VIFF features on Chinatown and Japantown raise questions about Vancouver’s urban changes

TWO SELECTIONS AT this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival cast their gaze upon historical neighbourhoods in Vancouver: Chinatown and Japantown. Together, they raise interesting questions for discussion about not only the past, present, and future of these areas, but also about what is becoming of our entire city as urban change and development overtake us.

Although Chinatown and Japantown were distinct from one another, they shared many parallels.

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Both areas neighboured one another on the edges of the Downtown Eastside, and both were formed by ethnic groups as a result of numerous historical social factors, including language barriers and racial discrimination.

Julia Kwan‘s documentary Everything Will Be takes an intimate and sensitive look at how current changes in Chinatown are affecting citizens who live and work in the area. Meanwhile, The Vancouver Asahi, which tells the story of a legendary local baseball team of Japanese Canadians, recreates life in Japantown during the 1930s.

Reblogged from The Georgia Straight | Craig Takeuchi

Chinatown, past and present

UBC planning professor Andy Yan was one of the people Kwan chatted with while conducting research for her film. Like Kwan, Yan has ties to the neighbourhood—his family owned businesses there. His great-grandfather owned Most Modern Cleaners while his father owned the Kwong Chow Restaurant. His grandmother also raised him in the area.

For his master’s thesis, Yan took an in-depth look into Chinatown and issues about revitalizing degenerating neighbourhoods.

What’s interesting to note is that prior to Chinatown, the area was an Italian and southern European enclave. As Kwan’s documentary reveals, one Italian family-run business in that area remains, Tosi & Company (current proprietor Angelo Tosi is featured as an interviewee in the film).

This shift in ethnic dominance in various areas is one that has repeatedly occurred throughout the city’s history. Both local, national, and international economics and politics have determined not only waves of immigration from different countries but also what types of class and professionals the city has attracted. As but one example, Robson Street used to be known as Robsonstrasse, due to the growth of German immigration in the area.

Yan explained by phone that Chinatown began as a bachelor’s society, but grew as women arrived and families began to grow, particularly after the Second World War.

“The completion of the [Canadian Pacific] railway in 1886 certainly helped increase the population of Chinese Canadians to concentrate and move to cities like Vancouver and Victoria and begin in neighbourhoods like Chinatown, but also the kind of ongoing relationships to Chinese settlements throughout the province was in part connected and coordinated out of the neighbourhood.”

Both Chinatown and Japantown were also hit by the Anti-Asian Riots of 1907. The Asiatic Exclusion League, formed by local labourers concerned about their jobs being taken away by cheaper Asian labour, became upset by Asian immigration. In reaction, they marched through downtown Vancouver and continued into Chinatown and Japantown (also known as Little Tokyo) where they smashed businesses and looted stores.

The attacks did not deter the communities, however. While Japantown blossomed up until 1941, Chinatown particularly boomed in the 1960s and ’70s.

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Empty homes not the issue in Vancouver, Urban Futures think-tank says

A THINK-TANK THAT looks into demographic and economic issues has had enough of some of the talk around unoccupied homes in Vancouver.

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Noting that “with recent headlines speculating on the share of the City’[s] unoccupied housing stock ranging between 25 and 50 percent”, Urban Futures thinks it might be helpful to give out again its previous report on vacant dwellings in Canada.

Reblogged from The Georgia Straight | Carlito Pablo

In a media release today (September 26) providing a link to the paper “Much Ado About Nothing: What the Census data say, and don’t say, about foreign & temporary residents and unoccupied dwellings”, Urban Futures states that “discussions around this issue have suffered from, at best, misrepresentation of the available data to consider the issue”.

“At worst they are further entrenching misconceptions about housing occupancy in the region,” the group adds.

The Urban Futures study notes that an average of 4.8 percent of dwelling units in 33 major metropolitan areas across Canada was unoccupied during the 2011 census.

“With a 5.4 percent level of unoccupied units, the Vancouver CMA [census metropolitan area] was above the CMA average, but the difference was slight compared to other CMAs, such as the Victoria (7.5 percent), London and Windsor (6.9 percent), St. Catherines/Niagara and Sherbrooke (both at 6.8 percent) regions,” the paper states.

Zeroing in on apartments, Metro Vancouver had 6.2 percent vacant, which is “below the 7.0 percent average for all 33 of the CMAs in Canada”.

