Preview for week of June 18, 2018: City Council, Park Board

(Updated) The City of Vancouver administration and City Council are going to be in overdrive for the next several weeks leading up to the annual summer hiatus, which kicks off in the last week of July. Plus the civic election in October 2018 is likely to lead to a major regime change at City Hall. Citizens need to be alert for topics that will affect them, as there seems to be a tendency for major projects and policies to be rushed through in times like these. Future council hopefuls would also be smart to keep a close eye on these topics.

Media, social media, and community groups are likely to be covering some of these items. We encourage people to scan down the list to get engaged on any topics that concern you.

For example, a few items to watch are the Housing Vancouver Update with many proposed changes in zoning guidelines across the city; many items of “Referral to Public Hearing” including one for a tower by PAVCO beside BC Place that would pierce through a protected view cone.

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) has written two letters to Council today. Regarding the Housing Vancouver Update, they say “Bringing 681 pages of significant policy changes to Council, with little or no meaningful public consultation, and with a very short period of time for the public to digest, shows a lack of respect for due public process…. These reports should be for information only and referred back to staff for a meaningful public consultation process before consideration by Council after the fall election.”

Regarding the Northeast False Creek Update, CVN wrote “Many member groups have volunteered significant time and energy over the last decade working on these issues, only to find that the final reports do not reflect their input. We recommend that these reports be amended to reflect the community’s input as noted above” (size and location of park, tower piercing view cones).

Please visit the CVN links for detailed bullet points.

For the record, reproduced below are the meeting agendas as of today.

Continue reading

Council motion calls for City review of STIR and Rental 100 programs. Are waivers for developers cost-effective? Are rents affordable?

City HallCouncillor Adriane Carr (@AdrianeCarr) has proposed a motion to Regular Council on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 seeking a review of two crucial rental housing programs. The Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) housing program ran from 2009 to 2011, and was replaced by the Rental 100 in 2012. Below is the text of the motion.

If members of the public wish to speak to this motion, they can write to the City Clerk (instructions here), and that would move the topic to Council discussion on June 20.

For good governance, organizations need to review the impacts and performance of their programs. It is rather surprising that the City is not tracking what has happened to rents in the STIR and Rental 100 projects after each project’s completion.

Community group West End Neighbours took legal action to force the City to make improvements in STIR and Rental 100. Among other things, the courts found that Council had illegally delegated authority to the City Manager. WEN found that the city’s incentives were far too generous for developers (unlimited height and density bonuses, no requirement to make rents affordable, no systematic tracking of project outcomes) and were not in fact creating affordable rentals.

We’ll see if Council approves this motion. In addition Rental 100 is an issue which should be discussed at upcoming all-candidates meetings for the October 20 civic election. City residents should know whether the development cost levy (DCL) waivers given to developers actually did provide taxpayers with value for the money they paid.

If the current City Council does not approve Councillor Carr’s motion, at all candidates meetings, voters should demand that a new Council approves a report that deals with the long-term results of the STIR and Rental 100 programs. The results of this type of report may suggest ideas on how to improve municipal housing policy for the benefit of all taxpayers.

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http://council.vancouver.ca/20180619/documents/motionB4.pdf

MOTION ON NOTICE
4. Assessing Affordability and Effectiveness of Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) and Rental 100 Programs
MOVER: Councillor Carr
SECONDER:

WHEREAS
1. The goal of both the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) Program, in place from 2009 to 2011, and the Rental 100 Program, in place since 2012, has been to provide more affordable housing for Vancouver residents;
2. Both the STIR and Rental 100 Programs have been subsidized by Vancouver taxpayers through providing incentives to developers that include waiving Development Cost Levies (DCLs);
3. Although the earlier STIR projects were not bound by any City by-law regarding the maximum amount of rent per rental unit that could be charged at first occupancy, the City of Vancouver has required that Rental 100 projects not exceed rents at first occupancy as stipulated in the city’s DCL by-law; rents that are adjusted annually to reflect CMHC-assessed market rents for the east and west sides of the city;
4. To date, the City has not tracked what has happened to rents in the STIR and Rental 100 projects after each project’s completion.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED
A. THAT Council direct staff to audit the completed Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) and Rental 100 projects to compare rents as proposed in project proposals approved by Council with rents at first occupancy and current rents and report back to Council as quickly as feasible.
B. THAT the report back to Council include the cost to the City in terms of DCL waivers per unit of rental housing, and recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Rental 100 program in delivering cost-effective affordable rental housing that meets the needs of Vancouver renters.

City of Vancouver abruptly makes homeowner grant online-only, shafting thousands of elderly homeowners (Stanley Q. Woodvine, in Georgia Straight)

This story by Stanley Q. Woodvine was published June 16th, 2018, in the Georgia Straight. Stanley writes a regular column under the handle “Homeless in Vancouver.” Below are excerpts. See original article for full text. If you wish to take action, please consider contacting Mayor and Council. Taxes and Home Owner Grant applications are due just over two weeks from now. Where in the chain of command did this decision come from, and was there adequate consideration of the implications? Can elected officials immediately change the policy? The next opportunity is at the Regular Council meeting  on Tuesday, June 19 as urgent business.

