Complete silence: Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency’s response on land speculation, housing market and vacancies

vancouver-affordable-housing-agency-logo(Update: On April 26 media started reporting a leaked memo from Mr. Latif to City Council. See for example: “Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency investigates factors behind homes being left empty,” by Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight. On April 29, the silence ended with a short response from Mr. Latif, copied at bottom. We wrote back with more questions, also copied below.)

(Posted April 24 at noon) The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) has been completely silent despite our attempts to find out its research plan and outcomes on housing speculation, “unnecessary vacancies,” and the housing market.

Its first anniversary is quickly approaching. What’s mukhtar-latif-mrics, from Linkedin Sept 2013going on? What is its work plan? What has been accomplished? Who are its directors? So far, we’ve received only silence from CEO Mukhtar Latif in response to our requests for information, which started on April 13.

Money launderingland assembly, empty homes, land speculation, “hot” money flowing into real estate, the #donthave1million Twitter campaign, Chinese secret service agents in Vancouver under Operation SkyNet chasing down billions of dollars pilfered by state officials, huge gaps between reporting by Vancouver realtors versus banks under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act — these topics have at last gained some prominence in the past weeks and months. One account estimated that half of all real estate deals in Vancouver in 2014 were purchasers from China. While the rising tide powered by enormous inflows of global money has inflated the asset values of home owners, society as a whole has paid a heavy price — particularly young families, the most vulnerable, and people trying to survive on local incomes.

Rental housing has not been started at 1700 Kingsway; site announced in August 2012 for non-market housing

Construction of rental housing building has not started at 1700 Kingsway; non-market housing was announced in August 2012

What are our Mayor, Council, and City Hall doing about all of this? Housing affordability has been getting worse for many years. Politicians have been elected based on promises to fix the problems. Their emphasis has been to boost supply, but hungry global demand (much of it illegitimate) for land here is virtually infinite. (See our post on this topic: Is there a peak for Metro Vancouver housing prices? What about the question of (infinite) demand?)

During election season, on July 10, 2014, Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement proclaiming the creation of the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (http://vancouver.ca/your-government/vancouver-affordable-housing-agency.aspx). Media gave it prominent coverage. Mayor Robertson and his party probably garnered some support and votes in the November 15 election based on these promises — perhaps this promise alone earned them the extra several hundred votes to narrowly edge out challengers and grab the renewed (but very slim) majority on City Council.

The public and media must hold them to account on their promises, and now is the time.

Excerpt of Mayor of Vancouver statement (10-Jul-2014):

The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) will also collect available data on issues such as vacant homes, and provide information on ways to limit investor speculation and unnecessary vacancies in Vancouver’s housing market.
“The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency will be a key tool in the City’s efforts to create new affordable housing that meets the needs of local residents,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “As well, by designating it as a research hub to monitor issues such as vacant homes and excessive investor speculation, the VAHA will contribute to an informed, fact-based discussion of Vancouver’s housing market.”

On April 13, 2015, CityHallWatch wrote the following message and later sent reminders, with an additional question about who are the directors of VAHA (as they are not listed on the website). The response? Complete silence, so far. Copies of correspondence plus related materials follow.

*******************

13-April-2015

Mr. Mukhtar Latif, 
Chief Executive Officer
Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency

Dear Mr. Mukhtar,

As announced by the Mayor of Vancouver on 10-July-2014 and covered extensively by the media, the mission of the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency includes the important work of collecting data and studying best practices to limit excessive investor speculation and unnecessary housing vacancies. Please see the statement from the Mayor’s Office copied below.
Many people were very pleased at the time with this commitment by our municipal government.
As the one-year anniversary of the Agency is quickly approaching, could you please share with us any of the following, regarding “collecting data and studying best practices to limit excessive investor speculation and unnecessary housing vacancies”?
  1. What has VAHA done so far on these topics?
  2. What reports has VAHA issued so far? What information and/or resources can VAHA share with us at this time?
  3. What reports are forthcoming, and when?
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Sincerely,
R. Helten
CityHallWatch Media Foundation

*************

Media Statement from Mayor’s Office: Council approves new Affordable Housing Agency (10 Jul, 2014)
http://www.mayorofvancouver.ca/affordable-housing-agency