“The average of 5.4 percent of all private dwellings in the Vancouver CMA being unoccupied at the time of the Census represented underlying levels of 3.2 percent of the single detached stock, 6.2 percent of apartments, and 6.8 percent of attached ground oriented units. Single detached units accounted for 20 percent of the unoccupied units in the region on Census day, perhaps reflective of 2011’s active real estate sales market,” the paper notes.

It goes on: “Within the Vancouver region, with an overall average of 6.2 percent, unoccupied apartments accounted for a slightly above average share in the City of Vancouver (6.7 percent) and West Vancouver (6.9 percent), and well above average shares in Pitt Meadows (8.7 percent), Surrey (9.2 percent), and in the UBC/UEL area (10.1 percent). The spatial pattern of unoccupied apartment units throughout the region is driven by a wide range of factors, from the prominence of student populations within each municipality to sales activity.”

The authors note that there are no census data on foreign ownership or investment in housing.

Their conclusion: “There are significant housing issues in this region—the levels of occupancy by foreign and/or temporary residents and level of unoccupied units are not among them.”

Last year, the Straight spoke with one of the authors of the report, economist Ryan Berlin, who said at that time: “We were just trying to reframe the debate in terms of the actual numbers and in terms of the definitions.”

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Yaletown properties assessments reduced

THE PROPERTY ASSESSMENT Appeal Board has approved a joint recommendation from Bosa Development (Pacific Point) Inc. and B.C. Assessment’s area assessor for the Vancouver Sea to Sky Region to reduce the valuations on nine addresses on the northwest edge of Yaletown.

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Reblogged from The Georgia Straight | Charlie Smith

In 2013, Bosa Development completed the Pacific Point project at the corner of Homer and Pacific streets.

For 425, 427, and 429 Pacific Street, there were reductions of 6.7 percent, 17.8 percent, and 15.8 percent, respectively.

These three properties were initially assessed at $900,500. As a result of the agreement, the three sites are now valued at $790,000.

Six other addresses in the 1300 block of Homer experienced a collective drop in assessment from $2.5 million to $2.3 million. For these six sites, the average reduction was seven percent.

In each instance, the value of the land was reduced but the value of the “improvement” (i.e., the building) remained the same. This indicates that under certain circumstances, B.C. Assessment may be prepared to make adjustments on its assessments of land in the downtown core.

Lower assessed values translate into lower property taxes. That’s because municipal and school levies are based on B.C. Assessment’s valuations.

The head of Bosa Development, Nat Bosa, was in the news late last month after he and his wife bought the famed 106-year-old Empress Hotel in Victoria. The Bosas purchased the 477-room hotel from Ivanhoé Cambridge for an undisclosed price.

The Empress Hotel was designed by architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury. His fame increased after he was murdered in England in 1935 by his wife’s lover.

In addition to designing the Empress Hotel, Rattenbury was the architect of the neighbouring parliament buildings in Victoria and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

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CMHC policy change on second homes fails to dent cottage sales

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s decision to stop insuring mortgages on second homes is not having a noticeable impact on the country’s cottage market…

Reblogged from The Globe and Mail | Tara Perkins

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s decision to stop insuring mortgages on second homes is not having a noticeable impact on the country’s cottage market, Re/Max says.

CMHC, the Crown corporation that dominates Canada’s mortgage insurance market, said in late April that it was no longer going to insure mortgages on second homes effective May 30.

While a full month has yet to pass since the change came into effect, Gurinder Sandhu, Re/Max’s regional director for the Ontario-Atlantic region, says there has been “very little, if any,” impact on the market for recreational properties.

That’s in large part because people who are buying cottages tend to make a down payment of more than 20 per cent, which means that mortgage insurance isn’t necessary. Also, CMHC’s private sector rivals did not tighten their products to the same degree, meaning that insurance is still a possibility for those who have a smaller down payment.

“While some potential recreational buyers may have been discouraged by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s recent decision to eliminate insurance on second mortgages, there is little to no material impact expected from this change,” Re/Max says in its 2014 recreational property report, which will be released Wednesday.

The report says recreational property sales and listings have rebounded from the chill that this winter’s cold weather put on the market. Mr. Sandhu expects that an uptick in sales will make up for the slow start to the year.

“What we’re seeing across the board is high single-digit price increases, and by the end of the year the number of transactions will be on par with last year,” he says.

