(CBC NEWS) The City of Vancouver is looking to buy some expensive real estate, but it remains unclear what the cost might be for taxpayers.
Tomorrow councillors will vote on Mayor Gregor Robertson's motion asking staff to look into buying or leasing Granville Island from the federal government.
And in a letter to residents this past weekend, Robertson revealed the city has offered to buy the Arbutus railway corridor from Canadian Pacific Railway.
No price was named for the railway land, which is some of the most valuable undeveloped property in the city, but Robertson says an independent appraisal has been made, and they are prepared to pay fair market value.
So far CPR has not been receptive to multiple offers according to the mayor.
The railway and the city have been fighting over the future of the corridor for more than a decade, with CPR seeking to develop it into a mix of commercial, housing and green space, and the city seeking to preserve it as a green space for community gardens and a route for bikers and walkers.
In 2006 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the city has the right to control any development along the 11-km strip of land connecting False Creek with the Fraser River. The city has rezoned it to prevent any development.
But CPR, which has owned the land for nearly 130 years, still has the right to run trains down the urban corridor, and recently warned it intends to do just that, giving residents until the end of the month to get rid of dozens of community gardens and sheds on its land.
At Tuesday's city council meeting, Robertson will also ask city staff to look at options for buying Granville Island from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, following recent revelations that the federal government is considering handing control of the island over to the Port Metro Vancouver authority.
Robertson has publicly opposed that idea, saying the popular tourist destination should be controlled by local governments.
For all the attention on Vancouver as one of the most expensive places to live on the face of the Earth, it's actually possible to rent a bright, one-bedroom apartment in a modern downtown building for around $750 — as long as you're not a grumpy loner.
To most people, co-operative housing is a vague and often mistaken concept of communal bathrooms, residents with little to no income, and hippies with low hygiene standards.
In reality, co-ops are diverse and supportive communities with self-contained units, convenient amenities, and professional management staff. But despite being in existence since the '70s, co-op housing flies under the radar and isn’t well understood.
"I think people don't realize it exists," says Stephanie Williams, 27. "If you're just walking down the street, a co-op looks exactly like any other apartment building."
Williams and her boyfriend, Celestian Rince, 25, stumbled upon a Craigslist ad in 2010. "We got lucky," she told The Huffington Post B.C. "It was one of the few times the co-op did advertise."
The couple had never heard of co-op housing, but as they moved through the process of interviews, references, and background checks, they embraced the concept and the reality.
More than 2,000 non-profit housing co-ops — from buildings with four units to complexes with hundreds of apartments — exist in Canada. There are 263 in B.C. alone. Most were created with federal and provincial funding from the 1970s to the 1990s, according to the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C.
A non-profit co-op is like a democratic country: residents have a vote in how it's run as long as they live there. And because it's not trying to make money, the co-op can charge lower rates than average private rents.
Rince and Williams pay $732 per month (utilities included) for their one-bedroom, seventh-floor, 600 sq.-ft. apartment with a balcony in Vancouver's popular Gastown. To rent a comparative unit in a privately owned building in the neighbourhood would cost $1,600 to $1,900 per month.
Their 200-unit co-op has rooftop gardens, amenity rooms, a children's play room, and a courtyard with a waterfall.
There's also peace of mind knowing that "renovictions" — where tenants are evicted for large-scale renovations, only to find massive rent hikes after — are not a possibility.
"You never have to worry about a place being sold,” says Williams. “When you're in a co-op, you're good as long as you don't do anything bad. Once you're in a co-op, you're good for life.”
Each co-op is incorporated as a legal association and governed under the Co-op Act. A board of directors oversees a co-op's policy and annual budget, which can include spending on maintenance and janitorial staff.
There are, of course, big differences between living in a co-op versus a private rental. There is no landlord, and residents are expected to look out for one another.
"If you're the kind of person who doesn't want to interact with other people in your building, that could be a negative. If you have an issue, you have to be able to deal with it directly rather than have someone else arbitrate for you," explains Williams, who sits on her co-op's board.
Members also contribute to the co-op by volunteering their time to serve on boards, interview potential residents, garden, or organize social events. For example, someone in Williams' co-op teaches a free yoga class once a week. And the Lakewood Terrace Housing Co-operative in East Vancouver has members volunteer an average of four hours per month on committees that include finance, landscaping, and safety and security.
While the atmosphere in co-ops is inclusive, screening candidates can be intense. They must pass credit and reference checks and interviews, and there are minimum and maximum income limits ($30,000-$80,000 in Williams' building, for example).
"Evicting is extremely wrong and difficult and an expensive process," she says. "We don't want people to destroy the place. Since we operate at cost, it's pretty bad if we have some large expenses due to having the wrong people."