The City approved the creation of a new Affordable Housing Agency last night, an arms-length organization based on best practices in other cities to enable the creation of new low and modest income housing in Vancouver.
The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) will also collect available data on issues such as vacant homes, and provide information on ways to limit investor speculation and unnecessary vacancies in Vancouver’s housing market.
“The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency will be a key tool in the City’s efforts to create new affordable housing that meets the needs of local residents,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “As well, by designating it as a research hub to monitor issues such as vacant homes and excessive investor speculation, the VAHA will contribute to an informed, fact-based discussion of Vancouver’s housing market.”
The VAHA will be comprised of a board appointed by City Council, which will include members of the community with expertise in real estate, non-profit housing, and tenant issues, among others. Its target is to create 2,500 new affordable homes by 2021, with 500 in the first three years, with a focus on affordable housing geared towards families.
In terms of monitoring and collecting housing data, the VAHA will seek information from other public organizations, as well as senior levels of government, and review best practices for how other cities track their housing market.
**************
Example of media coverage
In a Globe and Mail article (10-Jul-2014) entitled, “Vancouver targets housing speculation,” Ian Bailey wrote “The City of Vancouver is launching an agency to help figure out how to limit investor speculation in housing – a controversial issue in Vancouver’s inflated market certain to be debated in this fall’s municipal election.”
******************
CityHallWatch has created an extensive webpage of resource on these topics.
Global Money Impacts
The following is an excerpt from that page.

VANCOUVER AFFORDABLE HOUSING AGENCY – IS IT DOING WHAT WAS PROMISED?

Set up at the July 8, 2014 City Council meeting. Announcement from Mayor’s Office proclaimed, “… (VAHA) will also collect available data on issues such as vacant homes, and provide information on ways to limit investor speculation and unnecessary vacancies in Vancouver’s housing market.” The Globe and Mail said “Vancouver targets housing speculation.” “The City of Vancouver is launching an agency to help figure out how to limit investor speculation in housing – a controversial issue in Vancouver’s inflated market certain to be debated in this fall’s municipal election.”
Has VAHA done any work on this? What is the work plan? What outputs have come out? What if forthcoming? Nothing is mentioned about speculation in the Council documents from July 8, 2014. VAHA’S website does not mention any work relating to speculation.
Perhaps one action of citizens is to monitor and push for progress. This was a pillar of the Vision Vancouver election campaign in 2014.
References.
Council meeting (July 8, 2014) with links to presentation, report, and video about VAHA.
See also:
Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA): Compilation of info resources, links, commentary (CityHallWatch, 11-July-2014), includes official info, plus statements by COPE and Green.
******************

The one initiative the City of Vancouver announced was a plan for building non-market rental housing on six sites. This announcement was made over 2 1/2 years ago. The plans for a 4-storey building at 1700 Kingsway were processed by the City; however, construction on the site has yet to begin. Further details can be found in the following posts:

Rental housing design for 1700 Kingsway (unbuilt)

Rental housing design for 1700 – 1720 Kingsway. Approved by the Director of Planning (DE417335). Construction has not started.

1700 Kingsway

1700 Kingsway site in 2013. Old (existing) auto service building is currently unoccupied.

CHRONOLOGY

9-Jul-2014: Mayor’s office announces VAHA will “collect available data on issues such as vacant homes, and provide information on ways to limit investor speculation and unnecessary vacancies in Vancouver’s housing market.”

13-Apr-2015: CityHallWatch asks for an update, and sent several reminders. No reply received.

20-Apr-2015: Reportedly, VAHA’s CEO Mr. Mukhtar Latif sends a memo to City Council outlining possible reasons for empty housing. He misses the elephant in the room (wealthy offshore buyers who leave their properties empty).

26-Apr-2015: Georgia Straight and other media start quoting from this internal memo. But they don’t say how they obtained it.

MORE BACKGROUND

VAHA grew out of recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability.
http://vancouver.ca/your-government/mayors-task-force-on-housing-affordability.aspx

An “Academic Working Group” was created and given five questions. The summary report, dated May 4, 2012, answers four but says that the fifth question was “What is the impact of foreign investment on affordability (of housing) in Vancouver?” And on that, it says this: The final question pertaining to the impact of foreign investment on local housing affordability was
deemed important enough to require a separate report. As such, it will not be discussed within this document. Please refer to the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability: Academic Working Group – Foreign Investment Report for further discussion on the matter.

That report is here:
http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/committees/mayors-task-force-housing-affordability-foreign-investment-report.pdf

Excerpt: … it was unanimously recommended that the City learn more about nature, scale and impact of foreign buyers on the local housing market via in-house studies and/or partnering with organizations that are currently involved in such research prior to taking any particular actions or coming to any specific conclusions.