Here are a few highlights from Re/Max’s regional breakdown of the recreational market:

Tofino/Ucluelet, B.C.

– Overall prices are down about 20 per cent since before the recession.

– A number of vacant lots have been sold this year, meaning more construction is coming.

– The most expensive property sold in Ucluelet so far this year was a beachfront vacation rental home with a caretaker cottage for $1.6-million.

– The most expensive in Tofino was a 1.5-acre, 4,600-square-foot oceanfront property for $7.9-million.

Whistler, B.C.

– The market is picking up after suffering a slump following the 2010 Winter Olympics.

– One of the most expensive properties sold in the past year was a 7,000-square-foot, five-bedroom estate with a guesthouse, pool and tennis court on six acres of land for $10-million.

Canmore, Alta.

– Including both houses and condos, the average price is about $556,000 and sales have been steady over the past year.

– The average price for a single-family home is $888,000.

– One of the most expensive homes sold recently was a 3,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom property with two fireplaces for about $2.3-million.

Lake Winnipeg West, Manitoba

– Prices start at about $70,000, while the average price of a three-season home ranges from $95,000 to $140,000. Winterized properties are closer to $375,000.

– There has been an increase in inventory in Sandy Hook with discussions under way about installing a sewer system in the area.

– Vacant land sales are becoming increasingly popular, especially among hunters and those looking for recreational land.

Collingwood, Ont.

– There is roughly a 60/40 ratio of homes and cottages to condos now.

– Recreational property prices have stabilized and are now rising.

– At least 13 properties have sold for more than $1-million this year.

– A typical two-bedroom winterized waterfront cottage ranges from about $450,000 on the east side of town to about $650,000 on the west side.

Bracebridge/Gravenhurst

– Appears to be a buyer’s market.

– Typical cottages start at about $300,000 riverfront or $400,000 lakefront, plus an additional $100,000-plus for ones that are winterized.

– One of the most expensive properties on the market, a 5,500-square-foot home on a 22-acre island, was recently listed for $6.4-million.

North Shore/South Shore, PEI

– Sales have been slow.

– An oceanfront cottage in PEI starts at about $180,000 and increases to about $900,000 depending on size and location.

– One of the most expensive properties listed in the past year was a 2,000-square-foot oceanfront place with five bedrooms and three bathrooms, which sold for $372,450.

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Canadians may no longer be top foreign buyers of U.S. real estate

Canada with a handful of other countries has historically accounted for the bulk of foreign purchase of U.S. properties, however rising U.S. housing prices and a weaker Canadian dollar have some questioning if Canada will retain that top spot. And what other groups have been very active in buying luxury condos in the U.S. in this last year? Read on to find out!

Reblogged from The Globe and Mail

Alain Forget, the head of sales and business development at RBC Bank, is watching to see whether Canadians retain their top spot in the rankings of international buyers of U.S. properties this year.

The data, which come from the National Association of Realtors south of the border, have been slightly delayed but are expected to be released in early July. They will detail purchases between March last year and March, 2014.

Canada, China, Mexico, India and the United Kingdom have historically accounted for the bulk of foreign purchases of U.S. properties, with China and Canada showing the strongest growth in recent years, according to the realtors’ association.

But Mr. Forget says that, with rising U.S. housing prices and a weaker Canadian dollar, he’s not entirely certain Canada will retain its title this year.

“I am still confident that we will see Canadians in No. 1 or maybe No. 2,” he says. “But, for example, in South Beach and Miami, Europeans, Russians and Brazilians have been very active buyers of luxury condos over the last year.”

The Canadian dollar, which topped $1 U.S. for much of 2011 and 2012, weakened last year and has recently been trading at around 93 cents. A stronger Canadian currency makes it more attractive for Canadians to buy properties in the U.S. Many economists are expecting the loonie to slide below 90 cents in the year ahead.

The growth in U.S. home prices, which had been on a tear, is moderating but still strong. Housing prices in 20 major cities rose 10.8 per cent in April from a year earlier, according to figures released in June from the S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Mr. Forget says that, while U.S. home prices have risen significantly in the last couple of years as the market recovers from the subprime mortgage crisis, Canadian retirees can still buy cheaper homes in many southern locations than they can at home.

