Development, affordable housing, taxes and Uber round out 2016

Two weeks ago, I reviewed highlights of my 2016 Courier columns from the first half of the year. Now it’s time to look at the latter half.

In late June, Prime Minister Trudeau came to Vancouver to talk housing. Since we didn’t have a chance to chat, in an open letter to the PM, I wrote that before introducing new tax programs, his government needs to do a better job of enforcing federal taxation rules that are already in place, since foreign buyers are abusing our principal residence tax exemption and avoiding taxes on capital gains.

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In July, after attending a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) luncheon on the taxi industry, I observed that if Vancouver is to truly become a less car-oriented region, we must improve our taxi system. The province also needs to follow the board’s recommendation and allow Uber to operate throughout British Columbia.

In August, I wrote about Cadillac-Fairview’s proposal to fill in one of the city’s few downtown open spaces by redeveloping new stores at the corner of Georgia and Howe. I was concerned that the city is losing too many of its small, but important open spaces, and questioned why this application seemed to be proceeding with limited public input.

This column attracted considerable media attention. However, city staff continued to rush the proposal through the system and the application was approved without even going to the Development Permit Board, something normally required for any significant project.

In August, I also reported on the B.C.’s hastily imposed 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers and the city’s anticipated Vacant Homes Tax.

I wrote that the 15 per cent tax would make some properties more affordable in the short term, but questioned its long-term impacts, adding to truly improve the long-term outlook for affordability, there is a need to dramatically improve municipal approval procedures and increase housing supply.

I was pleased when the president of CMHC made precisely the same observations a few months later to a large GVBOT audience.

Following late summer trips to Montreal and Toronto, I wrote two columns comparing these cities with Vancouver, and identifying lessons we might learn.

For example, I thought we should build more Montreal-style maisonettes which offer one and two-level suites above a single-level suite with direct access from the street.

We should also start driving more like Montrealers who struck me as much more respectful of speed limits and other drivers on the road. Their drivers tended to stay in the inside lane, except to pass, something Vancouver drivers rarely do.

At a time when ICBC rates are climbing due to an increased number of accidents, perhaps it is time for Vancouver motorists to obey speed limits, signalization, and driving in the proper lanes.

Wandering around Montreal’s downtown neighbourhoods, I was impressed by new street planting installations, something that sadly does not seem to be a priority for Vancouver politicians.

I also wrote that Vancouver needs at least one more Jewish deli like Montreal's famous Schwartz's. After all, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy good Jewish deli.

While Vancouverites are rightfully proud when we are selected as one of the world’s most livable cities, Toronto ranks very highly when it comes to innovation, as measured by the number of patents registered each year. Sadly, Vancouver was not even on Price Waterhouse Coopers’ Cities of Opportunity list of 22 international cities.

Vancouver was also missing from the Economist magazine’s ranking of top cities in which to live and work.

Vancouver could learn from a Toronto program encouraging the creation of POPS — Privately Owned Public Spaces. As I watched an impressive presentation by a city architect, all I could think of was how Vancouver is losing many of its POPS, including the small plazas at Georgia and Howe, and Seymour and Hastings.  

My final four columns of the year looked at how we might include affordable rental housing on some of Vancouver’s light-industrial zoned lands; improve Vancouver’s laneway housing program and charging infrastructure for electric car owners; and conserve more character homes while offering new housing choices in established neighbourhoods.

Hopefully, in 2017, some of my suggestions will come to fruition. Until then, my best wishes for a happy, healthy and humour filled holiday season.


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