These are some of the top experts in the region on housing. Their report deserves intense scrutiny in 2015. Did they happen to leave out any important topics? Did they do justice to the issues? Did crucial topics miss their place in the experts’ discussions? Stay tuned.

**************

The members of the Mayor’s Task Force’s Academic Working Group included:
Prof. Erick Villagomez, Founder and Principal – Metis Design|Build, and School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, UBC (Roundtable Chair); Prof. Anthony Perl, Director of Urban Studies, SFU; Prof. Penny Gurstein, Director of School of Community and Regional Planning, UBC; Prof. Leslie Van Duzer, Director School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture; Prof. Emeritus Michael A. Goldberg, Sauder School of Business; Prof. Emeritus Stan Hamilton, Sauder School of Business; Assoc. Prof. Elvin Wyly, Assoc. Prof Geography Dept UBC; Dr. Thomas Hutton, Professor School of Community and Regional Planning; and Prof. Andrew Yan, School of Community and Regional Planning, UBC, Bing Thom  Architects.

******************

RESPONSE FROM MR. LATIF, ON APRIL 29, 2015

My apologies for the delay in responding.

You will have read in the media that we are in the process of appointing a consultant to help us quantify the number of vacant homes in Vancouver and identify the possible causes.

With regard to the Board Directors for the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency, we have an interim board comprising of council appointed City representatives and we will be coming to Council soon with the shortlist for the external directors.

Kind regards
Mukhtar Latif, Chief Executive Officer, Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency

*****

CITYHALLWATCH BACK TO MR. LATIF, ON APRIL 29, 2015

Dear Mr. Latif,

Thank you for your response. The news now in the media is very helpful.

Yes, we did notice the media coverage of your internal memo starting with a story online by Charlie Smith. (As an aside, we are curious about that process — an internal memo apparently leaked to one select media outlet, soon picked up by others, then hours later the actual memo was posted on the personal blog of one City Councillor. But no official release of the document was made by VAHA or the City of Vancouver. Is this pattern going to be VAHA’s public communication process from now on, or is that an anomaly?)

Regarding the consultant being sought, we have asked the City for a copy of the Request for Proposal but have not yet received a reply. Is that procurement process under the City of Vancouver? Or is it handled directly by VAHA as a quasi-independent body? If handled by the City, why is it not posted online pursuant to standard practice? If not being handled by the City’s Supply Chain Management Department, how will it be handled? May we receive a copy of the RFP documents?

Regarding the interim board of council-appointed City representatives, might we ask you to go as far as actually naming who they are?

Finally, referring back to the July 2014 statement from the Mayor’s Office: VAHA will provide information on ways to limit investor speculation and unnecessary vacancies in Vancouver’s housing market. … “As well, by designating it as a research hub to monitor issues such as vacant homes and excessive investor speculation, the VAHA will contribute to an informed, fact-based discussion of Vancouver’s housing market.” 

We see the issues of housing affordability as being related to both supply and demand. The City’s emphasis has been on supply, but it appears that with the global capital seeking security and highest returns, there could be virtually infinite demand (relatively speaking, for our finite amount of land). Regarding the aspects bolded above, or any “research hub” work relating to demand for property, do you have a work plan and timelines in greater detail than mentioned in the media, and if so, can you share that publicly?

These are a lot of questions, but we would appreciate any response, as best you can manage with the other demands on your time.

Sincerely,

R. Helten
CityHallWatch Media Foundation

4 thoughts on “Complete silence: Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency’s response on land speculation, housing market and vacancies

  1. I’m hardly surprised given what I read int he Vancouver Courier this week – that Gregor Robertson’s girlfriend’s mother has been arrested back in China for allegedly misappropriating proceeds from land sales. My sympathies to Robertson and his girlfriend, but china has engaged in a serious crackdown on the sources of “hot money” fleeing the country. Get a sense of how important it is to China’s leadership in last week’s Economist.

    http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21648641-slowing-economy-commands-headlines-real-story-reform-quiet-revolution

    Of course, we already know how much damage this “hot money” has done here in Vancouver, but for Mayor Moonbeam not to notice?

    • In my opinion this guy is not doing a great job his position and competence must be reviewed, why are these corrupted Chinese officials and Chinese citizens gaining entry into our real estate market, what the VPD doing, all members of the VPD from the Chinese community must be suspended, they are not doing their jobs tracking these people down

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s