Federal Housing Issues

Opinion: Federal action needed on housing 

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

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

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

Full edition below:

Elizabeth_Murphy

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

Funding of social housing and other housing programs:

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

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

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

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

Taxation as an incentive for the private housing sector:

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Federal Election: Transit infrastructure essential

Opinion: Civic infrastructure funding essential

Make investment in transit affordable, and democratically implemented

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

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

 

Elizabeth_Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Heritage retention a priority

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

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

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

 

Elizabeth_Murphy

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

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

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

Sustainability

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

Affordability

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transportation Plebiscite: The plan is the problem

Transit plebiscite vote was a rejection of TransLink’s plan

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

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

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

Elizabeth_Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparing costs:

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vancouver’s growth by the real numbers

Opinion: Let’s plan for people, not profit

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

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

 

Elizabeth_Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Spin city – transit plebiscite

Scratching the surface of the plebiscite 

By Elizabeth Murphy

Common Ground Magazine  April 2015

Article Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Common Ground, Elizabeth Murphy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

City’s Grandview Planning

Opinion: 

City’s Grandview planning: Will The Drive survive? 

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

zoningmap

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

 

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

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

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

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

PLANNING REBOOT

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

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

THE WORKSHOP

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, The Province | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Vancouver City Green Policies:

Vision’s “Greenest City” mostly greenwash 

By Elizabeth Murphy  Common Ground Magazine  August 2014 Edition

Article Link

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Common Ground, Elizabeth Murphy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

CKNW – Bill Good Show:

Bill Good Show – July 21, 2014 Interview

Communities shut out of planning

Radio Interview with Elizabeth Murphy 

Interview Link

CKNW

From CKNW online post:

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

thebillgoodshow

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

Posted in CKNW, Elizabeth Murphy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Community planning by lottery

Opinion: Communities shut out of planning 

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

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


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

Elizabeth_Murphy

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

City’s Heritage Action Plan needs work

Opinion:

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

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

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

 

Elizabeth_Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saving Character Homes

Opinion: We’ve saved character homes before 

Vancouver could improve policies to reduce demolitions of character buildings

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

Legg House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Local funds shouldn’t pay for transit

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

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

Transit Funding

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

by Elizabeth Murphy in the Georgia Straight 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Georgia Straight | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Vancouver’s development plan lacks public input

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

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun  

RGS Vancouver RCS - high res

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Vision Vancouver chooses subway option without consulting

By Elizabeth Murphy, Contributing writer Vancouver Courier 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Courier | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Flawed policies doom Vancouver’s old buildings

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun

Waldorf2

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Transportation 2040 report fatally flawed

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

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun

T2040Map

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

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

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

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

Transportation 2040 is:

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New policies will not make Vancouver housing affordable

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

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun 

MTF-Map

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Opinion: Protect green zone to stop sprawl

Vancouver needs a more balanced approach to manage growth, affordability

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun

Urban sprawl will not be contained until there is legislation that better prevents development into the green zones of agricultural, forested and conservation areas.

Some have argued that we need to dramatically increase growth and density in urban areas to stop urban sprawl. However, without stabilizing legislation, urban sprawl will actually increase as more development pressure is placed on urban areas.

Building a condo tower downtown suits a different demographic than a large home subdivision in a green zone. People searching for more space will flee to the fringes as long as legislation allows the sprawl.

It is economically prudent for cities to be more selective about how growth occurs. There is a myth that municipalities need development to fund operating costs. Development fees don’t even cover the city’s related costs, far less make a profit for the city, so municipal operating and capital costs of urban growth, including servicing, utilities and amenities are subsidized by taxpayers.

Current regional policy has weakened the protection of green zones. Shortly after Gordon Campbell was elected premier of B.C. in 2001, he made a fundamental shift in policy without public consultation, with a primary goal of promoting regional growth. He brought in enabling legislation for a Regional Growth Strategy in regions across the province, which meant that the much praised Livable Region Strategic Plan in Greater Vancouver would be replaced.

