, who has been raising questions of staff at council meetings regarding the disconnect between unit targets and projected population growth.

The last census in 2016 showed a population increase for the city of about 28,000 people from 2011 to 2016 at a total of 631,500 people. Total private dwellings were 309,000 (including 25,500 unoccupied or occupied by temporary residents) with an average household size of 2.2 persons per unit. That averages 5600 people per year over one of the highest housing growth periods in Vancouver’s history.

Even if the population growth continued at this pace for the next 10 years it would only mean 56,000 more people. At 2.2 persons per unit that should be 26,000 more units.

However, the city’s targets for the next 10-year period is for 72,000 more units. That is more units than the 56,000 new people, if increases kept up with recent growth trends and almost three times the number of units that would be reasonably justified by population projections.

So in summary, the city is targeting to add 72,000 more units from 2017 to 2027, while population projections only justify 26,000 units. Vancouver’s housing strategy is based on this fundamentally flawed assumption. Continue reading

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Broadway BS-Line report raises questions

Better, more cost effective options than SkyTrain to UBC should be considered

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, March 25, 2019

A Broadway subway would be more about condo development like that on the Cambie corridor than it is about transporting people. Photo Elizabeth Murphy _____________________________________________________________

The recent McElhanney Consulting draft report used to justify a Broadway subway extension of the SkyTrain Millennium Line to UBC raises many questions regarding SNC-Lavalin involvement, assumptions, costs, ridership, mode shift and development. As a draft that has yet to be signed off by the engineers who wrote it, there are elements that look like it has been adjusted into a public relations document to favour a subway. This report is an update of the 2012 report prepared by SNC-Lavalin and Steer Davies Gleave.

However, on Jan. 30, 2019, before the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal broke in February, Vancouver council was rushed into endorsing SkyTrain technology for a subway extension to the University of B.C. based on the theory that with the federal budget fast approaching in an election year it was critical to move ahead immediately. Same with the TransLink Mayors’ Council.

But now we know there is not likely new federal funding in the 2019 budget for the project, so the rush was unwarranted.

SkyTrain is what TransLink calls the Vancouver regional rail system. It is made up of two types of technology: the Canada Line, which is conventional, and the Expo and Millennium Lines, which are unconventional.

The unconventional Millennium Line technology would apply to the proposed extension to UBC, of which SNC-Lavalin (track and electrics) and Bombardier (cars) partnered to build the SkyTrain Millennium Line and continue to still produce and maintain the systems now in use.

SNC-Lavalin, with Bombardier cars, would therefore likely have significant advantage over other bidders for any extension of the Millennium Line, and it puts into question the ability to get meaningfully competitive bids. In the Canada Line-Cambie merchant court case, then-B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield called the bidding process where SNC-Lavalin won the contract a “charade.” Continue reading

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Broadway Subway, the BS-Line

No one should consider the UBC subway a done deal

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, February 24, 2019

What $7 billion buys in modern surface tram at $50 million per km. rather than only the Broadway subway from VCC to UBC. For illustrative purposes only. Illustration by Kathryn Mandell. (UBC Prof. Patrick Condon)_____________________________________________________________

Although TransLink’s Mayors’ Council has approved preliminary planning for the extension of the Broadway subway to the University of B.C. (the BS-Line), this is far from a done deal. The unfolding corruption scandal at SNC-Lavalin and the company’s proprietary role in SkyTrain technology puts this Millennium Line extension in question. The underlying assumptions that have been used to justify the subway also do not add up, regarding projections of growth, ridership or technology performance of various options.

The recommendations for a SkyTrain subway to UBC are based on a report that updates the 2012 SNC-Lavalin/Steer Davies Gleave report. Since SNC-Lavalin is the main supplier of SkyTrain throughout the region, it is not surprising SkyTrain was their recommendation, and since the current update is based on the 2012 report, it would come to the same conclusion again.

The Expo and Millennium Lines are a proprietary unconventional railway, of which the technical patents are owned by Bombardier and the engineering patents owned by SNC-Lavalin.

“Only seven lines have been built in almost 40 years, with only three seriously used for urban transport. Why is Metro Vancouver now the only region in the world that continues to build with SkyTrain?” asks Malcolm Johnson of the group Rail for the Valley.

Given SNC-Lavalin’s proprietary rights for SkyTrain technology and its ongoing criminal prosecution for fraud and corruption that could result in a ban from bidding on government projects in Canada, the mayors requested confirmation that other companies beside SNC-Lavalin could competitively provide SkyTrain technology.

SNC-Lavalin is already banned from bidding on Word Bank projects due to corruption, and Bombardier is also being investigated.

There also are the questionable underlying assumptions of growth and ridership projections used to justify a SkyTrain subway.

Simple solutions that could be implemented immediately have been avoided to reinforce the narrative that a subway on Broadway is the only option to serve ridership to UBC and that the system is already at capacity. Commuters have been held hostage for over a decade to justify this scheme. Continue reading

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Reconsidering Vancouver’s Subway

Region needs to reconsider Broadway subway to UBC

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, February 03, 2019

Proposed SkyTrain line from Arbutus to UBC is a waste of money and would cause unwanted and unnecessary real-estate development, says planning advocate Elizabeth Murphy. Francis Georgian / PNG


The Broadway subway line to UBC, with the appropriate acronym the “BS-Line,” has been accepted by Vancouver council, based on a consultant’s report some question as being more of a political document than a technical report. Within a week of release and with no public consultation, only two councillors voted against it, Colleen Hardwick and Jean Swanson.

