JOANNE LEE-YOUNG (VANCOUVER SUN) - The City of Vancouver is presenting a plan of spending for the next four years and tucked into the fine print of a draft is a sharp increase in how much the public budget is tied to funds charged to real estate developers.
The City is proposing to spend some $2.6 billion in capital investments with significant emphasis on affordable housing and child care spaces, as well as arts and culture and community facilities.
Of the estimated total $2.57 billion, over 55 per cent, or some $1.44 billion, is earmarked to come from “development contributions,” which are raised by charging real estate developers.
It’s a big jump from the city’s last capital plan of 2015 to 2018 when development contributions were 33 per cent, or $366 million, of a total budget of $1.085 billion. In the 2012-2014 plan development contributions were $87 million out of a total budget of $702 million, or 12 per cent.
There are generally two kinds of development contributions and they have grown in size since they came into use around 2004.
Development cost levies or DCLs are typically a standard calculation. Community amenity contributions or CACs tend to be individually negotiated between the city and a developer over rezoning for a specific project and can be paid in straight cash or the building of an on-site amenity such as a pool or a community centre.
A draft of the proposed plan for the next four years includes the construction of 1,200 to 1,600 units of non-market rental housing and the creation of about 1,000 new child care spaces, according to the city.
Of the total $539 million to be spent on affordable housing, $535 million, or 99 per cent, will come from development contributions. The units of non-market rental housing will come from in-kind (rather than cash) development contributions.
For the total $117 million slated for child care, development contributions of $110 million will account for 94 per cent.
In the area of infrastructure and amenities related to arts, culture and community, the city is proposing to continue or plan renewal projects at various community centres such as Britannia and Ray Cam. It will add a new outdoor pool in Marpole.
Of the total $136 million in-kind funds that will be derived from developers, $90 million, or 66 per cent, is associated with the Oakridge project planned by Westbank and QuadReal to transform the corner on Vancouver’s west side at 41st Avenue and Cambie Street.
Some of the larger dollar value items highlighted in the city’s draft capital plan include $15 million for a new performance space, $35 million to renew and expand a library and $40 million to build a new community centre.
All of these are proposed to be part of Westbank and QuadReal’s bigger plan to transform Oakridge Centre. In addition to mixed-use buildings, there will be 10 residential condo towers with some as high as 44 storeys.
The ambitious project has yet to get a development permit, but it’s scheduled to come before the city’s Development Permit Board in midsummer.
According to the city’s website, some “development permit applications may have a significant impact on their surroundings, because of the scale and context of the project or because of community controversy about the project. Those applications are reviewed by the DPB” as opposed to going to the director of planning.
Some may consider this step of receiving a green light from the DPB a mere formality, but the notice on the architect’s file to the city for a development permit says it is applying to the City of Vancouver for permission to develop its proposed plan on this site “Under the site’s existing CD-1 zoning, the application is “conditional” so it may be permitted; however, it requires the decision of the Development Permit Board.”
Nevertheless, next week, city council will, according to a statement from the city, “be asked to approve in principle a borrowing limit of $495 million to support the (proposed) four-year capital plan.”
Then, there will be another round of public engagement to get feedback on the draft capital campaign and council is aiming to have a final version “to consider by the end of July.”
The Oakridge project’s application has been scheduled for the Development Permit Board on July 23.
RENEE BERNARD (NEWS 1130) – With about a hundred kindergarten kids a year not being able to enrol in their own neighbourhood schools, the Vancouver School Board is looking at reconfiguring catchment areas.
At least four schools, Simon Fraser, Hudson, General Gordon and False Creek, are over-capacity, meaning they need to conduct lotteries to determine which kindergarten applicants get seats.
Jim Meschino, the school board’s director of facilities, says in the past few years Hudson has had to turn away 20 to 60 applicants and Gordon from 20 to 40 over the years. Simon Fraser this year could not accommodate 65 applicants.
Out-of-luck students must attend schools much further away.
Simon Fraser, which is in Mount Pleasant, is bursting at the seams because the Olympic Village is within its catchment. The school now has four portables.
“We have had Olympic Village on our capital plan request for several years. It’s a school that we’d desperately like to get constructed. It would alleviate a number of problems,” says Meschino.
In the meantime, the board wants to reduce the size of the catchments areas surrounding crowded schools.
Catchment boundaries are being reviewed for three zones: downtown, Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant.
Two more meetings are being held to allow parents to see more details about the proposed changes. One was already held on Thursday at Sir Charles Tupper secondary.
“The majority of the questions parents had were are about siblings,” notes Meschino. “I think people recognize that boundary-review is required because of the imbalances.”
Kids already attending a particular school will continue to do so if catchments are redrawn, but their siblings entering kindergarten will be redirected to the new catchment school.
The school board will make a decision on new boundaries next month. Changes would take effect for the fall of 2019.
Parents can also offer up their feedbackonline.
Meschino hopes catchment-reviews happen more often going forward, to reduce the number of students who don’t get into their neighbourhood schools.
Move over Vancouver — you’re no longer Canada’s craziest property market.
(BLOOMBERG) Benchmark property prices in Whistler, the ski town two hours north, have now surpassed those in the Pacific Coast city. Businesses are buying million-dollar properties to house employees as living costs drive out workers. The cost of visiting has also spiralled, with overnight rates during the winter peak topping anywhere else in the nation.