“I just received the statistics for the month of May for southeast Florida, places like Palm Beach and Broward County,” he says. “And the median price for a single home is $282,000 (U.S.). The median price for condos and townhouses is $135,000.”

The average selling price of an existing home in Canada during May was $416,584 (Canadian) .

Canadians accounted for 23 per cent of U.S. sales to foreigners in the realtors’ 2013 survey, up from just 10 per cent in 2007. That growth came as Mexico’s share fell from 13 per cent to 8 per cent, and the United Kingdom’s share dropped from 12 per cent to 5 per cent. China, meanwhile, rose from 5 per cent of sales to 12 per cent.

Foreigners bought about $68.2-billion (U.S.) worth of existing homes in the U.S. in the 12 months leading up to March, 2013, down from $82.5-billion a year earlier, and accounting for about 6.3 per cent of the total sales. Of the property sales to foreigners, about half were to people with permanent residence outside the U.S. while the other half were to recent immigrants or temporary visa holders.

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Gardens go communal in Southeast False Creek

Let’s be clear here – communal sure, but more in the way that elite posh private schools are communal and their students are free to use the facilities. But not to fear – you too can have access to the gorgeous rooftop oasis of a communal garden, with the small one time investment of $438,000 which gets you exclusive use of 1 bed 1 bath 550 sq ft apartment on the second floor – and unlimited access to the rooftop and skylounge. Feel free to contact me for more information!!

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Reblogged from The Georgia Straight | Stephen Hui

FROM THE ROOF of the James in southeast False Creek, the 360-degree view includes downtown Vancouver, City Hall, and the North Shore mountains. The terrace atop the 155-unit condo building at 288 West 1st Avenue, built by Cressey Development Group in 2012, features a barbecue, kids’ play area, and lounge.

James residents Matt Cooke and Carlson Hui gave the Georgia Straight a tour of the three raised beds and six pots that comprise the communal garden that occupies the rest of the 14th-floor space. The largest bed is home to 12 plots named after nearby streets, the pots contain herbs, and there’s a compost bin, which will soon be joined by a rain barrel.

“We have all of our lettuces and tomatoes here,” said Cooke, who is a food, nutrition, and health student at the University of British Columbia. “Around the corner, we have mint.”

Although the typical community garden consists of plots maintained by individual users as well as common areas, this rooftop garden is a truly collective endeavour. Participating units pay $25 a year to join the provisionally named James Garden Club and then take part in scheduled planting and harvest days.

According to Cooke, the year-old communal garden has “brought the building together”. Residents have an incentive to help out on harvest days, because they get a share of the crops.

Hui, who works for Lululemon Athletica, noted that strata members approved the communal-garden concept at a meeting in early 2013. He maintained that the garden has been the catalyst for residents to organize events such as barbecues, bike rides, hikes, and potlucks.

“This year, what we found interesting is how this has provided a foundation for community for the entire building,” Hui said. “So, it’s sort of gone beyond gardening.”

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BCREA Housing Market Update (June 2014)

Brian Jackson explains council’s actions to make it easier to save old homes than to tear them down

I’ve always been confused by the city’s Heritage policy, not just the vying between progress / development versus preservation / culture – but really how the city approaches these issues with their proposals and policy. I mean, what on earth is Heritage B classification, it makes no sense and I cannot even rationalize why it was developed this way.

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Reblogged from The Georgia Straight | Charlie Smith

 

VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL has voted in favour of several steps to protect First Shaughnessy heritage homes and pre-1940s character houses.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we’re moving forward on these,” Brian Jackson, general manager of planning and development services, told the Georgia Straight by phone. “We have received lots of letters.”

First Shaughnessy—roughly bounded by Arbutus Street, West 16th Avenue, Oak Street, and King Edward Avenue—has 329 homes built before 1940. Of those, 80 are listed in the Vancouver Heritage Register, according to a staff report that went to council before yesterday’s vote.

The report also reveals that about one-quarter of Vancouver houses in all of the city’s single-family zones were built prior to the Second World War.

Council approved three recommendations in the report, which Jackson brought forward.

The first is a one-year “Heritage Control Period” in First Shaughnessy. This will prevent demolitions of pre-1940 buildings while the city undertakes a review.

Jackson said that the city has issued a request for proposals to hire a consultant to provide advice.

He expects this work will begin in September.

