July 15, 2016

Another Voice In the Noise

Many voices in the housing conversation cry in various ways and loudly about the detached single-family home, who’s buying, and how to stop “them”, how to preserve fond memories of washing the Buicks on Saturday morning.  All as if this is both the norm, and an absolute entitlement for any person who chooses to live in Vancouver.
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But there are rising voices of those looking in other directions.
Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail writes about people who support increased density.

Their group, Abundant Housing Vancouver, is an unplanned participant in what has become an almost overnight social movement in dozens of American cities, where advocates have banded together to demand population density, more housing projects and less militant protection of single-family neighbourhoods.
. . . Mr. Dawe and others would like to see municipal councils be brave enough to start allowing denser development in the huge areas of land now set aside for single-family housing.
Danny Oleksiuk, a 31-year-old labour lawyer, said he was motivated to join up when he saw a map showing that 31 per cent of Vancouver’s residents live on 83 per cent of the available land.

“My interest is really in the single-family neighbourhoods, where it’s now a $2-million entry price. There’s a lot of land there and not a lot of people, but it’s illegal to build affordable housing.”

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  1. Another excellent piece by Frances Bula, which happens to follow on the heels of her other piece on the need for dedicated rental housing.

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  2. The strange thing is that people seem to think that residents of single family neighbourhoods are against density increases, when, in fact, it’s the city that prevents it. The community was way out in front of the council in putting in secondary suites in houses. For how many years was it illegal, and the city went out of its way to try stop and reverse the trend?
    I know in my neighbourhood everyone would happily add rooms to their houses if it wasn’t impossible to exceed the 0.6 FSR allowance. And a lot more laneway-like housing would get built if it wasn’t so onerous and expensive to get it done.
    Really, the city prefers not allow general densification, because that give them more control over the places where it IS allowed, with obvious benefits to politicians and bureaucrats.

    1. If you are saying that current residents of single family home areas are in favour of removing FSR restrictions so that they and others can build as they please, then please start showing up at council because the ones who do, definitely do not share this viewpoint.
      There is an issue with large development players and bureaucrats preferring or benefitting from fewer larger projects, but the way to deal with that is to loosen or eliminate zoning and allow all the small ones, not to simply halt development. The people who show up at council meetings almost uniformly feel 0.6 FSR is plenty.

      1. Unfortunately, like most of the people in my community, I have to work to pay the bills, so showing up at council meetings is out of the question. Perhaps that’s not unintentional on the part of the council…
        And yes, I am saying that current residents of SFR are generally in favour of removing the restrictions. Just move about the city and see all the secondary suites and enclosed decks and garages converted to rooms, and you’ll see that SFR’s are covertly being converted to higher density. I bet if it wasn’t so onerous and expensive to build laneway-like homes in SFR neighbourhoods, there’d be a massive expansion in that form of housing…

        1. Just to be clear, what I mean is relaxing the restrictions. Where that ends, and what people support, I’m not going to speculate. You can go over .6 FSR if you build a laneway house, and that has widespread support (judging by the number being built, despite the cost), so clear it’s more than 0.6…

        2. 1. The meetings are generally held in evenings, precisely so that working people may be able to attend.
          2. You can write letters in lieu of attending
          3. Enough people in your community are already showing up, regardless of what they do for work, and they are generally not welcoming of any change at all. A counter balance is needed.
          4. Going above 0.6 isn’t really meaningful. Meaningful property rights would ensure homeowners can build whatever they want. That doing anything your neighbours might disagree with has to involve council is a sign the system is really broken, but the only voices out there are people who like it that way.

  3. …. 31 per cent of Vancouver’s residents live on 83 per cent of the available land. [needs a source]
    That pretty well sums up the inefficiencies of existing land use policies here. It’s a lot lower in cities like Calgary, but there they have hundreds of km2 of cheap farmland to gobble up for low density subdivisions and grossly inflated road infrastructure. Here we have English Bay.

  4. We need to revisit our immigration policy too. What made sense 20 or 30 years ago might not make sense today.
    If we continue like Europe, especially like France or Belgium, Montreal and possibly Calgary or Toronto will look like Nice or Brussels in a few decades: impoverished, radicalized, high unemployment, high tension, violence, wide gap between haves and not-haves, folks not integrating and/or demanding that the church be the state with accompanying Sharia law as the law of the land. Not everyone loves the massive Asian immigration, especially Chinese with minimal integration, into Metro Vancouver, either, especially if they gregariously exploit or simply ignore tax laws, pay little income taxes, yet consume for free ESL, education and healthcare services.
    As such, both supply and demand has to be addressed. immigration and free flow, especially untaxed, foreign money creates excessive demand while supply is too slow, too.