All non-profit co-ops have a number of subsidized units open to people on low incomes or social assistance. They pay a monthly fee based on their income, and the difference is covered by the government.
This creates a diverse community that might not be found in a complex of people who can all afford high rents.
"I am against ghettoizing according to what your income is or your abilities are,"Haruko Okano, who has been living in a one-bedroom apartment in the China Creek Housing Co-op for 20 years, told The Vancouver Sun. "I think diversity is really important. We have a real diverse mix of incomes, age, culture, religious belief. We have it all."
Future of co-ops
But co-ops are undergoing a big shakeup because their operating agreements with the federal government have begun to expire. That means low and fixed-income residents — many seniors, single parents, people with disabilities, and new Canadians — will no longer be subsidized.
Without that assistance, about 52,000 co-op members risk losing their homes across the country, estimates the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. That includes 1,500 households in B.C. by 2017.
"This will be a crisis for thousands of families in B.C. who will not be able to afford the full market rent of their co-op homes. It is also a crisis for the co-ops because these are members of their communities who will have to leave," said Fiona Jackson, communications director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. (CHF BC).
Because social housing was transferred from federal to provincial jurisdiction in 1993, the organization is lobbying the provinces to pick up the rent subsidies. In British Columbia, that would cost the provincial government $1.2 million per year, jumping to $4.5 million to $9 million annually by 2017, according to the CHF BC.
"This pales in comparison to the social and financial costs of homelessness," says the group.
In the meantime, the CHF BC is working to build new non-profit co-ops, largely thanks to partnerships.
The group developed land from the City of Vancouver in the former Olympic Villageand partnered with the Vancity credit union to open the 84-unit First Avenue Athletes Village Housing Co-op in 2012. One-quarter is for low-income members, with plans to raise that to 40 per cent over time "as project finances allow," said Jackson.
She points out that co-ops offer more than affordability: "The big draw for many to live in a housing co-op is the sense of community and security. They are great micro-neighbourhoods for people to raise their children, with the strength of a mixed income community."
Williams and Rince recently published an eBook that features tips on frugal living in one of the world's costliest cities. An entire chapter is devoted to housing.
"Housing co-ops really are a hidden treasure in Vancouver," Rince proclaims on their blog, Incoming Assets. "Happy hunting and please don’t pay $1,500 for a studio suite."
The Greater Vancouver housing market enters the summer season with home buyer activity on the rise.
The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) reports that residential property sales in Greater Vancouver reached 3,406 on the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in June 2014. This represents a 28.9 per cent increase compared to the 2,642 sales recorded in June 2013, and a 3.7 per cent increase compared to the 3,286 sales in May 2014.
Last month’s sales were 0.6 per cent above the 10-year sales average for June of 3,386.
“Competition amongst home buyers today is as strong as it’s been in the region since 2011,” Ray Harris, REBGV president said.
The sales-to-active-listings ratio currently sits at 21.3 per cent in Greater Vancouver, which is the highest this measure has been since June 2011.
“Over the last three years, we’ve seen changes in demand yet home prices at the regional level have remained relative stability,” Harris said. “While these numbers provide high level trends, it’s important to know that changes in prices always vary depending on neighbourhood and property type. Consult your local REALTOR® for information on trends in your area of choice.”
The MLS® Home Price Index composite benchmark price for all residential properties in Metro Vancouver is currently $628,200. This represents a 4.4 per cent increase compared to June 2013.
New listings for detached, attached and apartment properties in Greater Vancouver totalled 5,339 in June. This represents a 9.5 per cent increase compared to the 4,874 new listings in June 2013 and a 10.1 per cent decline from the 5,936 new listings in May. Last month’s new listing count was 2.6 per cent below the region’s 10-year new listing average for the month.
The total number of properties currently listed for sale on the MLS® system in Greater Vancouver is 16,011, a 7.4 per cent decline compared to June 2013 and a 0.4 per cent decrease compared to May 2014.
Sales of detached properties in June 2014 reached 1,462, an increase of 32.7 per cent from the 1,102 detached sales recorded in June 2013, and a 58.7 per cent increase from the 921 units sold in June 2012. The benchmark price for detached properties increased 6.2 per cent from June 2013 to $976,700.
Sales of apartment properties reached 1,308 in June 2014, an increase of 22.5 per cent compared to the 1,068 sales in June 2013, and a 27.5 per cent increase compared to the 1,026 sales in June 2012. The benchmark price of an apartment property increased 2.4 per cent from June 2013 to $378,000.
Attached property sales in June 2014 totalled 636, a 34.7 per cent increase compared to the 472 sales in June 2013, and a 53.3 per cent increase over the 415 attached properties sold in June 2012. The benchmark price of an attached unit increased 3.1 per cent between June 2013 and 2014 to $471,200.
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