“We’re really excited about getting two or three bids on this for doing the major upgrade to our heritage inventory that hasn’t been done since 1986—as well as provide that professional advice based on experience throughout North America on what other jurisdictions have been doing to protect their heritage resources,” he said.

Jackson pointed out that under provincial legislation, the city cannot protect heritage and designate buildings without “fair compensation”.

This, he suggested, puts Vancouver at a disadvantage in protecting older buildings in comparison with other cities.

“I think between ourselves and the consultant we can come up with creative ways through density bonusing, fast-tracking, and other incentives that we can offer to make it easier and faster and less complicated to save a heritage or character home than it is right now,” Jackson stated.

Council also voted to eliminate the requirement for a development pro forma on permit-retention proposals adding up to 10 percent more floor space.

Jackson said that this is intended for single-family areas where someone is asking for additional density to save a house.

In the past, the property owner had to hire someone to submit a business case so that the city wouldn’t be granting too much density in return for heritage preservation.

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Vancouver city council sends Oakridge mega development to public hearings

THE BALL IS rolling on plans to turn Oakridge Mall into Vancouver’s next mixed-use mini-city.

Yesterday (February 19), Vancouver city council voted to send plans for a $1.5 billion development on the Canada Line to public hearings.

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Reblogged from The Georgia Straight

The project consists of large commercial spaces, office buildings, a civic centre, underground parking, a rooftop park, and towers more than 45 stories tall housing 2,914 condominiums, including 290 marked as social housing.

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It’s proposed by Ivanhoe Cambridge and development partner Westbank Projects Corporation, and planned for a 28-acre site at Cambie Street and 41st Avenue.

Documents outlining project specifics state that developers plan on increasing the site’s density from a floor space ratio of 2 to 3.5. The mixed-use development’s location at the juncture of the Canada Line and the 41st Avenue bus route will help limit automobile congestion in the area, according to the proposal.

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Public hearings concerning the application for rezoning will be held during the run up to the November 2014 civil election. Dates for consultation meetings have yet to be scheduled.

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West End residents take Vision Vancouver to court over market housing policy

RENTING A CONDO may be cheaper than owning one, but it doesn’t mean that the rental unit is affordable.

This is a central argument in a new legal challenge against the City of Vancouver program that provides incentives to developers of market rentals.

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Reblogged from The Georgia Straight

On February 3 this year, the West End Neighbours Residents Society filed an amended petition seeking a court declaration that Rental 100: Secured Market Housing Policy—and its now-expired predecessor, Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing, or STIR—violates the Vancouver Charter.

The two policies were introduced by the ruling Vision Vancouver party.

“They’re giving away too much to developers in return for not enough back to the public,” WEN director Randy Helten told the Georgia Straight by phone on February 18.

According to Helten, the case will be heard by the B.C. Supreme Court on April 9 and April 10 this year.

In effect since 2009, STIR and the subsequent Rental 100 allowed council to waive development-cost levies (DCLs), reduce parking requirements, approve smaller apartment sizes, and allow developers to build more units than they would otherwise have been permitted, all in return for producing affordable market rental housing.

According to the WEN petition, the city waived about $10 million in DCLs between 2010 and 2013.

The Vancouver Charter allows council to forgo development levies only on three types of projects, one being “for-profit affordable rental housing”.

Moreover, the charter mandates that council defines through a bylaw what constitutes an eligible development.

In September last year, WEN launched a court challenge against STIR and Rental 100. It claimed, in part, that the city didn’t define what constitutes affordable rental housing to justify the non-collection of development levies.

Because of the suit, the city agreed to amend its rules. On December 3 last year, the Vision Vancouver–dominated council defined for-profit affordable rental housing as those whose initial rents do not exceed the following: $1,433 a month for a studio unit; $1,517 for a one-bedroom; and $2,061 for a two-bedroom.

In its amended petition, WEN argued that what the amendments do is simply allow the waiver of development-cost levies for “market rate rental housing” but not necessarily affordable rental housing.

It noted that the average monthly rental rate for a bachelor unit in the West End is $902, and $714 in Marpole. This means that the city “deems developments, with potential rental rates almost twice the City average, to be ‘affordable’ rental housing simply because they are rental as opposed to freehold”.

The amended petition also stated that staff were given “unfettered discretion to waive DCL’s for projects that are not ‘affordable’ at all, but simply market rental”.

Read the original article and follow author Carlito Pablo here.