Thursday, June 23, 2016

From Nexthome Publication by Diane Duflot




Diane Duflot
Michael Geller's alternatives to single-family living

Was that a townhouse, a rowhome or terraced housing? YP NextHome chats with Michael Geller, principal of Geller Properties and well-known advocate for innovation in sustainability and affordable housing, about some of the creative outcomes of this new housing dialogue.

YP NextHome: Many industry insiders say that townhomes are the new single-family home. What are your thoughts on the viability of this housing option? Will the townhouse or rowhome format continue to gain popularity?

Michael Geller: Yes. In fact, in many areas like Surrey or Richmond, the majority of new development is already either townhouse or mid to highrise towers. Where it hasn’t happened is Vancouver or the North Shore, primarily because they don’t have large tracts of undeveloped property.

YPNH: Townhomes, or rowhomes, have traditionally been sold as strata units. Recently though, some developers like Portrait Homes and Vesta Properties are building fee-simple rowhomes. What are some of the differences between fee-simple and strata townhomes?

MG: One significant, and challenging, difference is the fact each fee-simple home has to sit on its own lot. Another consideration is that an apartment building or conventional strata townhouse development requires only one municipal sewer and water connection for the entire project. But if every home is individually owned, each ‘door’ requires its own connection.
Also, if access roads are needed, it’s easy to make their construction and ongoing maintenance part of the overall costs of strata development. In the case of fee-simple, however, it might require a hybrid arrangement. It’s similar to a strata but in a far more simplified form.

YPNH: But what happens if my neighbours decide they want to change the look of their home? If there are no design regulations in place, doesn’t that mean the entire neighbourhood could end up as a mismatched, architectural hodgepodge?

MG: It could. But Amsterdam is an excellent example of how taking a less heavy-handed approach to regulating architectural design can create a rich and interesting streetscape. Each building is individual and built right against the adjacent one.

YPNH: What new innovations would you like to see in the townhouse marketplace?
MG: One day, I would like to build a checkerboard development. Imagine regular townhouses, then shift each unit so they only touch at the corners. There are other variations and modifications, but I think that one would be fun.


Former Vancouver Editor of New Home Guide, New Condo Guide and Home Decor and Renovations, Diane Duflot is currently enjoying the life of a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at diane.duflot@ypnexthome.ca

Photo from torontolife.com

Opinion: How Prime Minister Trudeau can address affordable housing crisis Vancouver Courier June 23, 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Re: Affordable Housing in Vancouver

Thank you for your recent visit to Vancouver during which you made an announcement regarding transit funding and discussed housing affordability with various media and local experts.
I’m sorry I did not have the opportunity to share my thoughts on what the federal government might do to address our growing affordability crisis. However, since I once advised your father on urban issues during a 10-year stint with CMHC, I’m pleased to offer you some suggestions on what the federal government might do to make Vancouver housing more affordable.

As you acknowledged, this is a complex issue requiring a variety of solutions. Ending foreign investment is not the answer; nor is taxing vacant homes. We need to do more. Much more.
In your opening remarks to the housing experts, you said you wanted to know what the federal government should do, and what it might ‘nudge’ provincial and municipal governments to do.
With respect to controls on foreign investment, while I agree something must be done, before imposing new rules, I suggest CMHC and the Bank of Canada undertake a thorough analysis of what has worked in other countries since I, too, worry about unintended consequences.

What I do know is that your government needs to do a better job of enforcing federal taxation rules already in place. Many in the real estate community know foreign buyers are abusing our principal residence tax exemption and avoiding taxes on capital gains achieved through the flipping of houses. This is costing the government money, and is unfair to those who play by the rules.

A Vancouver housing academic has suggested you intervene in municipal zoning matters and make it illegal for municipalities to zone certain lands for single-family housing. Please don’t listen to him. This is beyond your federal jurisdiction. However, I do agree you might impose rezoning conditions in return for your cash. For example, it would not seem unreasonable that you require municipalities to commit to increasing densities along new transit lines as a condition of federal funding.
There are many other things the federal government and CMHC might do.

For example, as you know, the operating agreements for CMHC funded cooperative housing projects are due to expire, along with ongoing subsidies to lower income households. You are being asked to extend the subsidies. As the former CMHC Program Manager who approved many of these projects, I would suggest you only extend subsidies provided the cooperatives agree to relocate widows currently occupying two-, three- and four-bedroom units. This could free up hundreds of family social housing units for needy families.

You could also encourage and facilitate the intensification of lower density social housing projects through redevelopment, to increase densities and create a broader mix of housing. Furthermore, higher income residents, who own ‘principal residences’ elsewhere, should be required to move out of government-subsidized housing.

