February 14, 2017 – Michael Kluckner, Artist and Writer

Michael Kluckner, February 2017 Speaker

I, Michael Kluckner, am a Canadian writer and artist/illustrator. My early books on the history of Canadian cities, heritage, planning issues and art, include Vancouver The Way It Was, Vanishing Vancouver, Paving Paradise, andBritish Columbia in Watercolour.

In 1991 I was the founding president of the Heritage Vancouver Society, and served as president of the Langley Heritage Society from 1993 to 1998. From 1996 until 2001, I was the British Columbia member of the board of governors of the Heritage Canada Foundation, and served as chair from 1998-2000. I chaired the Vancouver Heritage Foundation in 2002-3.

I lived from 1993 to 2006 on a farm in rural Langley, British Columbia, where I raised sheep and chickens and helped my wife maintain her large garden.

In 2006, we moved to Australia. We lived in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney from 2007-9 before returning to live in Sydney.

In February, 2010, we returned to Canada to live in Vancouver. Vanishing Vancouver: The Last 25 Years, published in April, 2012,  looks back to my earlier period living in Vancouver while recording and analyzing the remarkable changes that have recently transformed the city.

 

NOTES on Michael Kluckner’s talk.

It’s very nice to be back. Ted mentioned me working at BCIT back in the 1970s when Gordon Thom was President I guess he was and when I spoke to Probus about 15 years ago Gordon Thom was President of Probus at that time, which some of you might remember.

The talk today is about a number of things about contemporary Vancouver, but our ability to understand the present is very often influenced by our understanding of the past, so I hope this will be a little bit instructive for you and some of you will have lived all of this as much as I have.

I begin with an observation of Vancouver in the mid 1980s. There is this seminal point in the summer of 1986 where the old James Inglis Reid butcher shop on Granville Street closed. The property had been bought to make way for a northern extension of the Pacific Centre mall and the chain stores of that mall. This was a very unusual and unique in Vancouver butcher shop, which was also a bakery and, in a sense, a four-storey factory, which had been in Vancouver for about 70 years at that time. It closed down and I was commissioned to go and do some paintings of it. This is one of them. It got me thinking about the changes in Vancouver that weren’t just the physical changes but about something deeper and more profound.

That got me going later on in the ‘80s, recording what was really falling to pieces in Vancouver in my opinion. The demolition of a generation of architecture that I thought was really meritorious and its replacement by buildings that I thought were not nearly as meritorious. In retrospect here, not a bad David Suzuki imitation, looking annoyed out in front of what is obviously an incursion on the left into a relatively historic neighbourhood on the right hand side.

During that time, there were a number of touchstones of what I thought was just the waste of a cultural landscape. This house in third Shaughnessy demolished, the lot left vacant, subsequently replaced by a single-family house. Now, be clear on this, if a house like this were demolished and replaced by, let’s say, an apartment building or an office building or something that indicated the growth of the city, the inevitable evolution of the city, I probably would not have been so exorcised about it but this one was demolished and replaced by another a house, a newer house, I thought this is indicating in terms of an expression of a time, a culture drunk on the now and the new. A culture that didn’t have really any sense of its past and certainly not a sustainable culture in the long-term, although, in the 1980s, those ideas of sustainability and change weren’t as important as they have become now. The first Banshee Vancouver came out in 1990, got a lot of publicity and was kind of notorious in a way for suggesting that we should not continue to go on as we have been doing in the past in Vancouver.

Some of the things that were very influential to me at that period were the little house that my wife and I owned in Kerrisdale, a very ordinary house, a builder’s house from 1914. The carpenter disappears out of the city’s directories. Perhaps he went overseas and never came back during the First World War. But there are elements of this little house that seem to speak to me about how neighbourhoods at one time or another work. Particularly it was the garden we inherited: the wisteria that was draped across the front of the house and the way it tended to engage people in the neighbourhood – complete strangers, people who would walk by and in May we would have a conversation about the garden because the garden was a shared landscape. Later in the summer we would use the front porch, have lunch out there, watch the comings and goings in the neighbourhood, “snoopervise” the neighbourhood and see what was going on. And in these kinds of interactions with people, I began to realize very clearly how the traditional architecture of cities like Vancouver facilitated that kind of interchange and how even beginning as early as the 1920s as houses began to turn inward on themselves as porches disappeared, as houses began to focus on fenced backyards, how we had become more of an indoor culture and it’s now surprise that we have continued in that way really at an ever increasing speed over the past generations to the point that we are now really a courtyard culture. We’re turned inward rather than a more outward looking way.