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CoV claiming hog, screen grab by Straight, 16-Jun-2018

Screen grab of City of Vancouver website by the Georgia Straight

City makes homeowner grant online-only, shafting thousands of elderly homeowners

https://www.straight.com/life/1091166/homeless-vancouver-city-makes-homeowner-grant-online-only-shafting-thousands-elderly

Applications for the annual B.C. homeowner grant (HOG) are due on July 4, and people who own homes in Vancouver are receiving notices in the mail telling them that if they want to claim the grant this year, they must now do so online. As the City of Vancouver’s HOG webpage states:

“Starting 2018, there is no longer the option to mail in your grant.”

This sudden elimination by the City of Vancouver of support for claiming the grant by mail creates a difficult and potentially insurmountable hurdle for tens of thousands of elderly who are tax-paying Vancouver homeowners but not computer users. As such it is discriminatory and immoral, if not completely illegal.

I did not take the time to check more than a few other Metro Vancouver municipalities. But the ones I did… all offer both electronic and mail-in options for claiming the homeowner grant…

 

Many of the municipalities strongly encourage residents to claim the grant online, in order to save processing costs, but all I have checked, besides Vancouver, still offer their residents the option to use the mail instead of a computer.

The City of Vancouver should never have gone whole HOG (as it were) to electronic filing and it should immediately reinstate the mail-in option for claiming the homeowner grant in time for this year’s deadline!

Senior citizens: high home ownership, low computer use [He goes on to provide statistics…]

 

… When I dump all the above numbers in my junk math blender, the result is a dubious statistical smoothie suggesting that something like 23,822 people aged 65 and older may own a home in Vancouver but not use a computer.

… However, elderly homeowners—even if they end up losing out on their right to claim the annual grant because they cannot submit their application electronically—are probably the least likely group to complain on their own behalf. Continue reading

Larwill Park modular housing Open House Tuesday June 19th (VPL 5-7pm)

Larwill Park (688 Cambie) is an important staging ground for the film industry

An Open House for a proposal to build 98 units of modular housing in two buildings at 688 Cambie Street will take place at the Vancouver Public Library.

Date: Tuesday, June 19th, 2018, 5-7pm
Meeting Room: Alice MacKay Room (lower level), 350 West Georgia
For interested residents who are unable to attend the Open House, comments can be submitted via email or regular mail prior to June 29, 2018, for consideration by staff.

The two buildings proposed on the site are to be situated on the eastern third of the site, along Dunsmuir Street. This would leave the remaining portion of the site open for a future Art Gallery, provided of course, that sufficient funds can be secured for its development.

The current EasyPark parking lot is also used for cultural events as well as normal parking for large events at BC Place and Rogers Arena (concerts, plus Canucks and Whitecaps games).

The lot is also a key staging ground for film crews, as it is one of the few sites left in the downtown core where large vehicles can park (unlike underground parking or parking garages, film productions need open space for big trucks and tents). The partial loss of Larwill Park for film productions in downtown Vancouver could make the work even more difficult. Film making is an important industry in the region providing thousands of jobs.

There is a strong general public acknowledgement that housing solutions are needed. But our policy makers need to juggle many tradeoffs. What options are there for other large lots for modular housing downtown? There could be a number of suitable alternatives worth considering, such as the former site of the Continental Hotel (Granville Loops, City-owned land).

The City needs to look at the costs and benefits of using each candidate site for modular housing. Certainly there are other important uses of the 688 Cambie site. In terms of geographical distribution of modular housing sites, none are currently proposed west of Oak Street. Would any sites on the Arbutus corridor be available? Should each neighbourhood provide a site for modular housing, after consultation with residents in determining the big picture of optimum sites? How long will these temporary modular housing projects last? Should the government try to provide more permanent housing?

Reproduced announcement from Vancouver.ca : Continue reading

Years after Olympic Village default and CoV $1 billion debt release, Millennium now builds a 46 storey tower in Burnaby

Triomphe Residences Millennium image June 2018

Millennium is active again.

(Update: It turns out this project was and possibly is still being marketed in Hong Kong. See tweet at bottom.)

Was Millennium truly broke after the 2010 Winter Olympics? The Millennium name and logo appear prominently on the site of a new highrise tower currently under construction at Gilmore and Halifax Street in Burnaby, just north of the Lougheed highway.

Our Metro Vancouver region is like a stage with actors appearing and disappearing and appearing again, in a complex weave of connections. This one involves the developer, the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, the 2008 global financial meltdown, a regime-changing election in 2008 from NPA to Vision Vancouver (triggered by confidential documents someone on City Council “left” on a table for media), property seizures, a very quiet billion dollar debt writeoff funded by taxpayers, and more. Some of the key actors have already departed from the stage.

While some of the key politicians are still in power until the October 20 election in 2018, it may be the last  chance for the media to fill in some blanks in the script and have some more light shone on decisions and actions by the Vision Vancouver regime, while it still has a majority on City Council.