Your government should also promote more innovative forms of affordable housing in Vancouver and elsewhere across the country. In 1970, while your father was Prime Minister, CMHC launched a $200 million ‘innovative low-cost housing demonstration program.’ While the program had its critics, it resulted in a number of affordable housing solutions. One of my favourites was Bradwin Court in Toronto, completed in 1972 and billed as Canada’s first high-rise rooming house. It offered what today we call self-contained micro-suites.
 
A new federal affordable housing demonstration program could result in other new, innovative housing solutions. CMHC’s ‘seal of approval’ on these projects would help them get through the myriad of provincial and municipal regulations and red tape that too often stifle innovation.

You might even consider reviving the Canadian Housing Design Council (CHDC), which for many decades, promoted design excellence and innovative housing ideas through its publications and bi-annual competitions. While today there are numerous industry award programs, none in my opinion help spread good affordable housing ideas across the county the way CHDC once did.

There is so much more I would like to suggest, but I’m out of space. But please call when you are next in town. I would like to talk about CMHC’s research and lending programs.

Twitter @michaelgeller
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/how-prime-minister-trudeau-can-address-affordable-housing-crisis-1.2285809#sthash.UfmQIsK8.dpuf
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
Re: Affordable Housing in Vancouver
Thank you for your recent visit to Vancouver during which you made an announcement regarding transit funding and discussed housing affordability with various media and local experts.
I’m sorry I did not have the opportunity to share my thoughts on what the federal government might do to address our growing affordability crisis. However, since I once advised your father on urban issues during a 10-year stint with CMHC, I’m pleased to offer you some suggestions on what the federal government might do to make Vancouver housing more affordable.
As you acknowledged, this is a complex issue requiring a variety of solutions. Ending foreign investment is not the answer; nor is taxing vacant homes. We need to do more. Much more.
In your opening remarks to the housing experts, you said you wanted to know what the federal government should do, and what it might ‘nudge’ provincial and municipal governments to do.
With respect to controls on foreign investment, while I agree something must be done, before imposing new rules, I suggest CMHC and the Bank of Canada undertake a thorough analysis of what has worked in other countries since I, too, worry about unintended consequences.
What I do know is that your government needs to do a better job of enforcing federal taxation rules already in place. Many in the real estate community know foreign buyers are abusing our principal residence tax exemption and avoiding taxes on capital gains achieved through the flipping of houses. This is costing the government money, and is unfair to those who play by the rules.
A Vancouver housing academic has suggested you intervene in municipal zoning matters and make it illegal for municipalities to zone certain lands for single-family housing. Please don’t listen to him. This is beyond your federal jurisdiction.
However, I do agree you might impose rezoning conditions in return for your cash. For example, it would not seem unreasonable that you require municipalities to commit to increasing densities along new transit lines as a condition of federal funding.
There are many other things the federal government and CMHC might do.
For example, as you know, the operating agreements for CMHC funded cooperative housing projects are due to expire, along with ongoing subsidies to lower income households. You are being asked to extend the subsidies. As the former CMHC Program Manager who approved many of these projects, I would suggest you only extend subsidies provided the cooperatives agree to relocate widows currently occupying two-, three- and four-bedroom units. This could free up hundreds of family social housing units for needy families.
You could also encourage and facilitate the intensification of lower density social housing projects through redevelopment, to increase densities and create a broader mix of housing. Furthermore, higher income residents, who own ‘principal residences’ elsewhere, should be required to move out of government-subsidized housing.
Your government should also promote more innovative forms of affordable housing in Vancouver and elsewhere across the country. In 1970, while your father was Prime Minister, CMHC launched a $200 million ‘innovative low-cost housing demonstration program.’ While the program had its critics, it resulted in a number of affordable housing solutions.
One of my favourites was Bradwin Court in Toronto, completed in 1972 and billed as Canada’s first high-rise rooming house. It offered what today we call self-contained micro-suites.
A new federal affordable housing demonstration program could result in other new, innovative housing solutions. CMHC’s ‘seal of approval’ on these projects would help them get through the myriad of provincial and municipal regulations and red tape that too often stifle innovation.
You might even consider reviving the Canadian Housing Design Council (CHDC), which for many decades, promoted design excellence and innovative housing ideas through its publications and bi-annual competitions. While today there are numerous industry award programs, none in my opinion help spread good affordable housing ideas across the county the way CHDC once did.
There is so much more I would like to suggest, but I’m out of space. But please call when you are next in town. I would like to talk about CMHC’s research and lending programs.
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
@michaelgeller
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/how-prime-minister-trudeau-can-address-affordable-housing-crisis-1.2285809#sthash.UfmQIsK8.dpuf

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Vancouver Sun: Homes Away from Home June 18, 2016 Residential Lessons to be Learned from the Netherlands



As Vancouver struggles with increasingly high housing prices, there is a growing interest in what other world cities are doing to maintain housing affordability. 


