With so many empty rooms in Vancouver, why isn’t there more home sharing? (Michael Geller, Vancouver Courier)

woman in red shirt beside woman in white shirt

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

We’d like to draw some attention to this opinion piece in the Vancouver Courier by veteran architect Michael Geller last week. Below are some excerpts. Please visit the Courier for the full text.

There could be huge benefits with sharing  – economic, environmental, and social. In a tight housing market, those rooms already exist. The lead time is basically zero. This whole idea is worth further discussion! Mr. Geller is looking for input and experiences. See his contact info at bottom.

… the number of spare bedrooms in Vancouver is equivalent to 15 years of construction at the current rate of building

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OPINION: With so many empty rooms in Vancouver, why isn’t there more home sharing?

https://www.vancourier.com/opinion/opinion-with-so-many-empty-rooms-in-vancouver-why-isn-t-there-more-home-sharing-1.24056568

Photo caption: Given the number of empty bedrooms and people seeking accommodations, home sharing seems like a practical idea whose time should come, says Michael Geller.

Last week I received a phone call from Stephanie, a Montreal flight attendant for Air Canada Express who’s relocating to Vancouver in March. She has been searching on Craigslist for accommodations close to the Canada Line so she can easily get to the airport. However, like many Vancouverites, she has found home-hunting a very challenging and distressing experience.

One of the most disturbing things is the number of scammers and swindlers out there attempting to trap unsuspecting people desperately seeking rental accommodations. This was addressed in a Courier story last fall by John Kurucz and numerous other online articles.

A Vancity blogpost reported that an estimated 51 per cent of renters in Vancouver and Victoria have encountered a scam.

… According to Paul Smetanin of the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA), the number of spare bedrooms in Vancouver is equivalent to 15 years of construction at the current rate of building.

The challenge is to match those owning empty bedrooms or basement suites, and willing to share, with those seeking affordable accommodation.

Think of it as a VRBO or Airbnb but offering more permanent housing.

While organizations and private companies have sprung up in the United States to meet this demand, including Boston’s Nesterly, founded by a young lady from Cortes Island, only limited options are available in Vancouver.

Last August, CBC’s Early Edition broadcast a five-part radio series produced by Amanda Poole titled Roomies, which looked at various aspects of home sharing, including multi-generational sharing. It examined both the economic and emotional benefits that can arise, along with the challenges.

The series featured on-the-ground examples of shared living, as well as one matchmaker service called Happipad. It was started in the Okanagan in 2017 by a UBC student looking to match those with empty bedrooms and student renters, and describes itself as a cross between Airbnb and a dating site.

Happipad now serves all of B.C. through its home-sharing web app. It currently has more than 30 live listings in Vancouver, and more are popping up every week. Happipad connects anyone with a spare room with those looking for affordable accommodation options. It is not limited to intergenerational connections between seniors and students, although these connections do happen….

… I would also like to hear about other home sharing experiences, since given the number of empty bedrooms and people seeking accommodations, home sharing seems like a practical idea whose time should come.

@michaelgeller

geller@sfu.ca

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Massive Lululemon HQ rezoning at Public Hearing January 23rd, no CAC proposed

A rezoning proposal for a 215 foot office tower at Great Northern Way and 1980 Foley Street will be at Vancouver City Council on Thursday, January 23rd at 6pm. A building height of 215 feet (65.5m) with a total floor area of 518,369 sq. ft (48,158 sq. m) and a total of 840 parking spots is being requested. The rezoning also seeks to add retail and cafe/restaurant uses to the ground floor level. This rezoning is item #6 on the agenda as 1980 Foley Street (email for letters: publichearing@vancouver.ca).

There would be no Community Amenity Contribution or CAC in this rezoning. The staff report states the following: “As there is no increase in floor area proposed in the text amendment application, no Community Amenity Contribution or Commercial Linkage Target applies.” (p.15)

Are staff really saying that by increasing the maximum building height from 120 feet to 215 feet (or 36.6m to 65.5m), there will be absolutely no impact on property values? According to VanMap, the current land value of this property is $85,927,000. The City could seek to capture 75% of the land lift, which would be difference in the value of the land before the rezoning and after. Here is a key question: Is the City potentially forgoing millions of dollars in Community Amenity Contributions?

It’s worth noting that this proposal, at 215′, is the same height as the 21-storey Independent by Rize at Kingsway and 10th Avenue (see CD-1 here). The floor height is not taken into consideration by staff. While this building proposal is ’13-storeys’, the floor heights for office uses are often higher than residential uses. At a 9′ floor height, 13-storeys would come in at 117 feet (which is actually within the current 120′ zoning for the property). In this rezoning proposal, levels 2 through 12 have floor heights of 4.00m  (or 13.12′). This rezoning, being as tall at the Independent with a larger floorplate, would create a large impact on views from south of the site (for residents on East 6th, 7th, 8th, Broadway, 10th and other streets in the area).