So these were the sorts of things that were interesting me back in the day. The kind of demolition by neglect of houses in Vancouver. Like a Kerrisdale house that had been rented out to a hoarder. Like the Kitsilano houses of an earlier generation that had been rented out to rock bands. It was a great way of sort of softening up the neighbourhood and moving people around.

There were other elements to it that time. The generation of kind of corner stores in Vancouver what growing up we called “Chinese groceries.” They were Chinese groceries because at that period they were largely run by Chinese-Canadian families but in earlier generations they were run by Japanese-Canadians also by Chinese Canadians and a lot by widows interestingly. These little buildings, as modest and unprepossessing as they were, were kind of an entry point into the society, particularly for Asian immigrants who were banned from involvement by the racial laws of the time, for example entry into the professions. So spaces like this were really the original live-work spaces in Vancouver. But by the 1980s and certainly continuing through the 1990s and more recent times, these of course cannot compete with the 7-11s, the Mac’s Milks, the handy marts attached to gas stations and so they have largely disappeared even in the 25 to 30 years since I did these paintings.

And there were other places that were even more, I guess, ephemeral, more transitory that were around at that time. The remains of Market Gardens in Southlands. This was an apple orchard that had been under-planted with daffodils to give two crops to the subsistence farm on the Southland Flats at that time. And these sorts of things in a way were unusual, not unique to Vancouver, but they were certainly places that spoke very, very much to me about a changing city at that time. Other places historically significant. This is Vancouver’s first Children’s Hospital at 67th and Hudson. It was advertised in 1989 as two lots available for redevelopment. In the event, however, the Abbeyfield Housing Society stepped in and bought it and converted into seniors’ housing and it still exists so there are a lot of good news stories in all of this. A derelict house left vacant at 7th and Ash in Fairview Slopes was left vacant for years. Eventually a sympathetic owner got it and converted it into a very chi-chi cafe on Fairview Slopes. In other places, some of the big estates got in-filled with strata title, condominiums and little townhouses for example. This final house at 45th and MacDonald. And of course there’s Shaughnessy Heights itself which could be a subject for an entire other lecture of property rights versus the purported public good of heritage preservation. So if you want to invite me back for a real controversial one there’s a good one there.

I guess the campaigning for preservation has passed on to another generation, particularly Caroline Adderson, who is a novelist who about five or six years began a Facebook page called Vancouver Vanishes. This current generation of campaigning about character houses and so on in Vancouver is really largely her doing and as I said a generation younger than I am.

But I want to switch gears and talk about this kind of main subject of what’s actually going on in Vancouver now. So, gentrification, which is kind of a loaded term to me is really sort of a neutral term. It just means the process of people being displaced or pushed out of neighbourhoods by people with more money. I don’t know if that sounds terribly neutral, but as I said, I don’t think it does. It’s a term that came out of the USA largely where you had areas that had been abandoned in inner cities. United States was different from Canada in that “White Flight” was much more pronounced there in the 1950s and 1960s largely due to the racial split in the USA that never really existed in Canada to the same degree.

The point I want to make about this is that we had this brief period from the founding of Vancouver between 1886 and a very, very deep depression that began in 1913 where Vancouver much a growing booming city. The population quadrupled between 1900 and 1910. The inner core of Vancouver, Grandview, Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano, the West End, of course, and the Downtown area all pretty much developed by that time. ?But then with the depression of 1913 the war and then the kind of will-of-the-wisp prosperity thereafter and then the Second World War, it was really the 1950s before house prices climbed back up to where they had been in 1913. So, you had this long period that I think we could describe as a de-gentrification era where you could go and you could buy a house for way cheaper than what it originally sold for.

