Monday, December 31, 2012

10 Housing and Community Planning Predictions for 2013~Vancouver Sun

Housing, transportation will be hot topics

Opinion: Reduced parking requirements, the rise of car sharing and the need to increase dwelling density will be on the minds of many in 2013

By Michael Geller, Special to The Vancouver Sun December 28, 2012

Vancouver’s laneway program will be adapted by other municipalities.
As we approach a new year, it is always interesting to speculate on what might happen, especially on hot topics like community planning and housing. While I am reluctant to predict whether prices will go up or down, or whether the Olympic Village will sell out by year end, here are 10 things I do expect in 2013, in alphabetical order. 

1.  Car sharing and reduced parking requirements: With the success of Car2go, Modo and Zipcar, an increasing number of people will realize that car-sharing can be a convenient and cost-effective way to get around. Just as the popularity of fax machines increased as more people acquired them, the same will hold true for car-sharing. Increased program participation will encourage more municipalities to reduce parking requirements, with the attendant benefits of greater housing affordability and reduced congestion and pollution.

2. Depreciation reports: By the end of 2013, every strata corporation in B.C. must complete a report on the physical condition of their condominium, along with a financial plan to complete the necessary repairs. I expect this to lead to shock and dismay as owners, especially of older condominiums, discover that they cannot afford to repair their homes. In some instances, owners will discover the cost of repairs is greater than the value of their improvements. There will be widespread calls for government assistance.
3. Fee-simple row houses: As a result of a May 2012 legislative change, it will now be easier to get approval in Vancouver for individually-owned row houses that are not part of a condominium. Consequently, some new fee-simple projects will get underway in 2013 with a high level of market acceptance. Eventually, this will become the preferred tenure arrangement, and some condo owners who hate dealing with their strata council will investigate whether they can convert their development to fee-simple ownership.

4. Laneway and coach house programs: Inspired by the relative success of the Vancouver laneway housing program, other municipalities around B.C. will implement similar programs. While some may insist on the modest sizes and rental tenure required in Vancouver, others will allow greater regulatory flexibility to preserve smaller, older homes and offer more affordable home ownership.

5. Micro suites: The market success of recent projects in Vancouver and Surrey offering very small apartments for sale and rent will encourage other Metro municipalities to allow small suite developments. While neighbours will brand them unlivable, new renters and buyers will be delighted with their smaller, affordable homes, thanks in part to municipal approvals for reduced parking.

6. Modular housing: As more and more people watch videos of a 30-storey Chinese building being erected in 15 days using modular building technology, there will be increased interest in this type of construction in B.C. There may even be renewed interest in my 2009 proposal to use relocatable modular units to create affordable housing on parking lots and other vacant sites awaiting redevelopment around the city. (See my blog:

7. Regeneration of older social housing: While we await a construction start on the Little Mountain property, there will be increased public discussion regarding the future of other older public and social housing projects. As agreements with CMHC and the province approach their end, so will operating subsidies for lower-income households. Moreover, significant funds will be required for much-needed repairs to many projects. This will lead to calls for ongoing government support.

8. Replacement rental housing: As highlighted by a recent Vancouver Sun column by Don Cayo, Vancouver’s rate of change bylaw has protected renters in older apartment buildings. However, it has done little to create much-needed rental units. Moreover, many older buildings are deteriorating, in part because those landlords who did upgrade properties with corresponding rent increases often found their names plastered on the front pages. To address the situation, housing experts will publicly advocate for provincial and municipal policy changes, with little success.
9. Smaller houses on smaller lots: While many aging boomers will chose to downsize into a row house or apartment, others will prefer a smaller house or smaller lot, ideally close to where they are living. Inspired by the success of attractive cottage-style developments by Ross Chapin, a few small house infill developments will finally get underway during the coming year.
10. Transit funding: What many considered the hot civic affairs topic of 2012 will continue to be a major concern in 2013. While a segment of the population will object to any tax increases to support public transit, others will realize that a more comprehensive user-pay system is preferable to selective bridge tolls and funding tied to property taxes. There may even be calls to bring back George Puil’s once-hated vehicle levy.
In conclusion, none of these ideas are new. However, as the demographic profile of Metro changes, along with an increased awareness of the need for a more sustainable lifestyle, ideas that were once only talked about or considered fads will gain greater currency in 2013. Of course, change will happen slowly, but I do predict that by the time I sit down to write 10 predictions for 2014, we will have made progress on most of these items.
Happy new year.
Michael Geller is president of The Geller Group and Adjunct Professor at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Sustainable Community Development.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Monday, December 24, 2012

A 2013 Christmas Present for Vancouver's Homeless

Today I received an email from rental housing activist Tom Durning describing an innovative solution to house some of Los Angeles' homeless.,0,1039440.story

It reminded me of a proposal I made to the Province and the City of Vancouver back in 2008 and 2009 following a study I undertook in conjunction with architects NSDA with funding from BC Housing. Our proposal was to create a stock of affordable modular units that could be set up for a period of time on a site, and subsequently relocated. Just like school portables are often used.

At the time, the proposal received a lot of media coverage but didn't go anywhere, in part I'm told, because neither Gordon Campbell nor Rich Coleman liked the idea of housing people in 'containers'.

The fact is, these weren't containers...they were purpose built prefabricated modular units that could be set up on a private property and relocated after say three years or more once the property was approved for redevelopment.

Others objected to the proposal because on a cost per square foot they claimed they were not much cheaper than permanent housing. Well, that might be true...except the units were planned to be much smaller and permanent housing solutions in Vancouver often cost significantly more than they the order of $300,000 a unit. or up to $1000 a foot for projects like the Pennsylvania Hotel.

Relocatable modular units would cost less than one sixth of this amount, and take significantly...let me repeat significantly less time to construct.

Others pointed out that there's nothing more permanent than a temporary solution. I agree. But by placing these units on private property, they would ultimately be relocated...just like the community garden at Davie and Burrard. It won't be there five years from now!

Below is a presentation I made to the DTES community at the Carnegie Centre in which I suggested that we use the parking lots of the Drake Hotel for this type of housing.  Sadly, it did not proceed...meanwhile the facilities at the Drake have remained unused...and I don't believe we're much further ahead on a permanent redevlopment of that site.

So here's my proposed Christmas present to Vancouver's homeless. Let's try a demonstration project in 2013 to test out this idea. I am confident that while it is not THE answer to housing the is another solution that could dramatically help many people by moving into something that's much better than a shelter, at a relatively modest cost.

Finally, here's a description of the proposal that was published on the ThinkCity website and a Vancouver Sun commentary by my colleague Bob Ransford whose judgement is regarded highly by many of us in the Vancouver housing and development community.

As we approach a new year, with a 2015 goal of ending street homelessness, I hope that the City and Province will take another look at this idea so that we might create a demonstration program by next Christmas Eve. What a wonderful Christmas present that might be for many Vancouver residents currently in shelters or on the street.  Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The top Metro civic affairs story of 2012?

As I reflect on the top civic affairs stories of 2012, in advance of today's CKNW Bill Good show, I think that the quest for affordable housing is near the top of my list...and not just because it was the topic of last year's Holiday Greeting Card!  

Here are the twelve ideas I offered for the twelve days of Christmas, many of which are now starting to be realized...including Fee-Simple rowhouses, which was made easier as a result of a May legislative change, reduced parking standards that are now being contemplated in many municipalities, laneway housing or coachhouses that are being studied in more municipalities, including West Vancouver, and more development on parking lots.

I hope you enjoy reviewing the list...