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Market rental tower going up on Robson Street

Vancouver mayor welcomes pet-friendly West End highrise, citing need for market rental buildings

To emphasize that the new highrise being built at 1500 Robson St. will be pet friendly, two dogs — Hazel and Trink — made an appearance at the Feb. 20 ground breaking. They're pictured with (left to right) Mayor Kennedy Stewart, as well as Ralf Dost, Steve Marino and Jeff Fleming from GWL Realty Advisors.

It’s unusual to see a pair of dogs — in this case Hazel and Trink — at a press conference packed with developers, real estate types and politicians. But not when you’re trying to underscore the fact a new development will be pet friendly in a city where it's notoriously difficult to find an apartment that accepts animals.

That was the case Feb. 20 at a ground breaking for a 21-storey market rental building going up at 1500 Robson St. in Vancouver’s West End.

The pooches got a front-row seat to hear speakers, including Mayor Kennedy Stewart, praise the tower, which will produce 128 rental units, a third of which (42 units) will be two- and three-bedroom family-sized apartments ranging from 753 to 978 square feet.

London Life Insurance Company is the owner of the project, which is being developed by GWL Realty Advisors and designed by IBI Group

The tower is being built on Robson at Nicola Street and is expected to be completed in 2021. | Rendering IBI Group

The tower is being built on Robson at Nicola Street and is expected to be completed in 2021. | Rendering IBI Group

It’s one of the first rental towers to be built along Robson in decades, “in a city that’s in need of rental housing and in a neighbourhood of luxury condominiums,” according to GWL Realty, and the first rental project on Robson to be approved under the city’s West End Community Plan, which was adopted in 2014.

Ralf Dost, president of GWL Realty Advisors’ real estate portfolio, said it’s important to create more purpose-built rental apartments given Vancouver’s tight vacancy rate and the fact much of the existing stock is dated and in need of upgrades.

“We also know how challenging it is to make financial sense of multi-residential developments, especially in this West End neighbourhood, so all of these factors make the launch of this project today that much more gratifying,” he said.

Stewart agreed that increasing the supply of secured market rental apartments “is more important than ever” when more than 50 per cent of residents are renters and vacancy rates are at an all-time low.

“It’s the kind of ground-breaking we all like to come to because it is helping us with our key problem of [increasing] market rentals. We need all kinds of rentals in the city — we need affordable rentals, but market rentals are also a key part of fixing our supply problem,” he said, while adding that residents have also been pushing for the construction of units big enough for families.

“Increasing the supply as well as diversity of rental housing in our city will benefit all Vancouverites, especially young families. I used to rent right across the street so I know how vibrant this neighbourhood is, and bringing 128 more families in here is just going to really help the local merchants.”

The highrise, located at the corner of Robson and Nicola streets, is expected to be completed in 2021. It will feature “substantial” bicycle storage and maintenance facilities, as well as indoor and outdoor amenities, including fitness, yoga and lounge rooms, a rooftop patio and a common area for tenants on the penthouse floor.

It’s replacing a low-rise commercial building that used to face Robson, which featured a few residential units, as well as a residential building behind it that was mostly rented to international students. The 12 tenants who lived in the two buildings were relocated elsewhere with some assistance. GWL Realty Advisors provided tenants with the equivalent of two or more months’ rent based on length of tenancy, and support with moving expenses.

It’s too early to say what rents will be in the new building, but they will be at market rates.

The average rent for a bachelor suite in the West End was $1,254 in 2018, according to CMHC data, while a one-bedroom was $1,566, a two-bedroom was $2,330 and a three-bedroom was $3,368 — tough rates for the average Vancouverite to afford.

Stewart told the Courier the city is focused on ensuring both market and affordable rental units are created.

“We need rental for all income levels. I’m a renter. My wife and I are renters, and we can afford to live in market rental housing, and that’s what we live in. There’s lots of employment in this city that’s coming in where you have folks that have a higher income level that need this kind of housing too,” he said. “[While] our focus is going to be on making sure we maximize the number of the non-market housing units that we have built, we also have to encourage this kind of build... That’s why I’m here at this announcement today. [It's] because this kind of housing is also needed.”

When asked what he would say to West End residents who’ve complained the community plan bumped up land values so high that it’s pushing people out of the neighbourhood due to redevelopment, Kennedy said: “The West End area plan is full of protections for folks living there now and into the future, so we just have to make sure we get the balance right. It is these developers and these construction companies that are building all the housing in the city. We are living in a market economy. However, we have to do everything we can to incentivise non-market housing development and get the federal and provincial governments back into the housing game so they can help us provide much more affordable units. But the focus is on rentals of all levels here at the city.”