I’ve got a critical point marked there in 1966 where the Strata Titles Act passes and we’ll talk about that a little bit later and a few other items down below there one that I will only flag in passing. In that period of around 1970 the closure of Riverview Hospital begins. And so all of these things have real impact on what happened.

What did de-gentrification look like in Vancouver? Well it looked largely like this: big, fine old houses that had been converted into rooming houses, some as early as the First World War, and were gradually deteriorating. They were providing affordable housing but they were gradually changing and moving on. The West End was very much like this Kitsilano, Fairview and Mount Pleasant. All of these areas. And this is really the Vancouver that existed until quite recently.

What was it like to own property in Vancouver a lifetime ago? ??Well, this 1930 headline says something: “Costly Land Lies Idle.” People were not able to pay taxes on the property they had. The city was in terrible budgetary condition. By 1934 the newspapers were full of advertisements for tax sale land. This was land that the city had taken back from people who were unable to pay their taxes. There were pages of this. You could go to an auction and you could pick up a lot or a house, if you had money, for $700 or $1,000 perhaps. It became such an issue that in 1935 the city inaugurated a work for taxes program where homeowners could go and work. For example, Fraserview Golf Course comes out of that – working there to pay off the taxes so people would not lose their houses. So this is obviously a very, very different era. In 1939, the property owners of Shaughnessy Heights appeared before Vancouver City Council requesting tax relief. Now this was obviously a very, very different period.

What did displacement look like at that time? Really the first place where a group of people who were tenants was moved out en masse was Coal Harbour. The houseboat community that was there that was dubbed quite accurately the “Shaughnessy of the shoreline.” It was a very well run area. The people who lived there had jobs in the marine industries and then in the war industries during the Second World War but the town planning commission wanted a very different type of a Coal Harbour than what existed before the 1950s and they found their key way in with the Bayshore Inn. That was one of those tipping points in the 1950s that began a major change in Vancouver.

The most notorious example of displacement in Vancouver is of the Japanese-Canadian community in Japantown and elsewhere beginning in 1942. As many of you know, the Japanese-Canadians from the coastal region within 100 miles of tidewater were all rounded up into the buildings at the Pacific National Exhibition. Able-bodied men were shipped out to do roadwork on the Yellowhead and on the Hope Princeton Highway, and gradually that community of about 22,000 people was forcibly moved off the coast. Their property was initially confiscated and then sold off for a song during the Second World War and they never received any compensation for it and this is really an ongoing block of Canadian history. ??This became the subject of a graphic novel that I did about a year and a half ago and many of you will be familiar with the literature both fiction and non-fiction of that period. ??

But, in the long-term, what really hasn’t changed is that proportion of the city that was renters versus owners. There’s really effectively no change over a century. The building form has changed from one generation to the next but we still have approximately half the residents of Vancouver being renters and half of them being owners.

And again, a few definitions here to look at.  As the response to housing in the city evolves over the last half century or so you think first of urban renewal. When people think of urban renewal they think of council housing in the UK, the notorious housing projects in the United States and to a lesser extent in Toronto and Montreal. We had a few of them here and this was the idea of determining that an area had become a slum and so the government was to build new housing for people. They demolished what was there and built new housing. Gentrification is kind of the flip-side: The people get moved out, the houses get fixed up by private money.

And then we have the current issue, which the city government in Vancouver particularly is trying to deal with: this idea of building subsidized housing. The subsidized housing involves either cheaper land or somehow or another a bonus density or bonus zoning type of situation to get private money to build the type of housing that they would not otherwise build. It uses three general definitions. And in terms of urban renewal in the Vancouver area this goes back to the 1960s. Gastown and the freeway and particularly the project at that time to demolish the entire Strathcona area east of Chinatown and to replace it with new housing for the people who were there. Many of you will remember this. These are still shots from a CMHC film made in that period about how urban renewal was going to transform and improve this part of Vancouver. I invite all of you to remember this slogan, “To build a better city.” If you look on YouTube and you Google “To build a better city,” you can watch this wonderful film from the early 1960s that is about the redevelopment of Strathcona and how wonderful it’s going to be for the people who are there.