Phil Bonham, a 31-year-old ski patroller, has been living out of a 1984 Dodge camper van for four years, unable to afford the surging cost of housing.
Styrofoam cutouts are wedged into his windows to keep out the chill during cold snaps, when temperatures can plummet to minus 25 degrees Celsius (-15 Fahrenheit). He doesn’t bother with the propane-fired refrigerator in the tiny kitchen between the driver’s seat and bed — nothing thaws anyway in winter, and he eats fruits and vegetables immediately before they freeze.
The small wood-burning stove in the back corner is the “hippie killer,” a reference to stoves like this that have been known to asphyxiate people in their sleep as they try to stay warm. The winter before last, he found himself lying under the van during a snow storm rebuilding pieces of the engine — “a bit of a low point,” as he describes it. But that’s what a take-home wage of about $2,800 (US$2,180) a month after taxes buys in Whistler.
“I only expected to do it for a season,” Bonham said in an interview in a parking lot near the ski slopes, where he identified at least seven other vehicles being used as full-time residences. “Without getting a second job or a girlfriend, there’s no way I could afford a room to myself. And I make a decent wage in comparison to many other jobs in Whistler.”
Vancouver has made global headlines in recent years, consistently ranking among the top 10 major cities worldwide most at risk of a housing bubble. Last year, Toronto took the top spot giving Canada the ignominious distinction of being the only country with two cities to make the cut in UBS Group AG’s annual list. Yet price price gains in Whistler have outpaced both cities.
“We think housing is the single most important issue we are facing as a community,” Marc Riddell, a spokesman for Whistler Blackcomb, owned by Vail Resorts Inc. and the area’s biggest employer, said in an email.
With a permanent population of fewer than 12,000 residents, there are more than 1,300 applicants on wait lists to either rent or buy homes at below-market rates in a residents-only pool managed by the Whistler Housing Authority. The agency aims to provide housing for at least 75 per cent of the town’s employees — a target that “will be very challenging to continue to meet,” according to a December assessment.
It’s the dark underbelly of Whistler’s soaring popularity. Its transition from a skiing mecca into a four-season destination for golfers, hikers and bikers means the pressure for accommodation from seasonal workers and tourists no longer eases when the snow melts. “We’re as busy now in the summer as in the winter,” said Mark Lamming, owner of Purebread, a bakery with two locations in Whistler.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden has a task force dedicated solely to resident housing that’s sought to explain the massive run up. Young families have migrated in to fill year-round jobs, but there aren’t enough homes to accommodate them. Suites that once housed local tenants are being replaced by lavish, sparsely used vacation chalets. Online home-share websites have made it easier for owners to illegally rent properties intended for residents to higher-paying tourists.
Much of the supply-side woes are also self-imposed. Canada’s first resort municipality, Whistler was purpose-built in the 1980s in the image of a pedestrian-free Swiss alpine village, and restrictive zoning and land-use rules to prevent over-development also choke supply. Meanwhile, a byzantine web of rules dictate how residences can be used in the broader community.
In October, the benchmark price of a townhouse in Whistler surpassed $1 million for the first time. Vancouver is a steal in comparison — only $835,000. A detached house in Whistler is now $1.67 million, 4 per cent costlier than in Vancouver.
The rental market is more mind-boggling. One recent listing sought two female tenants for a single room in a shared house: the price was $780 — each — to share a double bed. Many renters spend more than 50 per cent of their income on housing. Mayor Wilhelm-Morden, incensed by landlords raking in cash from illegal short-term rentals, has imposed a $1,000-a-day fine for violators, saying Whistler won’t tolerate “employees shoved out the back door” to make way for tourists.
‘Absolute Gong Show’
“It’s an absolute gong show,” said Russell Kling, a former hedge fund manager turned developer, whose Pangea Pod Hotel is set to open this summer aimed at delivering more affordable tourist accommodation. Whistler was the most expensive place in Canada to spend New Year’s Eve — $745 for a double room compared to $414 in second-place Quebec City.
“People told us, ‘Your biggest issue will be accommodation — if your staff can’t find accommodation, it doesn’t matter how much you pay them,’” recounts Kling, whose co-founder is his wife, Jelena. “So we took that risk off the table and purchased a home.”
The seven-bedroom residence cost “close to a couple million dollars” and will house the hotel’s general manager and a handful of key employees. The Klings even looked at buying a second staff property. “But so much of this stuff now — forget about buying, I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy there,” he said.
They’re not alone. Scandinave Spa, a 20,000-square-foot thermal bath facility, built five housing units on site when it opened in 2010, bought an additional staff property in nearby Cheakamus, and helps arrange rentals for employees. Vail houses 31 per cent of its workforce and is considering investing in developments for employee accommodation.
One in three businesses were unable to find enough staff last year, according to the housing authority. The town council has committed to adding 1,000 new resident beds by 2023 though one local developer says that’s less than half what’s needed. It’s loosening zoning rules to allow some neighbourhoods to densify and releasing part of its land to build more affordable housing. It plans to require commercial and tourist developers to either construct affordable employee housing as part of their projects or pay cash-in-lieu.
For some it’s too late. Cathy Zeglinski, a family doctor, closed her Whistler practice last September, saying the young residents who once comprised the backbone of her clinic can no longer afford to live in Whistler.
“We’re earning Canadian dollars, but the people coming in aren’t tied to the local economy — we can’t compete,” she said. “Whistler was once a very special place but with real estate prices stratospheric, there’s no place left for locals.”
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