The 21-storey tower at 1500 Robson St. will feature 128 market rental units. Rendering IBI Group

The 21-storey tower at 1500 Robson St. will feature 128 market rental units. Rendering IBI Group

Naoibh O’Connor Vancouver CourierFebruary 20, 2019 | westerninvestor.com

Five hottest British Columbia news stories of 2018

Western Investor's most-read stories, from dual-agency regulation to new and expanded residential real estate taxes

During a year of major real estate policy and regulation change, it comes as no surprise that WesternInvestor.com’s most-viewed B.C. stories gave readers the insight into these new developments, including B.C’s foreign buyer tax, restrictions on assignment sales to prevent ‘shadow flipping’ and ‘ double-ending’. Readers also frequented the sight to get the lowdown on up-and-coming investment destinations.

Here is our annual countdown of our five most-read British Columbia stories published in 2018.

5. Mill town of Powell River becomes low-cost investment destination

Our first story to garner the most views this year focuses on the economic growth of Vancouver Island town Powell River, a los-cost alternative to the mainland with a 80.3 per cent increase in housing sales year-over-year. 

4. Dual agency rules will disrupt housing market, real estate agents claim

Changes to the B.C. Real Estate Services Act that came into effect June 15, 2018 prohibited "double ending" – representing both a buyer and a seller in a real estate transaction. In our story, real estate professionals worried it could slowdown sales – and as the year progressed, they may have had a point. 

3. China's largest online retailer to start selling Canadian real estate

This quick-hit story on Chinese real estate portal Juwai.com and retail site JD.com teaming up to offer Canadian real estate to Asian consumers garnered the third-most views this year, showing us that readers are still drawn to stories on foreign investment in Vancouver property. 

2. Higher-priced house markets nailed by tax hike

Our second-most read story of the year focused on the first effects on the housing market following the B.C. Budget 2018 housing measures announcement. Pricey markets like Vancouver’s west side were the first to fall, seeing prices down 70 per cent in April 2018 versus April 2016. 

1. Canada Revenue Agency recruited to help fight mortgage fraud

Our most-read story of the year covered the CRA’s recruitment to combating mortgage fraud together with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, by allowing lender to have access to an applicant’s tax data. Together with numerous Bank of Canada interest rates this year, it’s no surprise that readers we’re reading and watching to see how new regulations would affect mortgage eligibility in a changing market. 

REMAX forecasts Canadian markets in 2019

According to the REMAX 2019 Housing Market Outlook, the country’s average sale prices will get a 1.7% boost, an indication that the balance has finally returned to Canada.

The report notes that markets throughout the country stabilized this year after the 2017 aberration that saw prices in markets like Toronto’s surge beyond reasonable levels. Stabilization is expected to continue through 2019, a likely consequence of interest rate hikes that are believed will increase as the year goes on.

Thirty-one percent of REMAX survey respondents don’t believe interest rates have hitherto affected their ability to afford a mortgage, but that optimism doesn’t extend beyond December. Another REMAX survey of its brokers and agents revealed 83% expect interest rates to make Canadians’ home purchases cumbersome next year.

The report also expects sale prices in Vancouver to decline 3% in 2019 because obtaining a mortgage in the Metro region is becoming well-nigh impossible.

"The drop in sales in key markets across British Columbia can be partially attributed to Canadians' increasing difficulty in getting an affordable mortgage in the region," says Elton Ash, REMAX of Western Canada’s regional executive vice president. "The situation created by the introduction of the mortgage stress test this year, as well as continually increasing interest rates, means more Canadians will be priced out of the market."

The Greater Toronto Area, on the other hand, is expected to fare better next year as REMAX predicts sale prices will rise 2%, thanks to high demand for homes priced below $1 million. Demand will be weaker for homes above $1.5m, though. According to Christopher Alexander, REMAX’s vice president and regional director for Ontario-Atlantic Region, looming rate hikes might be spurring the restraint.

“People are a little more cautious than they were in the past because interest rates are starting to rise,” he said. “Government said it would be more aggressive with interest rates and people are waiting to see how it will all shake out.”

Alexander added that Toronto remains a popular destination, which should balance out weaknesses in its market.

“It’s not surprising [November sales in the GTA] were down year-over-year, but because Toronto is such a big destination, both domestically and globally, there will be good pockets of the city that balance everything gout.”

by Neil Sharma12 Dec 2018 | www.canadianrealestatemagazine.ca

After a relatively sedate 2018, Toronto is heating up again

After exhibiting relatively modest performance for most of 2018 with the advent of stricter mortgage qualification rules, Toronto is seeing a resurgence in market competition once again.