It’s authoritarian, it’s paternalistic. In any event, the people, primarily the Chinese-Canadian people in Strathcona, rose up against it. They found common cause against the freeway campaign at that time and also with the merchants in Chinatown and the merchants in Gastown and managed to stop the freeway in the early 1970s, which was another one of those tipping point kind of watershed moments in Vancouver.

Displacement in the 1960s and 1970s generally involved people like this guy: a retired logger by the name of Mickey who has his lucky logger case with him. And that downtown area in what was called Skid Row at that time was home to this generation of people. In the academic literature, they are referred to as the “lonesome prospectors.” In the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, there were way more men than woman and there was a whole generation of men who worked in the logging camps, they cycled back and forth, the Smiling Buddha, the downtown hotels, the logging camps and they ended up as old kind of broken down men effectively in what we now call the Downtown Eastside. When you look at the kind of housing that there was the really interesting fact is that it really had three times as many of those single room occupancy, that’s SRO, hotel rooms in Vancouver 45 years ago than we have today. There was a lot of housing for that type of person at that time but redevelopment and, indeed, gentrification has moved a lot of that out.

Along the way we got what was really the first coordinated kind of heritage project in Vancouver, which was entirely private money at the beginning: the Gastown revitalization of the late 1960s. Gastown was the “in” place in the late 1960s, taking over from Robsonstrasse, from these other places that became the kind of destination shopping or festival shopping areas, and it was really kind of a new thing for Vancouver at that time. Larry Killam, some of you may know, he was really I think the one most deserving of credit for the Gastown revitalization although there was a number of other people involved in it. Both non-profit heritage preservation types and then entrepreneurs or developers like Larry.

That evolves along to the point that another blip comes up where you get displacement, particularly the Expo evictions of 1986 stand out where these old hotels where these old men had been living in some cases for 20, 30 or 40 years were evicted so that the buildings could be renovated for tourist accommodation. That again seemed to indicate that something was going very, very wrong in the way Vancouver’s housing was taking shape.

What were the other housing options that were around in generations past? Well a lot of it was like this de-gentrification example. Single-family houses that had been converted into suites as the years had gone by. I lived in houses like this. Probably a lot of you did going back into student days, young married days or whatever you would describe it. The significant thing about this type of housing is that the vast majority of it was illegal. The vast majority of it was converted without permits in violation generally of the strictness of building codes, and yet, in the main, it provided good quality affordable housing. A lot of it continues to do so today.

What else was going on in housing? Well there was the high-rise boom half a century ago in the West End. The kind of landscape that we in some cases are arguing about in Vancouver of high-rises and so on, this is really, as I say, a half a century ago and an evolution of the earlier, smaller walk-up type of apartments. But at the time that nearly all of these buildings were built this was an area where your options were living were, basically, you bought a single-family home in fee simple or you were a tenant. ??Now there were a few apartment corporations around – the kind of for-profit co-ops that developed in the 1950s and the 1960s. But, generally, you would rent if you didn’t want to own and chances are if you rented in Vancouver you would be renting from one or the other of these two men: Ben Wosk or Tom Campbell who were two of the biggest landlords at the time. In terms of characters they were really here for a long time and lived by this slogan: “Buy top land, pay top price and never sell.” That was Ben Wosk’s business model. He believed that you would get the highest quality building that would attract the highest quality of tenants. Tom Campbell believed exactly the same thing: over the long run you would be prosperous and you would have a happy, stable group of people and a happy income. This really was the model that ran that kind of housing for the 50 percent of Vancouverites during that period. ??

So what happened to this? We hear a lot in the news now about vacancy and so on. What are the other great periods in Vancouver history of very, very low vacancy rates? ??1943 was probably the worst. Wartime, material shortages, housing shortages. You have a flood of people coming into Vancouver to work in the war industries. If you look in the old newspapers of that period you would see in the Saturday edition of the Vancouver Sun no more than three or four apartments available for rent in the city. It was really an astonishing housing shortage.