As readers may recall, Millennium defaulted on Olympic Village debts and left the City of Vancouver to pick up the $1 billion tab. At the time, the City put claims against 32 properties owned by Millennium, which was hardly enough to recover the costs (according to the City, gross value was $82 million, net value $45). A status report by staff appears to be no longer accessible on the City’s website. Fortunately, we saved a copy of it (Southeast False Creek Development, Update on Negotiation with Millennium, City of Vancouver Technical Briefing, April 8, 2011): SEFCPresentationApril82011. This shows the complexities of the deals.

Former City Manager Penny Ballem later released a $1 billion claim against Millennium and thus relinquished all future claims to any right to seize their assets.

Millennium on Gilmore

Promotional signs near the site proclaim the Millennium name and logo. “Brought to you by  Millennium. The most respected and celebrated premium luxury developer.”

Investigative report Bob Mackin covered the story on October 10, 2011, and posed the question:

“Could the City of Vancouver have negotiated for or seized more of Millennium’s assets, so as to avoid leaving taxpayers with a loss on the Olympic Village?”

Ballem was abruptly fired on September 15, 2015. Residents are still waiting for complete answers on how much the Olympic Village default cost the City.

Our story in 2013 provides more details and links for the whole story. Millennium’s Boheme approved – 101 units at 1588 East Hastings. Olympic Village developer expects construction soon. MANY questions. (CityHallWatch, 20-Aug-2013)

An side note is that the Alexandra at 1215 Bidwell, on the former site of Maxine’s in the West End, was a Millennium project, and the very first of the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program. The rezoning was approved by a public hearing in December 2009, setting off a development frenzy in the West End. The Alexandra is a 21-storey luxury condo tower with two floors of rental units at the bottom. Due to flaws and legal challenges, the program was replaced by Rental 100 a few years later. Continue reading

B.C. property surtax undermines cities and affordability (Elizabeth Murphy, in Georgia Straight)

The following article is reprinted with permission. Bolding is ours. Supporters and opponents of the proposed “school tax” are encouraged to read through the points.

 

“The province’s use of the municipal tax base makes housing less affordable for both owners and renters

Commentary in Georgia Straight by Elizabeth Murphy, June 14, 2018

https://www.straight.com/news/1090166/elizabeth-murphy-bc-property-surtax-undermines-cities-and-affordability

murphy, straight, 1The 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. Continue reading

Housing Vancouver update in City Council June 19, 2018: Dramatic revisions proposed for city’s housing, citywide rezoning in RS (single family) zones, changes to RT7 & RT8, laneways, much more

City HallAs City Council races toward the summer hiatus in July, and then the straightway to the civic election on October 20, there will be lots of business to be handled over the next several weeks. (Content below to be updated with more links over time.)

The Council agenda for Tuesday, June 19 is jam-packed with stuff, including  13 items being referred to public hearing (rezonings, etc.), 32 bylaw changes and approvals. There’s a motion by Clr Adriane Carr for “Assessing Affordability and Effectiveness of Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) and Rental 100 Programs.”   There’s “Northeast False Creek – Update Report and NEFC Infrastructure Project Implementation.” At the bottom, we add a list of the recommendations to Council from the staff report.

The Wednesday, June 20 Council meeting has “Broadway Planning Program and Associated Interim Policies” (report here).

Among the items on June 19, the “Housing Vancouver Update” probably deserves a lot of attention. There’s the 229 page data-filled “Affordable Housing Delivery and Financial Strategy and Annual Progress Report and Housing Vancouver Data Book.” And in the “Making Room Housing Program: Overview and Quick Start Actions” report are numerous recommendations from staff for discussion, and possibly going to a public hearing soon. Dramatic changes are being proposed in zoning guidelines, including RS (single family), RT-7 and RT-8 (duplex) zones, which involve large swaths of the city, with enormous and long term implications.

In RT7 and RT-8 zones, proposals by staff include ” to allow more lots in Kitsilano with an existing character house to qualify for rear yard infill development,” and to enable duplex use in some or all RS areas (i.e., most of Vancouver).

It is worth noting that the Mayor Gregor Robertson and most city councillors are not running for re-election this October 2018, so they will be out of office and leaving future elected officials to implement (or modify) anything they approve.

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Journalist Frances Bula has done a story on this in The Globe and Mail in “” (June 13, 2018) in “Dramatic revisions to city’s housing plan sparks controversy in Vancouver.” Excerpts:

 

Vancouver is set to adopt a dramatically revised housing plan that will change the make-up of single-family neighbourhoods, promote dense new clusters of residences in designated areas and create a $2-billion affordable-housing fund.

The new initiative will allow duplexes automatically as a choice in most of the city’s single-family neighbourhoods, as well as aiming to ensure that two-thirds of a hoped-for 72,000 homes built in the next 10 years are rentals.

All of that will require dedicating about $2.5-billion of city land to housing and grappling with residents unhappy about such significant change, city housing officials admit. Continue reading