The latest numbers from the city’s real estate professionals’ association indicated that the total number of active for-sale listings in the GTA saw a 9.8% year-over-year decrease in November, down to 16,420 units.

During the same time frame, the volume of new for-sale listings in the region shrank by 26.1%.

“New listings were actually down more than sales on a year-over-year basis in November,” TREB President Garry Bhaura said, as quoted by Bloomberg.

Read more: Toronto apartment inventory having trouble catching up with demand

“This suggests that, in many neighbourhoods, competition between buyers may have increased. Relatively tight market conditions over the past few months have provided the foundation for renewed price growth,” Bhaura added.

Average home sales price last month was $788,345, growing by 3.5% from the same time last year.

Meanwhile, total sales in November stood at at 6,251 completed deals, representing a 14.5% annual decline.

TREB stressed, however, that any year-over-year comparison should take into account that November 2017’s performance is “distorted” due to a large number of buyers rushing to beat the implementation of B-20 in January 2018.

www.canadianrealestatemagazine.ca
by Ephraim Vecina07 Dec 2018

Mortgage stress test could become election issue

The Conservative Party of Canada plans to make the mortgage stress test a hot button issue in time for next year’s election, but explaining such a convoluted issue to Canadians could pose a challenge.

The party’s Deputy Shadow Minister for Finance tabled two motions this year to study the impact of the stress test, known as B-20, but they were both rejected by the Liberals. Nevertheless, MP Tom Kmiec has vowed to put the mortgage stress test on the agenda in time for the Oct. 2019 federal election.

“It will be an election issue, absolutely,” said Kmiec. “I’m willing to use procedural tools to get this study done. I’m not necessarily saying to get rid of B-20 completely; I’m saying take a look at the data and then make a decision on it. I’m asking the Liberals to provide any internal documents they have showing why the mortgage rules were introduced in the first place.”

Kmiec has started a website to pressure the Liberals into studying B-20’s effects. He claims that he was initially told B-20 wouldn’t be examined in the absence of more data, however, much has since come to light about Canadians being shut out of the housing market.

Kmiec is dogged, to be sure. He participated in the electoral reform committee’s filibuster.

“If it comes down to it, I’m happy to use up every two-hour time limit on every single committee until we agree to do a mortgage study,” said Kmiec. “I’m not asking for the moon, either. All I want are a few meetings in Ottawa where we can invite people with data who can then tell us what’s happening with the market.”

But communicating the message will doubtless be challenging for the Conservatives. Ron Butler of Butler Mortgage can attest to how difficult buying homes has become this year, but too few Canadians have born that brunt for the impact to truly be understood.

However, given that mortgage renewals are subject to the same stringent B-20 qualification rules, Butler believes it is still possible to make Canadians understand how detrimental the stress test is.

“It won’t be hot button, but if it’s messaged right, it could be,” he said. “If it’s presented properly as a group of themes about the incompetence, in terms of the ability to handle the file—why has Mexico settled NAFTA already and Canada hasn’t? Why did we buy a pipeline that got shut down? It’s a good thing to add to the general list of incompetence. On its own, it isn’t a hot button issue, but if you want to weave it into a tapestry of every day, practical fiscal management, it could work.”

 

by Neil Sharma01 Oct 2018, www.canadianrealestatemagazine.ca

Vancouver council approves duplexes in most neighbourhoods

Decision came despite opposition from some residents

City council voted to allow duplexes in most single-family neighbourhoods in Vancouver in a 7-4 decision after a two-day contentious public hearing that ended Sept. 19.

NPA councillors George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball and Melissa De Genova, as well as the Green's Adriane Carr, voted against the proposal, which was considered one of the "quick start" actions in the city's new Making Room program that aims to increase housing diversity in Vancouver.

Council's decision means duplexes will be allowed with or without small lock-off suites. It's an option for new construction only, and it doesn't include an increase in floor area over what's currently permitted. Laneway houses also won't be allowed in conjunction with duplexes. City staff say they don't anticipate land value to escalate thanks to those restrictions.

The rationale for allowing duplexes wasn't based on affordability, although they will be cheaper than single-family homes. It's meant to increase housing options.

Before voting in favour of the proposal, Vision Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson said the city needs more options between single-family and higher-density housing forms. He pointed out laneway homes and secondary suites were also controversial, but allowing them has worked out well.

"The big challenge that we have as a council is, in these neighbourhoods, we need to make decisions that are not just for the people who live in the neighbourhoods right now, but as Coun. [Raymond] Louie said, for the people who want to live there and who, hopefully, will be able to live there for many years to come," he said.