The one that’s kind of interesting is 1973. Why would there be an incredible housing shortage at that period? Well the answer comes up really as the Strata Titles Act. It’s that creation in 1966 of the possibility of building condominiums. What’s a condominium? A condominium is a parcel of ownership where land has been subdivided in three dimensions generally. Now what does that mean? Generally before that if you were going to subdivide a piece of land it had to be a piece of property. It had to actually be attached to the ground. But a condominium can be a slice of sky up above a piece of ground and it’s an ownership form for the British term “flying freehold” or “castles in the sky” that came up around that time. This absolutely revolutionized the way development took place in Vancouver, the way that investors and developers looked at what kind of housing they could provide and then also it opened up a type of ownership for people who were either uninterested in or unable to get into single-family housing. It had the additional impact of course of making the fee simple single-family house more exclusive, rarer and thus pushing its price up.

You’ll notice this one here: condominium conversions frozen by Vancouver City Council in 1973. It gives you an indication of how fast the impact of that was. The other little thing in there. Income Tax Act changes in 1971. Professionals could no longer write off their real estate investments in rental buildings against their professional income. So all of a sudden that money starts to look elsewhere. Mutual funds are invested around that time. So you have this perfect storm coming about around housing.

Just another little touchstone. 1982, that’s 34 or 35 years ago, street homelessness begins again. I put “again” in because it disappeared in Vancouver after the Great Depression. And the food bank opens as a temporary measure. People forget how long we’ve been living with these sorts of situations.

And just one example of gentrification. Kerrisdale in 1989 – really the first clear example you can see of displacement and gentrification, the kind of change in the city. Again, as condominiums are coming in, we see the demolition of apartment buildings and displacement. This was a Kerrisdale that was a much more mixed-income area than it is now. People who had been tenants for quite a number of years were all the sudden homeless. They were moved out of their area and the newspapers of course picked up on the story of the protest and so on and so forth. ??As this type of thing moves through, you can see a parallel coming through with these types of developments coming into, for example, the Downtown Eastside. The Woodward’s redevelopment of 2010. The slogan there, “Be bold or move to the suburbs.” That has to be Bob Rennie’s probably most audacious real estate marketing campaign that I’ve ever seen. You can ask him about that if you go to his gala.

What happened with the Downtown Eastside and with developments like this? It’s hard to say but we’ll talk about that. In general, housing change has pushed more and more against the people who traditionally have lived in the Downtown Eastside. The city has responded with tighter zoning. That generation of people that we had with Mickey the old logger there, they died out, but they’ve almost been completely replaced by people who, in previous generations, would have been in Riverview Hospital. ??So you have that new population moving into that area and, with the combination of low welfare rates and the deterioration of those buildings and so on, we have all created this situation.

It’s not just a residential thing. Some of us watch with dismay and others with just curiosity of what’s happening. I’ve got one little clipping there of Marine Drive, family housing being replaced by much smaller condo housing down by the Canada Line station at Cambie and Marine Drive. And the other clip there is of a commercial operation just off Commercial Drive that closed a few years ago and one just from a month or so ago of these enormous rent increases that are going on in buildings. What this is doing to the fabric of communities?

This is a question for you. Maybe this is just the inevitable evolution of a society or maybe this is something we should worry about as our commercial streets hollow out and only the chain stores can afford to run there. What does affordability mean? This is a question for you. Affordability: does it just mean deferred maintenance? Does it mean that all of those buildings that were the old rooming houses and so on that the only reason they were good housing is people weren’t paying to keep them up? What about rental housing being replaced by condos? Well Vancouver has actually had a policy in effect for about 10 years going back to before the Vision council of rental replacement. If you are an owner and you take down a building that has six or more rental suites in it you have to replace those suites. Interestingly Burnaby doesn’t have that and so you’re seeing a lot of that kind of speculative move go out into Burnaby along the different SkyTrain lines and some of you have followed in the news of the demolition of these quite affordable apartment buildings and the displacement of the tenants.

But, a question for you. Only 40 percent of Vancouver society can afford to buy a house and the question is, was this statement first in 1967, 1987 or 2007? So, hands up for the first one for 1967? The answer is, of course, 1967. Henry Block was the realtor at that time. This was at a time when a house on the West Side of Vancouver cost probably $25,000 and mortgages were about eight to 10 per cent. So the idea of housing crises in Vancouver, there’s nothing new about it.