The recent Vancouver civic election showed the public’s desire for a change in direction. An upcoming citywide planning process is intended to deliver that change, including to reconsider the Transportation 2040 plan. But now that the subway to UBC has been accepted by council — and the policies of the ousted Vision Vancouver government remain in place — that will predetermine the land use across the city and make the citywide planning process nothing more than implementation of a predetermined outcome of tower luxury condos like at Oakridge and along the Cambie corridor.

Last-minute council amendments for collaborative consultation after the fact is meaningless when funding partners such as the University of B.C., Jericho Lands and other developers are expected to contribute based on density bonuses to pay for the subway rather than public amenities. It’s not what most people had in mind.

Using what author Naomi Klein has described as disaster capitalism, Mayor Kennedy Stewart backed by Vision-appointed city staff, framed the need to pre-empt the planning process by insisting that there is only a small window of opportunity to get federal funding in an election year.

However, the federal government is nowhere near ready to approve where the infrastructure money will go across Canada. Vancouver is already getting a large amount of federal funding currently allocated for transit while they are lining up against other cities that have none. More funding is not likely to be a priority to a government wanting to spread it around in an election year.

Now the region is being pressured into approving the technology of subway/SkyTrain to UBC. Many regional mayors have raised concerns about equity, given that Vancouver already has a lot of transit infrastructure and about $3 billion of new transit funding recently allocated, while many municipalities have little to none. Continue reading

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Property Taxes 2019

Municipal taxes in Vancouver: the good, the bad and the ugly

By Elizabeth Murphy, Business in Vancouver, Thursday January 24, 2019

The October 2018 election in the city of Vancouver resulted in a decisive vote for change that ended Vision Vancouver’s decade-long majority as the party was entirely eliminated from council.

One of the first tasks of the new council was to address the 2019 budget and taxes. The result delivered a mix of news – the good, the bad and the ugly.

First the good news. Finally, Vancouver is standing up to the province to oppose its recent encroachment on the municipal tax base. The B.C. school tax surcharge is scheduled for collection in July 2019. Unlike the previous council majority, which neglected to protect the city’s interests, the new council has taken action.

New Coun. Rebecca Bligh, a young renter on the east side, brought forward a motion to council to oppose the surcharge. The motion noted the many concerns about the surcharge. Among them: it is not based on the ability to pay; many people with rentals or certain levels of debt financing do not qualify for a deferral; it could cause a tax revolt; and the province can use its own income tax base instead.

The $250 million in expected revenue from the surcharge could instead be raised by a 0.25% increase applied to the top income tax bracket. This would mean that a taxpayer with a net income of less than $150,000 per year would pay no additional income tax while someone earning a net income of $250,000 per year would pay only $250 in additional income tax.

Supported by the Non-Partisan Association and the Green Party of Vancouver, the minority council voted for the mayor to send a letter to the province requesting that B.C. withdraw the school tax surcharge. Even though Mayor Kennedy Stewart voted against the motion, he sent the letter as directed by council.

Other municipalities have also raised concerns. Even those who may not be significantly affected now realize that this precedent will affect them in the future, either through inflation over time or through criteria adjustments that cover more properties. Pressure is mounting on the province to withdraw this flawed, ideologically based scheme.

However, there is also the bad and the ugly in the 2019 city finances. The budget has now been approved by council, with significant increases that allow for implementation of the Vision policies and programs that are still in place. Continue reading

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City hall change or status quo

Vision-appointed staff at Vancouver City Hall blocking change voters demanded

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday, January 11, 2019

The new council approved initiating a citywide plan that was a central part of the election campaign as a move away from the Vision planning regime. However, it is looking like staff are leading this toward just a new way to implement current Vision policy.


Although the Vision Vancouver council majority was wiped out in the last civic election, their staff machine lives on. It is clear from staff’s actions over the last few months that the meaningful and substantial policy changes that the public voted for will not happen as long as current management is retained.

So far, except for minor tinkering, the Vision budget, zoning and policies all remain in place. The upcoming citywide plan looks increasingly like it will be implementing all the Vision policy that is still in effect.

One sure way to put a downer on a social gathering is to point that out. Most people voted for meaningful change, but that is not what we are getting and the public is baffled as to why. “Didn’t we finally vote out those people?” is a common response.

But as to be expected with a mostly new council, councillors are substantially dependent on advice from staff. That advice steers them to effectively the status quo.

Two examples are the approval of the 2019 budget and the motion to reconsider the last-minute RS zoning amendments of the last council during the election.

The 2019 budget was drafted by the previous Vision council. It continues their practice of providing a narrative of how the budget fulfills the council objectives rather than a transparent line-by-line budget as was provided a decade ago.

Rather than delaying and reconsidering the Vision budget in detail to determine if it fits with new priorities, it was approved substantially as proposed with only minor tinkering. Some questions from councillors to staff on program details were framed with accusations of bullying rather than encouraging openness and discussion. Requests for delay to reconsider the budget were met with claims of urgency even though the budget doesn’t need to be approved until the spring.

The Vision policy agenda is essentially funded now for the next year. Continue reading

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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

Rezoning inflates land values – undermines affordability

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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