Vancouver’s housing market endured lower sales volumes in 2012, but prices held steady, according to monthly reports issued by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Despite the relative lack of transactions, there was no shortage of significant news stories related to this sector, particularly within Vancouver’s city limits. Below, I’ve listed the top five real-estate stories in order of importance.
1. Jim Flaherty reduces the amortization period
Since becoming federal finance minister in 2006, Jim Flaherty has been playing a game of yo-yo with the amortization period. At first, he jacked up the maximum length of time to pay off a mortgage to 40 years. Flaherty then drove it down to 35 years in 2008, 30 years in 2011, and 25 years last June, citing the hot housing market as justification. The final reduction was accompanied by other restrictions: Canadians could borrow only 80 percent against the value of their homes, down from 85 percent, and 20-percent down payments were required for homes valued at more than $1 million. In subsequent months, sales volumes plummeted in this region to record 10-year lows. Financial institutions put the squeeze on developers seeking to finance projects. And as we look toward 2013, it’s clear that building a project in this city is no longer a licence to print money.
2. City moves toward scrapping the viaducts
City of Vancouver staff presented a concept plan in the summer to remove the downtown viaducts, which would allow West Georgia Street to connect with Pacific Boulevard, and Dunsmuir Street to reach Rogers Arena. The idea has generated opposition from PavCo, which manages B.C. Place, and Strathcona residents who fear for the future of their community garden. But the prospect of more parkland, increased housing development, and higher land values without viaducts will likely be too much for council to resist. This is being presented as a win for the environment, but the real pot of gold lies in future residential real-estate developments in False Creek Flats east of Main Street and south of Prior Street.
3. Brent Toderian is fired
In late January, less than three months after Vision Vancouver won the election, the city canned planning director Brent Toderian. It was done without cause, sending a scary message to the rest of the managers at Vancouver City Hall. The dismissal threw the future of the Cambie corridor into doubt and reinforced perceptions that the real role of the planning department is to generate income for city coffers.
4. Marine Gateway sells out
On a Saturday morning in March, Rennie Marketing Systems sold all 415 units within four hours at the Marine Gateway project. This PCI Group project is next to the Canada Line’s Marine Drive Station—and this rapid sale reflected the appeal of rapid transit for condo buyers.
5. Council approves Mount Pleasant rezoning
City staff maintained that Rize Alliance’s proposed 19-storey high-rise and retail development on the southwest corner of East Broadway and Kingsway was in keeping with the area’s community plan. That didn’t mollify the critics, who turned out by the dozen to express concerns about shadowing, the building mass, and traffic. In the midst of the public hearing, the Vision Vancouver–controlled council fuelled more suspicion by voting to amend the procedure bylaw to prevent speakers from resuming comments later if they exceed their five-minute time limit. Council ended up approving the project after staff recommended that the developer pay $6.25 million to the city for future amenities.
Other real estate stories
Earlier this month, Onni informed City of North Vancouver mayor Darrell Mussatto that it would withdraw an application for a large mixed-use project at the Safeway site on Lonsdale Avenue. In October, Burnaby council granted approval in principle to the master plan for Brentwood Town Centre, which calls for 11 residential towers and two office buildings. In July, Vancouver city council voted to approve Aquilini Development and Construction’s application to develop three high-rise rental towers near Rogers Arena.