Coun. Andrea Reimer said despite complaints there wasn't enough consultation, a great deal took place through the Housing Vancouver strategy, which led to the Making Room program.

Reimer said the duplex proposal isn't a huge step, but it's a matter of justice to give less affluent residents hope that council will use "tiny tools" such as zoning to try and help meet their needs.

Coun. Raymond Louie said "if this is not gentle density, I don't know what this is because there is no extra density."

But De Genova argued consultation wasn't robust enough before she voted against the proposal.

"Zoning needs to be led by Vancouver's 22 neighbourhoods," she said.

Carr said she didn't see any evidence that the zoning change was important or needed.

"The real point is that we need to build affordable homes through different kinds of housing types than the ones that are aimed [at] the upper end of the income scale," she said.

Affleck took aim at Vision Vancouver in his remarks.

"After 10 years of Vision Vancouver leadership, this council has become renowned for lack of public consultation," he said. "If you tear this city apart to achieve these goals, you've not achieved much at all."

Ball said the sense of betrayal some residents feel won't be a good legacy for council, while Hector Bremner, who supported the proposal, questioned how duplexes could be an affront to democracy.

In comments before the vote, senior planner Paula Huber said staff anticipate there will be a shift away from building single-family dwellings to building duplexes. Currently, the city gets about 800 applications for new single-family homes a year. She expects half of that figure might flip to duplexes so there's the potential to produce 800 duplex units.

She estimated new East Side duplexes go for about $1.2 million, while West Side ones go for upwards of $2.5 million.

Duplexes will likely appeal to households earning $150,000 or more, according to Huber, which accounts for about 15.5 per cent of the city's households.

There are currently 283,000 dwelling units in the city, she added, 4,500 of which are duplexes, which translates to 1.6 per cent of the housing stock.

During the first day of the public hearing on Sept. 18, there was mixed reaction about the proposal, while on the second day the bulk of speakers raised objections, including Judy Graves, the city's former advocate for the homeless. Graves said she spent the past two decades moving First Nation families, immigrants, single parents and working class seniors, as well as other individuals, into suites across the city, which she now fears will be torn down in favour of duplexes.

She called for amendments to the proposal that would guarantee that displaced families would be relocated into suites in the same school district and that displaced seniors would also be relocated into their same neighbourhoods because elderly people aren't comfortable with change.

Other critics, meanwhile, outlined many of the same complaints lodged on the first day of the hearing, including the fact that councillors, most of whom aren't running for re-election, were making a decision that they won't be accountable for, that there wasn't nearly enough consultation, that many residents likely didn't even know the proposal was up for consideration since notices weren't sent to individual homes, that character homes will be knocked down, and that it will lead to land speculation by developers, worsening the affordability crisis.

Colleen Hardwick, an NPA candidate in the upcoming election, called the process fundamentally flawed.

"That you would even consider sweeping changes without due process is unconscionable. You need to listen to the people, and you have not."

Hardwick argued if council passed the rezoning it would be like "putting out a fire with gasoline. It will be a feeding frenzy."

Janice Wong said the changes contravened community plans, which undermines residents' faith in the process.

"The public must have meaningful input in the planning of their neighbourhoods," she said.

The city says its Housing Vancouver strategy, which was adopted in 2017, included consultation with more than 10,000 residents over 18 months. That process identified a desire for "missing middle" housing options across Vancouver, which led to the Making Room program, which was adopted in June. The program included the duplex proposal as a "quick start" action.

Four information sessions were held this month about the proposal.

The meetings were advertised in the newspaper, at community centres and libraries, and through a social media campaign. Email notices were also sent to neighbourhood organizations and individuals who had signed up for notifications through the Housing Vancouver process.

Individual notices were not sent to homes. The Vancouver Charter only requires the city to notify the public about rezoning proposals in the newspaper and at city hall.

For site-specific rezonings, the city notifies residents within a certain proximity directly, which goes beyond what's required by the Vancouver Charter. Residents are typically not directly notified for citywide rezoning proposals. That was also the case when laneway housing was introduced in single-family districts in 2009 and when additional density was added to single-family zones to allow secondary suites that same year.

Representatives from Abundant Housing Vancouver, who spoke in favour of the plan at the public hearing, were happy the duplex proposal passed but stressed it was a very small step.

"With all the work that the planning department put in, I would have been very disappointed if it didn't pass," Owen Brady told the Courier. "We've been saying it's a step in the right direction, but it's a very small step. I don't think any of the disaster scenarios are going to come true."

Stuart Smith agreed.

