Collaboration essential to resolving B.C. housing crisis

Narrative of development industry as antagonist is a "massive hindrance to generating solutions," says developer

By
Business in Vancouver
February 21, 2020





vancouver housing downtown dan toulgoet
Photo: Dan Toulgoet

A year ago, Anthem Properties Group CEO Eric Carlson announced at the Urban Development Institute’s (UDI) annual forecast luncheon that he was decamping for Sacramento, as the California city was far friendlier to developers than North Vancouver.

Anthem had recently purchased the Cathedral Square site in Sacramento’s downtown for a mixed-use development set to take shape on what the local paper has described as the city’s “most blighted and embarrassing block.” The seven-storey project will include 153 residential units with retail at grade.

Despite the site’s significant complications related to its location on the Sacramento River delta and hazardous materials, Anthem’s experience made it game for the challenge.

According to Sacramento city councillor Steve Hansen, in conversation with local civic affairs columnist Gary Delsohn, “Anthem folks were really interested in working with the city to see what could be built, what we wanted to see built, and how they could be good partners.”

While a challenger for Hansen’s seat in Sacramento’s upcoming civic election contends that he’s too cosy with developers, his praise for Anthem underscores the contrast with Anthem’s recent experiences in Metro Vancouver. Hansen, for his part, adds that Anthem’s vision for the project is the result of new-found civic willingness to build housing “to sustain the small businesses and … a fully developed ecosystem of a downtown.”

Or, as speakers at the latest UDI forecast luncheon remarked, recalling Carlson’s pledge to move to Sacramento, new housing in many parts of Metro Vancouver competes for legitimacy with trees and shadowing.

“Is the tree more important than housing? Is heritage more important? What about shadowing on streets?” asked Beau Jarvis, chair of UDI and president of Wesgroup Properties LP. “Do we have a shadowing crisis or a housing crisis?”

Sacramento, for the nonce, appears to be tackling the right crisis, and resolving a civic eyesore to boot.

Collaborative solution

Responding to previous coverage of his comments at the UDI forecast luncheon, Jarvis noted that a key point was lost in some of his more colourful pronouncements.

“Our industry is at the table to work together with all levels of government,” he said in a follow-up comment.

Collaboration among all stakeholders is necessary if the region hopes to have enough housing, not to mention commercial space, to meet future growth, Jarvis said. While many see developers operating with a focus exclusively on profit, he said that’s not the case. Builders and buyers, landlords and tenants, are symbiotic; one exists for the other.

While the balance of power may shift between the two sides, and ongoing housing shortages may place buyers and tenants at a disadvantage, the two sides need to recognize that neither exists without the other. Those who frame the two as antagonists have it wrong, Jarvis argued.

“We have to move on from this narrative because it’s a massive hindrance to collaboration and generating solutions,” he told the UDI forecast luncheon.

Cash crop

During the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento earlier this month, the lingering effects of the massive 2018 wine grape crop in California dominated the conversations. Many growers are pulling out vines for alternative crops. However, one bulk wine broker quipped that some regions have few alternatives “other than housing – the ultimate cash crop.”

The importance of housing to sustaining small farms was a much-discussed issue during the province’s consultation last fall on supporting farming. The results of the consultation recently led B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham to issue an intentions paper around housing within the Agricultural Land Reserve that could see a second residence allowed on farm properties, where local governments allow.

The housing could include garden suites, guest houses, carriage suites or units above an existing building, as well as manufactured homes. Any secondary residence would have to be registered with the Agricultural Land Commission.

Feedback on the proposal is being accepted until April 17.

pmitham@telus.net


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