But the question is, is our current situation different or is this just part of the roller coaster that we have come to expect in Vancouver? Probably all of you have had a little card like this shoved in through your door over the past year or two. This is one from four years ago, five years ago. Very out of date. [Michael showed a chart.] The dark line at the top is of fee simple houses or single-family houses and the other ones are condos, which haven’t increased in price quite so much. Everybody is very much aware of this but how many people are aware of what happens when you plot interest rates against that same graph? Of course housing prices go into the opposite direction to interest rates. And you look at that little 1991 recession after the bubble of the late 1980s and the inflation and interest rates went up about 15 per cent then you’re seeing a low rate and then up it goes from there. But Vancouver has been somewhat immune certainly from the global financial crisis. You can see the little drop there but we’ve been largely immune. And the question is whether this is completely unnatural. Is this the uncoupling of housing costs from the local economy, which I think is the best way of describing of what’s going on? Even look at Toronto as an example where the housing prices are as high as Vancouver’s but Toronto actually has a real economy. They actually make things, they actually do things, real things as opposed to the kind of toy economy we have here in Vancouver.

Fans of Adam Smith would say, “well, it’s supply and demand and we should build more.” But this chart demonstrates that in fact we are building plenty of housing compared with the number of people who are coming here. But we are building a type of housing that is appealing according to one train of thought to international investors rather than to people who actually make their money here. This may also hinge on the fact that people actually cannot cook a meal except on a granite counter-top as opposed a generation before! There are obviously all kinds of things going on at play here so the issues are really very very complex.  So let’s just think of causes and solutions and so on.

I kind of skimmed over the failure of urban renewal. Urban renewal failed all over North America by about 1970. It wasn’t just here. It was replaced by a much finer grained type of housing programs. We talked about the Strata Titles Act being an extraordinarily significant piece of legislation that allowed a different type of ownership and a different type of development. It also, in a very, very positive way, allowed, for example, the re-population or the reinvention of areas like that Downtown South area of Vancouver. The brownfield area as the abandoned areas of cities like Vancouver. As Vancouver de-industrialized, it had all of this brownfield area. People wanted to move here to have jobs serving coffee or whatever people do here

But I think in terms of international trends. Think really big picture. You can think about these two people and the kind of policies of deregulation, which tended to be anti-union. You can track back the stratification of incomes in society to this period of the late 1970s. I think it’s generally considered that the highest level of income equality in cities in North America was during the 1970s. Unions were still relatively strong, there was a lot of, for example, good industrial employment in Vancouver during that period, which began to be taken apart in the 1980s. The 1980s was also the beginning of tech and automation, where you get these huge increases in productivity that are coming out of, for example, the digital revolution, but they are also contributing to a loss of the traditional employment. ??

What about some other ideas here? The withdrawal of the federal government from the housing market? The exit of the federal government in the 1993 Paul Martin budget of the first Chretien government. That obviously had an impact. The federal government was no longer involved in projects that built affordable housing. So, in theory, the Trudeau government will get back into that. I’m not sure how that will happen.

What about city rules? I’ll read that little paragraph circled there. This is about a renovation of an old building in Vancouver’s West End. “They initially planned to renovate so each suite would have its own bathroom but with more than four suites the city treated the house like an apartment building and the requirements overwhelmed them.” So regulations. How much have they got to do with costs or affordability? The Canada Building Code – is it just the epitome of the nanny state? Houses and condos left vacant? Big, big issue in Vancouver and all of us to one degree or another I think are complicit in this because we might have a summer place or we might have a winter place or we might travel for a couple of months out of the year. I find it really interesting listening to people talk about vacant houses and then when they get tired of it they talk about the place they go to in Palm Springs. So obviously there’s an enormous amount of hypocrisy there, but where we see smoke, there’s fire. There are a lot of places that are just bought and held with garaged money that are not available for people to live in.