This rezoning has the potential to make Industrial Land even more expensive. Art spaces in industrial zones could continue to become prohibitively expensive due to increased tax assessments. Could other parcels in the neighbouring Finning Lands be rezoned and sold off for office uses (specifically the adjacent and now empty lands between this site and Emily Carr Campus & the Hanger)? Could it result in a piecemeal sell-off of land that was once conceived to be a major campus hub with multiple universities involved?

The CACs from previous rezonings of this site have been scant. In 2009, a rezoning change of the land use designation to allow for general office, with a CAC equivalent of $2.1 million. The original rezoning for the 25.4 acre Finning Lands in 1999 CAC would be very minor when diluted to this site (links to reports further below).

The site is the easternmost parcel in the Finning Lands (CD-402) that were originally rezoned in 1999. The property is located across from western tip of China Creek North Park (it is about halfway between Emily Carr Campus and VCC).

Resources Continue reading

13 items at two Public Hearings (21 & 23 Jan, 2020): Some are major. See list here.

Vancouver City Council

To start off the new year of 2020 and new decade of the 2020s, City staff have been busily preparing a big batch of rezonings and administrative changes for two Public Hearings, dated January 21 (Tues) and 23 (Thurs), 2020. Both start at 6 pm. City Council will be busy, with a huge amount of material to go through. The final packages of materials were made public at the end of last week, which makes quite a challenge for citizens who wish to be involved in the process.

We encourage residents and community groups to scan through the lists below for items in their neighbourhoods, identify any that concern them — positive, negative, or otherwise — and consider writing or speaking to Council with your input. Information on how sign up and speak to City Council is available at the top of each meeting agenda page. Letters can also be e-mailed to publichearing@vancouver.ca. If you are quick, you could get your letter posted online on the City’s agenda web page for others to read in advance.

Our elected officials need to know what issues are of concern, and this can guide their attention and lines of questioning and discussion. What are the costs and benefits of each proposal? Does it fit in with the neighbourhood? Has due process been followed? What are the staff reports missing? What precedents are being set, positive or negative? Are the proponents contributing enough to the City in return for what they are asking? Have the City staff covered the key issues and put the public interest first? How do these proposals fit into the flow of the current city-wide planning process?

Below are
(1) Links to the City’s agenda pages, which include links to the relevant reports and documents. On the City’s agenda pages you might wish to click on links to read public correspondence the City has received, for an idea of what other residents are saying.
(2) Scans from the official notice in the Vancouver Courier  (they include very short summaries). (As we have said before, we urge the City to provide this info on its own website, for extra convenience. Not all people can access a printed copy of the Courier.)
(3) A list of the agenda items, with other links, such as coverage by media, CityHallWatch posts, residents’ associations, and other material online, as we become aware of it. If you would like us to add a link to online comment or analysis, please send an e-mail to citizenYVR@gmail.com.

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1. Links to City’s agenda pages

Public Hearing January 21, 2020 (Tuesday, 6 pm)
https://council.vancouver.ca/20200121/phea20200121ag.htm

Public Hearing January 23, 2020 (Thursday, 6 pm)
https://council.vancouver.ca/20200123/phea20200123ag.htm

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2. Scans of the official notice in the Vancouver Courier, with short summaries.public hearing 21-Jan-2020public hearing 23-Jan-2020

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3. Links to other materials on each agenda item (to be updated as more come in) Continue reading

Architect Michael Geller to speak on affordability, density, future of Vancouver neighbourhoods (GWAC, Monday 6 Jan)

The public is invited to this monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council. Here is an excerpt from their event notice.

Housing affordability, density, & the future of Vancouver’s Neighbourhoods: An architect’s perspective.

January 6, 2020 (Monday), starting 7:00 pm
Learning Resource Centre (LRC, under the Britannia Library), 1661 Napier Street
http://www.gwac.ca/news/housing-affordability-density-the-future-of-vancouvers-neighbourhoods-an-architects-perspective

It is the beginning of a new year, generally a time filled with optimism for the possibility of the year ahead and certainly that is what we would hope for all the citizens of Vancouver and the city itself. There are, however, many proposals on the “table” for Vancouver that can profoundly affect its liveability as well as its affordability and thus, diversity and sustainability.

Currently there are many major projects, such as the Pearson Dogwood lands, Oakridge expansion, the Bus Barn at 41st and Oak, the Heather lands, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Jericho & UBC developments as well as the Squamish development at the South end of the Burrard Street bridge and who can forget the Safeway site proposal at Broadway and Commercial?