In July 2011, the Regional Growth Strategy was adopted by the Metro Vancouver Board including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and five Vision Vancouver councillors. It eliminated the previous green zone designation and replaced it with an Urban Containment Boundary that can be more easily adjusted to allow for urban sprawl.

The public was largely unaware of this regional policy shift.

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Son of STIR risen: Vancouver rental policy approved

By Elizabeth Murphy, Contributing writer Vancouver Courier

On Tuesday May 15, 2012 Vision Vancouver City Councillors approved a new rental policy report, Secured Market Rental Housing Policy. Based on concerns about the report and the process, it was substantially opposed by Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr and NPA Councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball.

The recently cancelled Short Term Incentives for Rentals Program (STIR) has now been replaced by the Secured Market Rental Housing Policy, or the Son of STIR. Like its predecessor, the new program is a density-bonus-for-rentals policy. But this new version is potentially more problematic.

Unfortunately, instead of discussing and addressing the true merits of the report, Vision Vancouver councillors hid behind rhetoric. They framed themselves as the defenders of rental housing, saying that opposition to their policy report came from bad people who oppose rental housing. Vision claimed that the need for new rentals is so urgent there is no time for any delay to allow for further amendment or consultation.

The opposition was of course not against building rental housing in principle.

Some of the issues raised by opposition speakers were the lack of meaningful public consultation, affordability, neighbourhood fit, protection of existing rentals, and numerous problems with the report including future work outlined in the report. Former councillor Ellen Woodsworth spoke representing COPE, requesting that the report be referred back to staff to conduct a public consultation process so other options could be explored.

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Courier | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Son of STIR: New rental policy proposed for Vancouver

New program has same problems as old STIR program and more

By Elizabeth Murphy, Contributing writer Vancouver Courier

Next Tuesday afternoon, Vancouver Council will consider approving a report on a Secured Market Rental Housing Policy. There has been no public consultation on this policy, which has huge implications for land use city-wide including changes to many Zoning and Development Bylaws.

The proposed market rental policy is to replace the failed Short Term Incentives for Rentals (STIR) program, which was approved without public consultation in 2009 and recently cancelled after massive opposition. There were many problems with STIR, most of which will not be addressed by the new policy, Son of STIR, proposed to replace it. Son of STIR will be worse than its predecessor, and should be referred back to staff for further public consultation.

Problems with STIR:

When Brent Toderian, former Director of Planning, explained in January 2012 why the STIR rental units were being removed from the Rize proposal in Mount Pleasant, he outlined three problems with the STIR program.

1. STIR did not create much rental.

2. Huge height and density increases were necessary to secure very few rental units or amenity contributions.

3. STIR unit rents were high.

In contrast, the City report declares STIR “results to be in-line with the objectives”. That is not in fact the case.

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Courier | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Rize exposes flaws in Vancouver’s planning process

By Elizabeth Murphy, Contributing writer Vancouver Courier

Rize

Rize Alliance project at Broadway & Kingsway facing south: 215 ft. high / 5.5 FSR massing
Photograph by: Computer model courtesy , Stephen Bohus BLA

The Rize at Broadway and Kingsway in historic Mount Pleasant was approved April 17 by Vancouver city council, opposed only by Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr. Minor amendments approved by council will not meaningfully address the issues raised by 139 speakers over six nights of public hearings.

The city’s lack of response to the groundswell of Mount Pleasant community concern is a sign of systemic failure. As one resident at the hearing commented, council’s approval of the Rize is like a one finger salute to the East Side of Vancouver.

Most of the pushback came from the local community, but Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) also backed the community opposition. This project has the potential to set a city-wide precedent at a time when four other community planning processes are beginning—in Grandview, Marpole, the West End and the Downtown Eastside.

Prior to the council decision, the Globe and Mail paraphrased Brent Toderian, the City’s former planning director: “… councillors shouldn’t be afraid to reduce the size of a tower proposed for a historic neighbourhood if approving the project as is would turn residents throughout the city against density … and councillors should make it clear when they deliver their decision on Tuesday how they see new buildings fitting into established areas if they hope to encourage city residents to welcome density.”