Another interesting one going back to the Strata Titles Act. The profitability of condos versus rentals. Again, you can’t read this but this is a house assembly from a couple of years ago over in East Vancouver. Three little houses divide up into suites. That kind of quasi-legal, not very nice, very affordable accommodation for the people who are living there, and when you do the math on the purchase price of these three houses and what they bring in in rent and you take off all of the maintenance fees and everything you would get a return on capital of about two or three per cent. Effectively what you would get with a GIC. But the really interesting thing is that when you zero in on what this is being offered for it says demolish these houses and build condominiums and you can make a 47 per cent profit margin on your money. So it’s really indicating what an incredible boon for the development industry that the condominium is compared with that old form of building rental housing and then renting out and holding it over the long term.

Investor culture and the volatility of the stock market?  I think this is an indication of why there is so much international money coming into Vancouver that you can just put the money there in a stable place like Vancouver or Seattle and you can count on most of that money being there when you come to get it. If you put it into the stock market, who knows what’s going to happen to it to a degree. The international money – that’s the elephant in the room, of course, of how much of the money that is coming into Vancouver and influencing this. Is money made elsewhere? Is it money that is just invested and so on?

And then just a final thing, Airbnb. How many of you use Airbnb when you travel? God, all over the world. It’s a fabulous system, but you can see the impact that it’s having here.  Just the other day in the Globe and Mail, Andy Yan said, “Airbnb likely played a role in the increase of 8,500 more empty or underused units in the region over the past five years.” So, housing crisis? Yeah, I think this is different from what happened in the past. What it comes down to is the displacement of people. These are the people who provide the services in this city. So, Vancouver is like a giant Whistler to a degree with increasingly a more or less resort economy and not enough accommodation in the range of affordability that actually couples with the kind of wages that you can make here and I think this is a huge crisis.

We are not alone in this. This is happening in all of the desirable cities all over North America. It of course is happening London, it’s happening in Sydney. So, it’s kind of an international trend and we really are a part of it.

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:??

A factor you didn’t mention is corruption or bribery. What worries me sometimes is the power of the development industry and susceptibility of municipal politicians.

Yeah, and you hear this as being an issue with cash for access with the provincial government and that’s been very much in the news.

I know a lot of councillors and I disagree with many of them but I do believe they work hard for their set of principles. I don’t see that municipally. I don’t and whether there is a level of corruption in that kind of funding of provincial or federal political parties, boy that’s for another day.

 

Until I moved here I never heard of single room occupancy. Is it typical for Vancouver or is it widespread?

This is really a term for the evolution of small commercial hotels. If you know the Tenderloin in San Francisco or the Bowrey in New York City that they would have these hotels that were built… in the case of Vancouver they were built 100 to 110 years ago largely for commercial travellers. People coming in and out of the port, loggers coming down for a little R and R. As that kind of commercial use of it disappears then the hotels evolve into SRO with shared bathroom accommodation. God, I lived in one in San Francisco for $15 a week in the early 1970s.

So they are a round and they are a part of that evolution of the commercial city and they typically become a very sub-standard but essential part of the housing mix over the years.

 

A question about the investor immigrant program continuing on in Quebec after it was cancelled for the rest of Canada.

I don’t know how many but I gather it’s still going on. I’m not sure that it hasn’t been replaced by a kind of proxy ownership and if you read any of Kathy Tomlinson’s articles in the Globe and Mail talking about individuals here with permanent resident status or Canadian citizens acting as proxies for overseas owners and with some kind of a questionable ownership structure. But I don’t know numbers, sorry.

 

You were mentioning that one of the reasons that there’s less rental housing is that it’s so much more profitable for developers to sell units as condominiums. I live in the Dunbar area and there’s a new develop going up where Stong’s supermarket used to be and it’s going to all be rental, there must be 20 or 30 units that are going to be there. And then where Stong’s has moved to up between 26th and 27th and again there’s a building with residential units above that’s all rental. Is that because of some city policy of higher density?