Should we build more government housing like Singapore and Hong Kong? Should we put restrictions on foreign buyers as they do in Sydney? Should we increase property taxes on vacant units, like they are now doing in Jerusalem? (even though vacant units place fewer demands on municipal services than occupied housing.)


While I will leave it to the urban land economists and others to debate the pros and cons of these and other fiscal interventions, I believe Vancouver could offer more affordable housing choices by allowing alternative forms of housing found elsewhere around the world. 
 

Recently, I journeyed through the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark with Vancouver architect Richard Henriquez. While we agreed Vancouver could offer these countries lessons when it comes to the design of new communities, we were impressed with forms of housing not generally being built in our region.


In future columns I will present some of the fascinating developments we saw in Germany and Denmark. However, this week I would like to share two fascinating Dutch housing solutions: street rowhouses and an unusual floating home community. 


Unlike Vancouver, where row houses are nearly always built by developers as part of a condominium or rental complex, in Holland rowhouses are often individually designed and built on small narrow lots. These homes are privately owned, like a single family house, and not sold as part of a condominium. In most jurisdictions there are rigid zoning and design guidelines to ensure a coordinated street appearance. However, there are exceptions, where the rules are less strict.


On an outing to IJburg, a new satellite town about 20 minutes by tram and 30 minutes by bicycle from Amsterdam city centre, we came across a delightful street lined with unique, individually designed row houses.


I first visited IJburg four years earlier and will never forget meeting the government official in charge of planning and development. I was impressed by how much land the government owned and asked how it was acquired. “We make it” was his response.


One day, IJburg will be home to 45,000 residents on ten man-made islands being created by dredging IJburg lake. Six islands have already been completed and the town offers a broad mix of housing, commercial spaces and amenities. Well not so broad. There are few structures more than 8 storeys in height.


While the community includes single family houses, market and non-market ownership and rental developments, I was particularly impressed with the streets lined with colourful, individually designed two, three and four level attached homes.

In Holland and many other countries, individually constructed attached rowhouses are the equivalent of the detached houses built throughout Metro Vancouver. However, unlike typical Canadian houses, the homes are built right up to the sideyards, and often the front property line as well. As a result, one can create 2,000+ square foot homes on lots as small as 1500 square feet and less. The resulting density is significantly higher than the density of newer single family neighbourhoods around Metro.
 

Some of the IJburg homes looked like the sort of thing an architect would design for his or herself. That is because they were. Chatting with a local resident, we learned that architects had been amongst the first residents willing to purchase lots and build houses on her street.


This type of housing offers many advantages. Since these houses are built on separate, legal parcels of land, they are not part of a condominium. There are no strata fees and the owners can maintain or modify their homes without having to seek their neighbours’ approval. Furthermore, the increased density can help support public transit, something not possible in Vancouver’s lower density single family neighbourhoods. 
 
Wandering behind one of the IJburg streets we came upon a back lane lined with larger laneway houses. Unlike Vancouver’s smaller rental units, these beautiful homes were for sale. Given the many back lanes throughout Metro, one can only hope that one-day larger, family sized laneway houses for sale will be permitted. After all, some Vancouver residents are already purchasing laneway houses through complex tenants-in-common legal arrangements, facilitated by innovative financial institutions like Vancity.
 
Elsewhere in IJburg we came across a floating home community. While many people live on the water throughout the Netherlands, and there are numerous floating home communities, what makes this development so special is that it is comprised of attached dwellings; it’s a floating townhouse development. Moreover, the homes even have basements!


Completed in 2011, there are 75 homes in the community, nearly all of which have their own boat docked outside. The development was designed by Architects Marlies Rohmer, in a neighbourhood known as Waterbuurt or Water District. 
The floating homes are built from lightweight steel and wood panels on top of buoyant concrete tubs, submerged in the water to a depth of half a storey. Some bedrooms and a bathroom are contained in the lowest storey, which is partly submerged. The raised ground floor houses kitchen and dining spaces with balconies and bedrooms and outdoor terraces above. 

The houses were built at a shipyard about 65 km north of the site and then transported though canal locks, which limited their width. To ensure the homes don’t drift away or bang into one another, they are anchored to the lake bed by steel mooring poles. 


As more and more Vancouverites are ready to downsize from a single family house, or move up from an apartment, an individually owned row house fronting onto a public street might be just the answer. Add in a laneway house at the rear and we have created what planners call gentle density and hidden density. 


And for those seeking something completely different, a floating home could be the answer. After all, you won’t have to worry about rising sea levels.