We have asked Michael Geller, noted architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades’ experience in the public, private and institutional sectors to share his insights and views on these matters with you and he has generously agreed.

Come to hear Michael speak and bring your questions.

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Useful reading: Continue reading

Development applications snapshot 1-Jan-2020

For an explanation of our monthly snapshots please visit this page:
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/city-hall/snapshots-rezoning-development-applications/

As a free public service CityHallWatch takes a separate monthly snapshot of the Rezoning Applications and Development Applications listed on the City of Vancouver website. The rezoning list contains valuable information on each application, and indicates scheduled “open houses” and Public Hearings. The development list shows applications currently in progress as well as upcoming Development Permit Board meetings. Spread the word to anyone who might be affected or interested.

A tech-savvy citizen is voluntarily producing two handy online maps (click bottom right to switch between rezoning and development applications):  https://vancouverapps-fa328.firebaseapp.com/

Download the full list of development applications we created in PDF format:
CoV development applications snapshot 1-Jan-2020

For a current list of applications, click: vancouver.ca/devapps/.

Below is the list as of 1-Jan-2020. Continue reading

Rezoning application snapshot 1-Jan-2020

For an explanation of our monthly snapshots please visit this page:
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/city-hall/snapshots-rezoning-development-applications/

As a free public service CityHallWatch takes a monthly snapshot of the Rezoning Applications listed on the City of Vancouver website. The list contains valuable information on each application, and indicates scheduled “open houses” and Public Hearings. Spread the word to anyone who might be affected or interested.

A tech-savvy citizen is voluntarily producing two handy online maps (click bottom right to switch between rezoning and development applications): https://vancouverapps-fa328.firebaseapp.com/

Download the full list of rezoning applications we created in PDF format:
CoV rezoning applications snapshot 1-Jan-2020

For a current list of applications, click: vancouver.ca/rezapps/.

Below is the list as of 1-Jan-2020. Continue reading

Westbank Projects Corp: A review of governance, corporate social responsibility, transparency

Triumph of the Technocrat

“Triumph of the Technocrat” art piece at The Lauren by Westbank in the West End.

From time to time CityHallWatch looks at the major entities that are building the physical and social structure of Vancouver.

This time we have a look at Westbank Projects Corp., the company. While its brand and projects have had a high profile and carefully managed promotions, little data is publicly available regarding the governance of the company itself.

If you are an entity considering entering into business deals or contractual arrangements lasting decades or generations into the future, the requirement of due diligence would call upon you to know fully about your potential partner.

However, no data is publicly available on Westbank in terms of who owns the company, who are the major shareholders, who are the officers and directors and major funders. Likewise, when it comes to matters of corporate social responsibility (CSR), the promotional materials and glitzy media coverage talk about sustainability, but data is limited.

Granted, Westbank is a privately-held company, so it is not required by law to publish this kind of information. But how does it look in terms of corporate social responsibility, transparency, accountability, governance? Is it up to par with the best practices and expectations that society has for corporations today?

Has Westbank…
1. Provided corporate governance information publicly on website or other (ownership, shareholders, directors, corporate subsidiaries and affiliates, decision-making systems, policies, etc.)? No
2. Renounced corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery? No
3. Published a corporate social responsibility (CSR) report? No

Leading companies of the world today publish CSR or integrated reports following well-established guidelines (e.g., see Global Reporting Initiative). https://www.globalreporting.org/Pages/default.aspx

For a multi-billion dollar company with so much influence on city planning, it would be reassuring to see a public commitment to the UN Global Compact, which is billed as “the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative” and calls upon companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals. Many signatories are in the construction industry. (https://www.unglobalcompact.org/).

As an example of proactive corporate disclosure in this industry, consider Concert Properties (http://www.concertproperties.com/about) which is in roughly the same league as Westbank in terms of size. Granted, Concert Properties is not a privately-held corporation, but it is informative to see high level of corporate transparency: shareholders (Canadian union and management pension plans), directors, and executives, and more. It publishes a Sustainability Framework (2019 edition is 44 pages), and provides lots of information about community involvement.

ESG (environment, sustainability, governance) is a key term in terms of corporate sustainability today. Concert Properties covers all of these in its reporting.

The lack of publicly available information about Westbank leaves room for questions in the public mind regarding how it does business. We know the company is influencing decision-makers, but how that happens is opaque. Lobbyist registries exist at the provincial and federal levels, and Toronto has a robust one at the municipal level. None yet exist in Metro Vancouver.

What governance structures are in place at Westbank? The founder and CEO is now about sixty years old. What will the company be like over the potential life of a multi-decade or multi-generational contract?

For further reading, below is additional material on Westbank Projects Corp., examined from various angles. Continue reading