  5. “What made sense 20 or 30 years ago might not make sense today.”
    Please be specific. What policies or regulations are you talking about?
    “Not everyone loves the massive Asian immigration, especially Chinese with minimal integration, into Metro Vancouver, either, especially if they gregariously exploit or simply ignore tax laws, pay little income taxes, ”
    You refer to keeping your tax burden as low as possible as rational behaviour in a different thread on this same date. You think we should ensure we only allow the irrational people in… those who see their tax bill as a fair trade for those services you mention?
    Do you deliberately lower your tax burden by using whatever means are available?
    How many people do you employ? What do you pay them? What are you doing to reduce the gap between haves and have-nots?
    Pardon my questions, but I’m experiencing a little cognitive dissonance.

  6. I employ 20+ people. I pay income taxes, GST, PST, CPP, corporate taxes AND property taxes UNLIKE many (affluent) immigrants who pay no income taxes, nor employ anyone nor pay corporate taxes yet get free ESL, free education and free healthcare. Perhaps a prepayment for 5 years of healthcare or even schooling ought to be considered, either directly, or indirectly through far higher property and land transfer taxes.
    The abuse of our generosity makes me sick. Canada needs some immigration, but not nearly as much as we bring in today. We need to insist on language training. Many folks speak little even after a decade here. Why do we need to give land & passports away for free or almost free? Are we this desperate ? As I said elsewhere, we tax incomes far too high (50%+ if you count CPP on the high end) and somehow we think that is appropriate, yet we tax NOTHING on real estate gains on a $2M home that went to $4M ? Of course it makes sense for the affluent immigrant family to have the wife own the home and the husband declare income abroad to minimize their taxes and mooch off society. There are thousands, likely tens of thousands of such situations in MetroVan. After 4 years here they might go elsewhere to keep their Canadian passport and collect ESL or education for free for the kids, and healthcare for themselves when they are old, or their parents ? This makes sense to you ? It does not to me.
    See also here http://vancouversun.com/business/real-estate/examine-links-between-income-tax-and-real-estate-title-david-eby
    The policy I am referring to that used to work 20-30 years ago is the no-tax system on personal residences and the graduated tax on incomes when house gains where far more modest due to the high price of money. Today money is cheap. 2% for a mortgage, soon sub 2%. As such, we ought to lower income taxes, say to 15% federally and 10% provincially to a 25% top rate. We should then significantly increase PST, say to 12%, and property taxes, say triple. If you like a big BMW, great, but you pay more PST on it. You love a big fat $5M house ? Great. You pay far higher property taxes on it. We should also consider capping the “no taxes on your primary house gains” to say $1M on a life time basis. Anything above that is taxed at the maximum income tax rate. That to me is sustainable and fair, not the free loader system we have today. This would monetize our immigration policy and destination for foreign (both legal and often illegal) cash far far better. Not this 1970’s type “tax the rich” income tax system as the rich today have big homes here and incomes elsewhere.

    1. I’m not a money guy, so pardon the seemingly daft questions.
      Do you pay more than the industry standard to your employees? If not, why not? Wouldn’t that be a personal step you could take to help reduce wage inequality? If so, good for you and thank you.
      Are you suggesting that income should be taxed at the same rate whether earned through work or through other methods?
      How will far higher taxes on luxury items and big houses impact the people who create those things — the workers who build and construct things in our world?
      What is a realistic maximum income tax rate and where would you start to apply it?
      “Of course it makes sense for the affluent immigrant family to have the wife own the home and the husband declare income abroad to minimize their taxes and mooch off society.”
      Again, you are countenancing tax avoidance in one breath and condemning those who do it in another. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

      1. 50% on incomes is grotesque. I’d say 25% top tax rates on incomes (15% federally and 10% provincially as stated is appropriate).
        re wages: I pay market rates, anywhere from $15 – $150/h depending on skills and task, many with profit sharing. (unlike most governments that screw tax payer and pay well above market, often 100% above .. say BC Liquor stores where a clerk might make $30/h whereas market would be $15/h, for example) I am an immigrant that came with nothing.
        We tax consumption far too little and that includes real estate. As such, we over indulge. That also means we buy far too many poor quality products shipped in from China and other other nations that end up in the garbage in short order. Higher consumption taxes would encourage more recycling and the purchase of higher quality items that lat longer, be it shoes or clothing or TVs.
        Canada has a large middle class and one of the smallest gaps between top 20% and bottom 20% in the world. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/top-business-stories/canadas-middle-class-now-worlds-richest-study-suggests/article18090490/

        1. “say BC Liquor stores where a clerk might make $30/h”
          Citation needed. Sounds a bit like the speed of freighters in English Bay and the snowfall in Denver. A number you pulled out of your hat (if not the other end) 🙁

        2. “I am an immigrant that came with nothing.”
          Your LInkedIn profile says you arrived in Canada with a Master of Computer Science degree from a technical university in Munich following officer training in the German Air Force. This sounds like much more than ‘nothing’ to me.
          Was this scenario (see quote below) similar to your experience? How much did your education cost you? How much did the government kick in do you suppose?
          “On 24 April 2013, the Bayerische Landtag reached the decision to eliminate university tuition fees. As of winter semester 2013/2014, students are required to pay only the student union and basic semester ticket fees in the amount of 117 Euro. ”
          http://www.tum.de/en/studies/fees-and-financial-aid/

  7. “The abuse of our generosity makes me sick.”
    Is it not rational to provide ESL, education and healthcare to all, regardless of status and without penalty for those who are ‘haves’? Wouldn’t these punitive charges and guarantees simply result in more of the income-hiding and other ‘rational’ behaviour you are condemning? How is it rational to punish someone for being born in another country? Are there not Canadian citizens actively seeking ways to hide their money from the dreaded taxman? Shouldn’t we look to our own house first before telling China how to run their country?
    It’s all a bit of mish-mash Thomas. I’m sure you are great at making money. I don’t think I would vote for your ideas around governance though. I don’t see them working and in fact I think they would exacerbate all the things you just railed against.

  8. “We need to insist on language training.”
    Why? If a person can make it without learning English, then what’s the big deal? Further, if we insist upon it, shouldn’t it be free?
    When you insist upon monetizing immigration, isn’t that just really a head tax by another name? Wouldn’t it just ending up creating another layer of dreaded government interference in the free movement of people in search of better life? Isn’t the reality of such an idea that the wealthy would still get in, but it would hit hard the middle-class people we would love to have come and contribute to Canada?
    These ideas aren’t standing up to scrutiny IMO.
    cheers,
    CK

    1. Chris, Your words: “If a person can make it without learning English, then what’s the big deal? Further, if we insist upon it, shouldn’t it be free?” I guess you have never heard of the Tower of Babel; without a universal language (which requires training), you have an inability to communicate effectively, followed by misunderstanding, hatred and war. And, just how do you propose that language training “be free”? Who is going to put in the time, effort, stress and resource costs of teaching for free? Like all other services, the cost of education is rising, not falling. How do you justify not paying the teachers; they are not going to do the work for nothing.

    2. Look to Europe to see what happens if you bring in too many immigrants that do not integrate. At least the Chinese don’t blow themselves up and worship the god of money. Affluent immigrants pay far too little in taxes as we overtax incomes (often none or little here) and undertax consumption (real estate and new Jags). The situation is unhealthy today in MetroVan.

      1. In BC alone we are seeing roughly as many people die of overdose deaths as have been killed by terrorism in Europe this year. It’s not difficult to link those O.D.s back to a group of mostly white men who call themselves motorcycle enthusiasts and worship money.
        Your argument is reductionist, racist, and unhealthy.

        1. All lives matter, even white (or yellow or black) ones ! Allowing tens of thousands to come here and distort property values, moral values and cultural norms is healthy ? All norms OK now ? What does “Canadian” actually still mean ?

        2. People who contribute are on the approved list.
          Every adult immigrant brings their cultural norms with them, and it is hard to change them. Often only their kids, if they go through the school system long enough become Canadianized. Many adult immigrants do not integrate, especially if they come in very large numbers to very concentrated places. That in my humble opinion is unhealthy !

      2. Thomas, I am an immigrant, as are you. It is really easy to say that we should close the door now that we are here. But is this fair? This nation has been built by immigrants and I am glad that many people are willing to continue welcoming new people to Canada.

        1. No one is asking to close the door.
          All I am asking is to contribute to the new country you call “home” and not treat it merely as a place to drop your money and do not integrate, or worse, mooch of its services such as ESL, healthcare or education and pay little, if any, income taxes.

        2. But you keep calling these tactics ‘rational’ and that it’s no surprise. It’s a big ask to request people behave irrationally isn’t it — like paying more than market wages to one’s employees? My goodness, just a small self-sacrifice on your part and you might start a trend that positively impacts the lives of a multitude. And yet… your solutions always seem to involve reducing the take-home pay from fairly negotiated collective agreements that give people a chance to save for the future, provide for their children, and pay back to society through their tax bill.
          Bizarre disconnect between stated objective and proposed solution.

        3. Are you a civil servant, Chris ? What do you do to contribute to society ?
          Those civil servants’ wages are NOT fairly negotiated as the state is a monopoly employer and the right to fire people if they strike, or the real risk to go bankrupt does not exist for the state. Ever heard of “competition” ? If you pay above market too often and to too many people you go out of business as a private enterprise UNLIKE the state that can either borrow more or tax more. THAT my friend is the big difference between the real world and the public sector dream world putting whole countries like Greece, France and soon Canada into bankruptcy !

        4. I’m a self-employed writer. We know all about competition Thomas. Thanks for asking. Must be the first time you’ve ever actually deigned to find out what the people who are trying to understand your irrational positions do. There’s food for thought eh? Seek first to understand as they say. Excellent advice I’ve always believed.

        5. Irrational, eh ?
          Entire rational, my friend, entirely.
          A blog is a poor medium for nuanced individual discussion especially if there are no bios of people who blog. No truckers, nor Asians, nor busy soccer moms with 3 kids nor blue collar workers nor uneducated minimum wage hicks blog here to my knowledge. Mainly male, white, highly academically educated folks with a green bent .. with the odd exception.

    1. Have a drive around Richmond – perhaps Aberdeen Mall too – and see how un-integration looks like today. Learning English, so overrated. Adhering to local laws like paying taxes, too. Maybe Richmond will separate from Canada soon, like Brexit ?

      1. Of course I’ve made no suggestion that we should ignore local laws and I’ll note that as usual, you’ve picked the easy questions to answer and seem to have deliberately avoided the ones that would poke holes in your moralizing.

  9. The greatness of Canada is in its promotion of a cultural mosaic – unlike the Borg jingoistic melting pot of the Corporation of the U.S.A. Hats off to Jean Chrétien for standing up to this imperial corporatocracy and not sending our citizens to kill and be killed in Iraq – the Bush League War – Baby Bush standing in for Daddy Bush: for their god – the petrodollar.
    There is no place in a civilized society for poor bashing or xenophobia. If you want to bash someone, bash Greedy Jim and the other billionaire wage slave owners. Billionaires suck the life out of people. They suck out a piece of their lives day to day and shorten their lives overall. Yes, people die younger after a life of economic slavery. It’s death by a thousand cuts.
    Where should tax money come from – that’s obvious. There is such an abundance – but the Greedy will not give it up until they fear for their lives. Until they know there will be a pitchfork up their greedy asses, it’s business as usual.
    Sometimes the billionaires decide it would be good for business to have war. They own the media, so it’s easy to propagandize – send the poor to do their bidding. Hats off to the Greatest – Muhammed Ali – who stood up to these bully clowns. He saw through the Yellow Fever and Red-baiting.
    One in four people in the world is Chinese – and, unlike the Germans and Russians, like reproducing. They don’t need to “integrate” to please some narrow-minded angry immigrant that came before them, got his, and doesn’t like the way things are. Don’t like the way the Chinese in Richmond, or Punjabs in Surrey, keep to themselves. Tough.

  10. Well, here it is. My parents bought a humble 1920’s house in West Point Grey, in need of much repair, with garden run wild, back in 1962. It was close to UBC, which was important, as my father was teaching music there. Both my parents were active musicians, with my mother playing in the Vancouver Symphony, all of which required hours and hours of daily practice. They needed a detached home with adequate space around it, so their profession would not disturb the neighbours. They have lived there 56 years so far, with my father retired from teaching for many years, but still keeping up his music playing. Both of them intend to live in their house until death do them part, I believe, and it would break their hearts to have this quiet, peaceful and liveable neighbourhood chopped up into smaller lots, with multifamily dwellings crammed in to every available cranny. Not everyone desires to live in a hubbub of bustling community, and should have the right to choose a dwelling where they can live the lifestyle they need. Vancouver needs variety, not homogeneity.

    1. But Vancouver has too much homogeneity and too little variety for the very reasons you cite. Those who live a lifestyle near the city that younger people can rarely afford will resist change and claim a broken heart.
      There needs to be far more density spread across far more of the city to create the variety of housing types that support a broad range of people. While that includes single family homes it must include all other forms of attached housing (with the exception of towers which should be confined to mass transit node/corridors).
      There are a lot of reasons Vancouver evolved into No Fun City but too many “quiet peaceful” (dull boring) neighbourhoods are a big part of it.