Council’s approval of the Rize project clearly signalled they do not respond to community input. This will indeed negatively impact current and future planning processes. In total, 288 speakers had signed up, but sudden rescheduling just before the Easter weekend undermined the chance for 149 of those signed up to speak. City changes to the public hearing process bylaw, passed after the Rize hearings began, also limited public input.

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Courier | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Vancouver schools in crisis

Heritage schools considered for partial or full demolition and replacement, sale, lease, or redevelopment

by Elizabeth Murphy, Georgia Straight on Jun 21, 2011

Schools-Queen Mary

Queen Mary Elementary School.

The Vancouver school board is considering what to do with heritage schools across Vancouver. Although decisions on the East Side schools that had been proposed to be closed, sold, or redeveloped have been deferred to next year (after the municipal and possibly provincial elections), there are a number of heritage schools proceeding with upgrade or replacement.

// Lord Kitchener Elementary School at Blenheim Street and West King Edward Avenue is slated for demolition with only a small wood structure retained and moved to a corner of the site. The large heritage brick building will be demolished.

Kitsilano Secondary School will be demolished except for the front and partial side facades, subject to funding approval.

Two more elementary schools, Queen Mary and General Gordon, have public open houses this week for input into the VSB “preferred” options.

General Gordon Elementary School in Kitsilano has an open house Tuesday, June 21, 3 to 7 p.m. There are five concept options that all include demolition of the entire structure with three options keeping part of the facade. Complete demolition will be presented as the VSB “preferred” option at the open house.

Queen Mary Elementary School in Point Grey has an open house Thursday, June 23, 3 to 7 p.m. There are four concept options, of which three include partial demolition and one of full demolition/replacement. The VSB “preferred” option to be presented at the open house will be retention of the red heritage building with demolition of the rest even though the gym and grey heritage buildings could be seismically upgraded to qualify as “Post Disaster Buildings”.

Queen Mary Options

Queen Mary Elementary School buildings proposed for partial or complete demolition.

Bruce Macdonald, published historian, former teacher and civil engineer, is a fifth-generation resident of Vancouver. He recounts that his father was in the first class of Queen Mary Elementary School when it was built in 1914. He went on to high school at Prince of Wales until he was transferred to Lord Byng Secondary School when it was built. Upon graduation he went on to the University of British Columbia. This is a path that has been repeated by many generations of Vancouver residents since.

Macdonald describes how well Vancouver’s neighbourhoods were designed, to locate schools centrally, within walking distance for most children. The student populations would expand and contract based on demographic changes, but the schools were to remain consistent to serve the neighbourhood as the mother institution.

These schools were built to last hundreds of years if maintained properly. Similar examples exist in older communities such as eastern North America or Europe. The history of these buildings has value as a social element of the community. Harvard or Oxford would never demolish their heritage buildings where many famous students have walked through the same doors and studied over hundreds of years as part of the school’s traditions.

Continue reading

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Georgia Straight | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Liveable Region Strategic Plan replaced with Regional Growth Strategy

The following are a number of archive articles written for the Georgia Straight on the replacement of the Liveable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP) with the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS).

Commentary »

Metro Vancouver wants province to force Coquitlam to accept Regional Growth Strategy

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy is on hold because Coquitlam’s non-acceptance has triggered the dispute resolution process. Coquitlam has requested a voluntary…

 

West Vancouver council’s acceptance of Regional Growth Strategy threatens North Shore forests

On the evening of last Monday (March 7), the majority of West Vancouver council accepted the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy in spite of community opposition. Only…

Commentary »

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy remains unsupported

Metro Vancouver is proposing to replace the existing Livable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP) with the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). On January 14, the Metro Vancouver board voted…

 

Commentary »

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy greenwashes unsustainable development

Many products that have made environmental green claims are being proven to stretch the truth or be completely false. This is commonly known as “greenwashing”. It appears that…

Commentary »

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy would transfer municipal land use authority

Metro Vancouver is proposing to replace the existing Livable Region Strategic Plan with the Regional Growth Strategy. The RGS bylaw draft is going to the Metro Vancouver…

 

Posted in Elizabeth Murphy, Georgia Straight | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment