September 26, 2017

Daily Scot – That Supply Issue

Zoning, the missing middle and lack of supply are frequent topics in discussions regarding the housing crisis in the City of Vancouver.  One local group Abundant Housing Vancouver, aims to bring the conversion to the forefront by highlighting current zoning practices in the city.
“We think that building more housing is part of the solution to the housing crisis in our City. This is based on the common-sense idea that, if there is more housing for people, more people will have more housing.”
“Meanwhile, apartments are illegal on 76% of Vancouver’s residential land, severely restricting where relatively affordable, multi-family units can be built. We do not believe that supply is the whole answer, or the only answer. But we do believe that zoning for expensive, low-density housing is part of the problem.”
If you haven’t already, check out their website and Instagram page which provides helpful visuals of how current zoning shapes land use.  Some posts from Abundant Housing Vancouver’s Instagram page are located below:
What we let people build on a corner lot within walking distance of good transit, 1905 vs 2014. The 2014 lot is about 25% bigger too.
Throwback to our Mount Pleasant tour – these pre-zoning 1912 apartments are nearly 3x denser than the 1968 apartments across the street
9-story Mount Pleasant building, on a quieter side street. Townhouses at street level. 125 homes, many families with kids.
Some great starting points for discussing the supply side of the housing equation.  Of the many issues to consider regarding the examples of the older apartment buildings and their efficient land use are the tight setbacks and absence of mandatory minimum parking requirements back in the day, but those are topics for another post.
For more information on Abundant Housing Vancouver click on the links below:
Instagram Page

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  1. I notice at the UBCM the audience were specifically warned the “supply issue” was a red herring, pushed by developers looking to market more luxury units. Indeed, it actually exacerbates the affordability problem:
    “There are a few things driving the out-of-control market, and it’s not a strong local economy or in-migration from other parts of Canada, Ley said. It’s not a writ large lack of supply, either, the panelists agreed.
    In fact, increased supply through redevelopment can actually worsen the problem, Ley said. As an example, he said speculative land assemblies drive up land costs and are eventually converted into high-priced units. Instead, what is driving increased prices is global demand and investment.”

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      Hi Bob,
      You beat me to my Supply Issue Part 2 counterpoint post for tomorrow. I agree no point building until our eyes explode until we look at taxation and the closure of loopholes.

      1. Not building helps with affordability ?
        You honestly expect land prices to drop as THAT is the key issue driving prices up ?
        Increasing taxes – or even better tax enforcement – will just do that: it will collect more taxes and does nothing to new supply.

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    2. Then there should be a lot more rezoned land. There needs a city wide plan, not just a trickling out of a few token areas of row house and townhouse areas. If every neighbourhood is on equal footing, then the bidding up is reduced because supply of high (or higher) density land will be much greater. Every municipality needs a city wide plan.

      1. A city wide plan could indeed kill speculation and land values, but only if it was broad enough (all lots) and allowed far more sqft at any given location than current demand. Trying to tailor zoning to be just a hair over population trends is how we got here.
        Abolishing zoning would be best solution, but if we aren’t going to do that, the next least evil is broad zoning with lots of capacity. At that point it’s still exclusionary on a neighborhood basis, but at least there would be no point in land speculation.

      2. Alternatively, opening up all RS1 properties at once to development could attract the big developers who would no doubt proceed with gigantic land assemblies and market the units offshore before they are built.
        There needs to be some very keen thought put into such a policy with intelligent controls set out from the beginning. Laissez faire planning is not the answer because it only guarantees that the developer’s interests are met before the public good can be emphasized. In addition, you’ll probably get condo sales all over the landscape before commercial / retail could service the new population.
        The Missing Middle must be accompanied by public amenities like additional park space and transit, and multi-use zoning needs to be the Holy Grail.

  2. I guess we might as well try it. You know; stop building and see if the prices come down.
    Rezoning and building the Olympic Village and the Cambie Corridor, etc., hasn’t worked.

    1. For all the claims about record building you might come across, it’s been repeatedly pointed out by Jens von Bergmann that the region collectively missed it’s housing building targets and blow its’ jobs targets out of the water

    2. If you compare completions and total households in Vancouver CMA over the last 60 years, we have been on a very long downward trend. In late 50’s, early 60’s, we built enough new units each year in Vancouver CMA to house 5% of the population (each year!). We are doing nowhere near that today.

      1. But that was before large immigration, when interest rates were high and when almost no foreign money come in to be parked in under-taxed real estate. Political decisions on high taxation of income and low taxation of real estate are the main culprit here.
        Our tax system hasn’t caught up to this new era yet.
        People behave rationally, especially those with lots of cash, and they shift their behavior when taxes are included in the equation. The rational thing is to buy the biggest house your can afford (or multiple houses/condos even) and shift your taxable income elsewhere.
        Seniors, wealthy immigrants and foreigners with cash sit on grossly undertaxed multi-million $ goldmines while families or younger folks with normal incomes get milked and suffer from housing affordability. This is good social policy ? I guess not but it is the result of our 1950s designed taxation system focusing on incomes, and far too little on local consumption incl real estate consumption !

      2. Given the drop in fertility rates that hardly surprising presswords2015. There are over 60k empty or underused units in Metro, hardly compelling evidence that we need more to house the population.

        1. Again with the misdirected math.
          Thanks to Jens von Bergmann of Mountain Math (again) we have block by block data from the 2016 census and the “vacancy” count. Entire high rise apatment buildings under construction were listed as vacant, as were people on vacation, recovering in hospital or perpetually overwrked in the office or extraordinarily sociable and never home during regular hours. The cesus failed to correct for construction or human mobility. The 60K figure you cite is highly debateable.

    1. Are you familiar with the diamond industry? There is no shortage of diamonds in the world, but clever marketing induced demand and high prices. One might suggest the real estate market is not dissimilar at this point.

      1. “clever marketing” is a bit of an understatement. The diamond industry is dominated by the DeBeers Cartel.
        While I would be open to the possibility that there is anti-competitive behaviour going on in the Vancouver development market, it can hardly be described as a cartel.

        1. Actually Chris makes a relevant point, De Beers keeps profits and prices high by artificially limiting supply. The cozy group of big developers in Vancouver has done the same over the years – but this just proves the point that more supply is the answer.
          Good news is that with the yield chasing pension elephants stomping into the market (e.g. Shape properties redeveloping Brentwood and Lougheed) this cartel is breaking down.

        2. With 30% of all housing occupying 80% of all residential land for decades, I’d say the zoning bylaw has done more to limit the supply of land than anything else.
          Basic geometry. Supply is relative to both housing AND land.
          This is a key distinction. The two are constantly conflated by those who see only the affects of foreign money and speculation on primarily the (now obsolete) detached housing supply and not cheap credit and a lack of housing variety on both land and housing units.
          Four $3 million SFD lots assembled to supply 80 apartments in a mid-rise will increase the per ft2 price of the land overall, but the average price of the apartments will ring in at a fraction of $3 million.

        3. Four $3M lots (if you can actually find them) plus 4 years of time to assemble them and get permits is $15M to $16M or $200,000 per unit in land value alone, say $200/sq ft if 1000 sq ft on average, plus construction costs of $400-$600 depending on quality and yes you can deliver for well below $1000/sq ft. However, the city’s CACs to upzone the land from SFH to 6 or 8 storey will have to be added to that and so in almost all cases you see new stuff now at $1000/sq ft or higher to cover all costs, long LONG wait times, risk and city permitting fees incl. CACs.
          So, yes, rezoning will provide more housing but it ain’t cheap !
          Do not blame only the developers, blame the city too which has a big hand out to collect BIGLY.

        4. “While I would be open to the possibility that there is anti-competitive behaviour going on in the Vancouver development market, it can hardly be described as a cartel.”
          Sort of begging the question here. That was not the point I was making. The comparison (for me) is that there are lots of diamonds unmined, just as there is lots of land (and homes) that are underutilized — primarily because of lifestyle marketing that creates a demand for land-intensive but largely symbolic things like roads and parking lots which sit empty most of the time. Quite the parallel between land and diamonds IMO. You convince the consumer this (be it a SFH or shiny rock) is what they want and they oblige.

        5. CAC’s do not automatically apply everywhere, and in some cases along arterials can actually stabilize the overall prices by increasing the supply of apartments for sale.
          Moreover, things like car lots will not fetch premium prices along Kngsway, for example. Also, construction costs are relative to the materials and methods chosen.
          Once a reinforced high-rise hits 53 stories the engineering must change to a beefier design. UBC built the first local wooden highrise using prefab cross-laminated posts, beams and floor slabs. I’ll bet a loonie that the per m2 cost was very affordable compared to labour-intensive reinforced concrete, and that the construction period was very quick.

    2. In nimby world, of course. Obviously, more supply is the answer, but politically tough to build more supply in Vancouver – that is the big issue (hence the overdue focus on the vast majority of the land in the city where big government enforces massive restrictions on new supply).
      Also, misguided to focus on the fact that new construction is generally higher end than existing construction. Today’s luxury residence is the affordable rental stock of 3 decades from now.
      Interesting part is that if you track the CMHC data on completions/starts/under construction, there is a wave of more supply coming (but hasn’t arrived yet), so we’ll get a good test of the impact of supply on prices in the next couple of years.

  3. The Globe and Mail is reporting that Gregor Robertson has hit another one out of the ballpark. His promise to end homelessness by 2012 is ancient history now and apparently the homeless count has risen by another 30% over the past couple of years!

  4. It’s ludicrous to claim new condos are the answer. It was reported on Global tonight that Vancouver condo prices are the same per sq/ft ans New York City. One’s the financial capital of the Western World and a centre of culture, the other is a pleasant Tier 2 city that’s caught the eye of offshore investors but is in now way in the same league as New York. Build more 3 bed condos and “missing middle” units and there are a hundred million offshore buyers waiting to snap them up. You have to manage demand, not supply.

    1. One more time, the offshore demand is only a part of all demand, and it’s focused primarily on the luxury market in Westside Vancouver, Richmond and West Van.
      The Westside Vancouver median prices are higher than:
      East Van detached by $268,000
      East Van apartments by $258,000 (median: $529,400)
      Burnaby North detached by $468,700
      Burnaby North apartments by $221,500 (median: $565,900)
      Coquitlam detached by $445,000
      Coquitlam apartments by $310,000 (median: $477,000)
      (From MLS Home Price Index – August)
      You centre of the universe may be the Westside, Bob, but for over 2 million others it’s elsewhere in the Metro. That’s another way of saying that most of us don’t give a fig about prices in Dunbar or NYC because they aren’t our reality.

  5. By the way, Scott, the first photo indicates the beautiful Quebec Manor Housing Co-op at Quebec x 7th. It has been a public, self-managed form of housing for over 30 years. Two generations of kids have now grown up there running through its 12-foot wide halls. It has remained divorced from the changes in the housing market all that time, and it demonstrates that the federal co-op housing program was a valuable tool to provide affordable, decent non-market housing where the residents have control. The management structure has also protected its heritage; no worries about renovictions to vacate the land for a high-rise.
    The feds should bring the program back as well as provide funding for thousands of public non-profit rentals in partnership with provinces and cities as a counterweight to the market-based affordability crisis.

    1. On second look that could be the Algonquin at 10th x Ontario with View Court Co-op just behind the photographer. Similar architecture to Quebec Manor. Nonetheless, the co-op experience may not be everyone’s cuppa, but it does provide much needed security to lower income people.

  6. Is less more, or is less a bore. The Quebec Co-op is so high on the desirability scale – a big-shouldered appealing building. When is there ever a vacancy? The Algonquin is good too, but I’ve never lusted after it. I wasn’t aware that the hallways were 12′ wide in the Quebec. That shows a generous spirit; not the least that builders can get away with according to code, and then jam in some completely idiotic granite and have a horrible and cheaper to construct uncomfortable open concept where the fridge is an endless ear-penetrating accompaniment to daily life.

  7. js”>One more prison term, the offshore requirement is only a constituent of all requirement, and it’s focused primarily on the luxuriousness securities industry in Westside Vancouver, Richmond and West Van.
    The Westside Vancouver median prices are higher than:
    East Van detached by $268,000
    East Van aconstituentments by $258,000 (median: $529,400)
    Burnaby North detached by $468,700
    Burnaby North aconstituentments by $221,500 (median: $565,900)
    Coquitlam detached by $445,000
    Coquitlam aconstituentments by $310,000 (median: $477,000)
    (From MLS Home Price Index – August)
    You centre of the world may be the Westside, Bob, but for over 2 million others it’s elsewhere in the Metro. In accession, you’ll probably become condo sales all over the landscape before commercial-grade / retail could serving the newfangled universe.