This is a way where the city will give a zoning bonus so let’s say in the case of Stong’s where the zoning will allow a building that is this high but if they build purpose-built rental locked into it which is marginally profitable and they are able to build this high. These are the kind of bonus developments that are very valuable in the social sense but they intend to enrage neighbours because you’re getting spot zoning going into neighbourhoods and so for example you have a situation where a developer has a piece of property and would be able to build a five storey building but the city says to him, “look if you build five stories of rental on this too you can build a 10 storey building.” And everybody says, “oh this is really good” except for the person living next door who has the shadow of a 10 storey building falling. So you get all these pushes and pulls in the neighbourhoods going on. Because there is so little outright money the way there used to be like federal government even provincial government money going in that all these things have to be bonused. ??

 

If half a building is rental and the other half is owners what effect does that have on the social environment?

That’s where you get that situation particularly with the rental if it’s subsidized rental of having what’s called a “poor door” so a different entry for tenants as opposed to the owners. This has happened in some cases. I think the germane question is also what happens in a condominium when a strata council decides to allow rentals generally. With a lot of condo buildings the owners are absentee but the buildings are rented out. There are all different kinds of ownership models. That’s why I think you’re going to see a move back to the old-fashioned apartment corporation, the for-profit co-op.

This is nothing to do with the non-profit co-ops that come up in the 1970s. But the apartment corporation a group of people get together they form a company the company buys the building and in the bylaws of the company charter it gives Joe over here the right to occupy this union. There are a number of them in the West End, Kerrisdale and Fairview. I think you see them coming back and the reason for that is they give a majority of owners of buildings the ability to control who is going to live there whereas with a strata title you can sell your condo to anybody whereas a co-op is much more like a club. ?Think of the co-ops of the Upper Eastside of New York with the billionaires.

 

Do you have any thoughts on where our public school system in the environment of affordability and maybe comment on what happens to school property? There are some very large school properties that could end up being developed.

From what I understand the school board and even the provincial ministry of education is not interested in selling any school property but whether they would enter into any leases with the people for use of the property, I think that’s a good question. You’ve got traditional public schools and then you got the poor man’s private which is French immersion and then you have all the range of private schools there.

So as you see parents jockeying for how they can get their children educated in a way I’m terribly nostalgic for a time when children went to the local school, walked to school unaccompanied and all the rest of it and I think it’s gone the way of the dodo.

I don’t know what’s going to happen but it’s going to be very interesting as there’s been this kind of gentrification into the Grandview area where I live and there’s just a mob a little of kids there who are in preschool who stroll their gridlock onto Commercial Drive.

In another few years from now these children are going to be going to school and the question will be the parents put them into public school? Because for example Britannia Elementary School has the highest proportion of First Nations students of any school in the Vancouver area. I don’t want to go too far down the road on this but will this test their liberal principles to the degree that they will become involved in the school and send their children to the school or will they say, “well no, little Johnny is gifted and needs to go over to a private school in order to fulfill his potential” and then you’ll get this kind of commuter thing happening all over the place.??

 

A question about the vacancy rate. The questioner relates that he struggles to rent out a suite in Kitsilano even though it’s fully renovated and advertised below market rates. This is the longest it’s taken him to rent out a suite in 40 years. He says that he doesn’t trust vacancy rates.

I can’t comment on your experiences. You hear in this media of bidding wars with tenants over places.

 

We’re hearing that the federal government is contemplating removing the capital gains exemption for permanent residents. What would the impact of that be?

I hadn’t heard that. I hope not.??

 

Does anyone have a solution to housing affordability in Vancouver and other cities around the world that are also grappling with this issue?

No, but I think what makes Vancouver a bit different is going back to my only partly serious comment about how we don’t have a real economy here. We used to make things, many of those things were two by fours, but they were good middle class incomes that came out of those sorts of job. Now to a degree those sorts of things are being replaced by tech we are told but tech is a bit of a will-of-the-wisp, it can move here, it can move there very, very quickly.

You look at that affordability thing with Toronto or the City of San Francisco which is more expensive than Vancouver or even Sydney where I lived for a few years that the average family income in Sydney is $85,000 a year and in Vancouver it’s $60 or $65,000 but the prices are relatively the same. Sydney has a real economy, people make things and people have real jobs and so on. I think that makes us a little bit different here than, for example, London or Toronto or San Francisco or some of the other places.

 


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