      1. I can tell you are an extrovert (“dull boring” comment), while I come from a family of introverts. We all deserve accommodation; no right/wrong here. It depends on what you are doing, and what you need. As I’ve stated in a recent post, I really do appreciate in a most personal way how there needs to be more affordable housing in all areas of the city, as it is ridiculous that so many people have to commute long distances to be where they need to be. I’m not sure that eliminating or disrupting “quiet” neighbourhoods is the answer, though. There have always been areas of the city where properties were luxurious, and unquestionably out of most people’s reach; but back in the 1960’s, those were few in number. I wholeheartedly agree that greater density is achievable, with re-zoning and creative solutions such as “tiny houses” at the back of larger properties, or subdividing large houses.
        During my university years, I had a suite in an enormous old house in Kerrisdale, which was divided into 5 suites. The only stipulation was that you had to be a musician. The owner lived on the premises, and wanted to promote musicians, and so he did. We all enjoyed the green grass and fruit trees in the back yard, and developed a sense of community just in that old house. No major changes to the neighbourhood were required, although if that were today, parking would have been an issue. As it was, none of us had cars (if you can imagine that).
        One major obstacle to increased density is infrastructure. Bluntly, Vancouver’s water supply and sewer system is one toilet-flush away from collapse. As far as I can tell, this is being dealt with mainly on a piecemeal basis, by the process of ripping up one street at a time to replace failing essential pipes etc. I’m thinking that increasing density must be done in a thoughtful way, by creating sustainable self-contained communities that process their own sewage, and collect their water from roof-top systems; solar and wind power, to augment the finite amenities currently available; the possibilities are there, it’s been done elsewhere, but requires much more planning than the crude “let’s cram more people in” approach.
        I could go on. But I hope that dispels your impression that I might be some kind of elitist NIMBY. 🙂

    2. All very valid thoughts, but two issues:
      I think you might be conflating “choosing a dwelling” and “choosing a neighbourhood” The former is about controlling what kind of house you live in. The latter is about telling other what kind of house they should live in. No one desires to see your parents unhappy if they do not like changes that might come to their neighbourhood, but it’s not clear why their desires should trump the desires of others.
      On homogeneity and variety, of course! But the current situation is homogeneity – we have devoted most of the land to detached houses for a minority of the residents. An introduction of variety means reducing the amount of land devoted to detached housing, not increasing it.
      I hope your parents enjoy many more years in their home, but I hope they will respect the wishes of their neighbours should they wish to build, sell, or stay put.

      1. There’s also the non-minor fact that were they to start working at UBC now, they would not be able to afford it on a faculty salary, or a symphony salary, or both added together.
        The generation(s) who had that choice are not the one currently longing for that choice.

        1. aritectus: very true. This house, as run down as it was, was a stretch for their income, and would indeed be impossible as things are now. As it is, I am pretty sure that the property taxes are taking a big bite out of their savings.
          I agree re: generations: My son works near Granville Island, and when he was single, he lived in a basement suite close by, and cycled to work. Now he is married, with a child, and for several years, they lived in a cramped apartment in Marpole, on the third floor of a walk-up building, and it was no treat hauling the stroller up and down the stairs. They searched for homes closer to his work, but as you can imagine, nothing was to be had that they could afford. Last year, with the help of several family members, they bought a house in Coquitlam, with a mortgage-helper suite downstairs. My son now takes up to two hours to get to work, via bus, Skytrain, and more bus. The West-Coast Express worked, but due to its infrequent schedule, he would often be an hour later coming home if he had a meeting after work. They would have given anything to be able to live in Vancouver, nearer to his work. And they are the lucky ones, who have family support and a steady income to make even this compromise happen.

      2. Thanks for your good wishes for my parents. They know that times change, and they have seen plenty just on their street, which, I should add, for many years was only one block long. Now it is two. I think it would be safe to generalize that the people who live there, both long-time residents and newer ones, cherish the peaceful atmosphere, and if they wish for a more happening lifestyle, they would certainly move to Kits or the Drive. As it happens, when they moved into the neighbourhood, most of the big old houses already quietly had illegal secondary suites, rented mainly by university students. Over the past twenty years, old houses have come down, some properties have been subdivided, and new, more luxury homes have been built, many not at all respecting the architectural integrity of the street. However – variety is the spice of life, right?

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