(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 going 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 laundering, land 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.
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):
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.
Mr. Mukhtar Latif,
Chief Executive Officer
Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency
Dear Mr. Mukhtar,
- What has VAHA done so far on these topics?
- What reports has VAHA issued so far? What information and/or resources can VAHA share with us at this time?
- What reports are forthcoming, and when?
Media Statement from Mayor’s Office: Council approves new Affordable Housing Agency (10 Jul, 2014)
VANCOUVER AFFORDABLE HOUSING AGENCY – IS IT DOING WHAT WAS PROMISED?
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:
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.
VAHA grew out of recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability.
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.”
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.
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.