"It's just such a small thing that we are up in arms over the idea of simply allowing two families to share the same square footage that we currently require [single-family] homes to consume. The drama over this is crazy... This isn't any extra density and it was called an atomic bomb. What would you call it if the proposal was for a four-storey apartment? What would that be? Would that be the Death Star?" he said.

"So yes, it's a positive step. It's a positive step simply because it gives more options, more ways to live in Vancouver. Some people want duplexes, some people don't. That's fine. Some people want single-family homes, that's fine. You don't need to tell people how to live. It's one extra choice, so why not? There was a councillor, Geoff Meggs, who once said tiny homes are not the solution. And this is true, tiny homes are not the solution, but homes like that, and laneways, and duplexes, work for some people. We do not need to look for a housing typology that works for every single person in the population. We need to allow lots of different housing types that work for lots of different people."

 

Naoibh O’Connor Vancouver Courier
September 20, 2018
Westerninvestor.com

Commercial sales volumes down – except in multi-family market

Multi-family assets continue to be crowd favourite among investors, while sales in office and industrial properties slow due to limited supply

 

Sales volumes in nearly every commercial real estate sectors have declined in the second quarter of 2018 – though not for a lack of demand, according to a new report. 

The growing disconnect between supply and demand in Canadian real estate has lead to a decrease in sales velocity and an acceleration of lease rates, according to research by the Morguard Corporation

"A drop in transaction volume in the second quarter is very much a function of low product availability rather than a drop in demand," said Keith Reading, director of research at Morguard. "With quality office and industrial space at a premium, apartments are a crowd favourite as investors search for yield."

Office sales have dropped nearly 50 per cent across Canada year-over-year, while industrial volume has plunged 17.8 per cent. Meanwhile, multi-family sales increased 17.5 per cent.

Average sale prices for multi-family properties also increased year-over-year, from $8.5 million in the first half of 2017 to $13 million during the same period of 2018. 

Morguard expects investor sentiment in residential rental properties to remain strong into next term. 

 


 

 Tanya Commisso | Western Investor | July 18, 2018

Zoning could be key to funding downtown relief line

Toronto’s downtown relief subway line—should the political will needed to build it ever materialize—could partly fund itself, to say nothing of the skyrocketing valuations that will result.

According to Andy Manahan, executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, the municipal government can use zoning as a bargaining chip with developers to pay for the proposed network expansion by negotiating additional storeys.

 

“If a building is only zoned for five storeys but the developer is given 20 storeys, that extra 15 storeys is worth a lot of money and developers would be willing to pay it,”said Manahan. “If we build a relief line, we have to place more density at the station so that there’s more land value capture. If you do that link between land use and transit, you can do some creative financing in the long-run as well, and get some more developers on board.”

Many existing TTC subway stations were created as architectural monuments rather than into the sides of buildings, which is what would adequately succour density.  And if the mere rumour of below-grade infrastructure is enough to cause property values to rise, imagine what a unit 25 storeys above a subway platform would be worth.

“Typically, once an announcement is made about where the line will go, property values do increase, so the trick is how we ensure we can capture some of that increase in value,” continued Manahan.

However, more is at stake than optimizing real estate values. Toronto’s current subway network is overcapacity and its platforms dangerously brim with people. Given how many skyscrapers will continue sprouting downtown, not to mention the already low office vacancy rate, Manahan warns that the network’s capacity troubles are worsening.

“We have a lot of growth in the downtown core, and it’s not just residential,” he said. “There’s about 5.7mln square feet that will be added to the downtown office segment by 2020.”

Davelle Morrison of Bosley Real Estate echoed Manahan: “Right now, without further additional building of office space downtown, we already know we need the relief line. If you add more people working downtown and more people living downtown, because immigration numbers are high and more and more people are moving to Toronto in particular, it’s a no-brainer to me about why you would need the downtown relief line. It’s already needed, but 10, 15 years from now, it’s going to be needed even more.”

The RCCAO has been an outspoken proponent of the downtown relief line, taking out full-page newspaper ads and even launching a Twitter campaign called #GimmeRelief.

The earliest the downtown relief line could complete is 2031, however, there’s no official plan to build it. In fact, it’s as much of a pipe dream today as it was a decade ago—and making matters more frustrating for commuters, the Scarborough subway line has been given priority.

Backwards thinking, says Manahan, because sequencing is important and dictates building the network outward rather than inward, where support infrastructure is presently non-existent.

But he takes solace in Ontario’s political parties acknowledgment that the downtown relief line needs to be built.

“Over the last 50 years, the relief line is talked about occasionally and never gets built. It’s an important project and recognized by all four provincial parties. After June 7, no matter which party is in power, they will have to continue.”

by Neil Sharma30 May 2018 | Canadian RealEstate Wealth