A Vancouver property developer with ties to a billionaire recently sentenced in Hong Kong to five years in jail for corruption is not expecting any fallout.
“It is business as usual,” said Aspac senior vice-president Raymond Li in a statement. “Aspac Developments is a Vancouver-based, private company and has operated independently since 1993.”
Thomas Kwok, the Hong Kong billionaire whose family started Aspac, is expected to appeal the ruling of conspiracy involving bribes made to a high-ranking government official. He resigned as chairman and managing director of Hong Kong-listed Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd.
The court decision also involved a 7-1/2 year sentence and US$1.4 million fine for Raphael Hui, Hong Kong’s former chief secretary. Kwok’s brother, Raymond, was cleared of all charges.
Hong Kong, which has long thrived as a major financial hub known for being relatively free of corruption, was gripped by the six-month long trial.
The sentencing last week came after many revelations about how a powerful and wealthy tycoon like Kwok was able to sway the city’s government. Details included egregious spending on fine dining, a race horse and a mistress.
The case also brought to light the extent of the Kwok family’s wealth and influence in Hong Kong. He and his brothers helmed Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., a US$41 billion company that built Hong Kong’s tallest and most recognizable buildings.
To get a sense of its economic importance in Hong Kong, a company in the U.S. would have to be three times more valuable than Apple in order to compare, Hong Kong-based shareholder activist David Webb once told the British Broadcasting Company in 2012.
In the early 1990s, at the height of migration to Canada, both of wealth and families from Hong Kong to Vancouver in anticipation of the 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, Aspac partnered with Marathon Realty to develop a mega project at Coal Harbour, which was then an industrial zone next to the old CP Rail yards.
Over almost two decades, Aspac helped to transform the area, putting up eight luxury condo towers.
Today, Aspac’s condo units there include multi-million dollar ones at One Harbour Green, Two Harbour Green and Three Harbour Green.
The company also built The Wesbrook, a 17-storey condo tower at the University of B.C. and, more recently, it has been marketing River Green, a 27-acre, 2,600-unit development by the south side of the Fraser River next to the Richmond speed-skating oval.
The exact ownership of Aspac today isn’t known and executives were not available to comment. Since it was started, the family has publicly feuded over its various assets.
In 2008, Thomas and Raymond, with the support of their then -79-year-old mother, ousted their older brother Walter from Sun Hung Kai chairmanship in Hong Kong.
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What was once one of the 10 worst Downtown Eastside hotels in Vancouver is getting a new lease on life.
In what is being called a “highly unusual” application, the owners of the former North Star Hotel at 5 West Hastings plan to renovate it and will dedicate over half of the 31 rooms for welfare recipents and low-income renters.
The four-story Victorian brick hotel, built in 1904, is a stone’s throw from Pigeon Park at the corner of Hastings and Carrall streets. For 15 years it has been boarded up and vacant after the city ordered it closed after substantial and repeated building bylaw violations. Weather has taken its toll; a tree grew through part of the building, and the entire back end is exposed to the elements.
But that isn’t enough to discourage the new owner, the Solterra Group, which hopes to completely renovate the old rooming house, adding bathrooms to each of the units and creating two floors of commercial retail space.
What makes the application unusual is that the company has offered to dedicate five of the rooms to be rented at the provincial shelter rate, and another 13 rooms to be rented at the provincial rent supplement rate.
The shelter rate refers to the proportion of welfare income devoted to shelter. The affordable low-income rate is paid by renters getting a low-income supplement from the province.
The deal, outlined in a report going to council Tuesday, would be locked in for 30 years. The hotel’s rooms are covered under the city’s Single Room Accommodation Bylaw, which protects the Downtown Eastside’s fragile stock of low-income housing. As such, the owners have to apply for a permit to convert or modify any of the rooms.
In this case, Solterra wants to do something the city has long been advocating: add individual bathrooms to an existing SRO hotel, and upgrade the facilities while keeping much of the stock available at lower rates.
Coun. Andrea Reimer, the city’s deputy mayor, said it is the first time she can remember that an owner has offered to lock in rooms at the basic shelter allowance rate set by the province.
“This is highly unusual in the historical context because we very rarely get the opportunity to get rooms at the welfare rate, and it’s also rare to see rooms dedicated at the affordable low-income rental rate,” she said. It may be a small number of rooms, but every of them counts in a neighbourhood where most are priced above the shelter rate, she said.
“The city said it was looking at self-contained units (in SRO hotels) and that got us thinking,” said Mike Bosa, the vice-president of Solterra. “We saw that as something nobody else has done before and we saw it as an opportunity to create something a bit different. This is our take on what they were looking for.”
The application is also unusual in one other respect: unlike other developers renovating low-income stock, Solterra isn’t asking for any help from the provincial, federal or city governments. It also believes it can recoup its investment while keeping the rents low. Only 13 of the 31 units would be rented at market rates.
“We’d like to make a go of this ourselves,” said Bosa. “It’s a building we will put into our rental program, and at the end of the day if we can make it, that’s what we’re after.”
Property records show Solterra bought the hotel in 2012 for $1.32 million through one of its related companies. The previous owners had bought it for $432,000 in 2001, two years after the city forced the hotel to close because of constant standards of maintenance infractions. In the intervening years there were several unsuccessful attempts to renovate and reopen the building, which was also the site of a significant anti-poverty squat in 2006 to protest the 2010 Winter Olympics.
But long before those events, the hotel had gained notoriety as one of the worst hotels in the city. In the 1980s and 1990s police paid hundreds of calls to the building to roust out drug dealers and prostitutes, and it was a known drug shooting gallery. In 1989 city inspectors closed it temporarily after someone smashed all the toilets. The hotel reached its lowest point just as it was permanently shut, when it was listed in a Vancouver Police Department report as being so bad that living there was not much better than living on the street.
And yet, the building also had a more substantive early history as a rooming house for the city’s blue-collar resource-based workers. It was first run by a series of women as a boarding house, and in 1913 was named the Drexel Rooms, a name that was to stick until the 1980s.
In 2003 the city recognized its historical significance, listing it as a “B” class building. It is also listed on the joint federal, provincial and civic historic register, which notes the building’s value “lies in the historic relationship between this area and the economy of early Vancouver” and was “was primarily populated by single men of working age, most of whom were employed in seasonal resource industries.”
“We liked the old building and we thought it was worth restoring. We’ve already been in discussions with the city about preserving it,” said Bosa. “It was in shambles and we’ve already took a lot of the building off that was derelict and falling apart and got it stabilized.”
Bosa said the fact the building has been vacant for so long made it easier for the company to work with the city. “There is no downside to this because there is no displacement because it has been empty for so long,” he said. “I think for everyone it is a good opportunity to try something new.”
If approved by council, the plan is still subject to a development permit application and other city requirements.
Situation isn’t expected to improve much for buyers in 2015....
Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun
A low inventory of single-family detached homes for sale in Metro Vancouver has buyers engaging in multiple bidding wars or camping out to get a shot at the few homes when they come on the market.
The demand is so high that many buyers are paying more than the original asking price and, in some cases, aren’t bothering with inspections or subjects on the property before signing on the dotted line, said Cory Raven, managing partner at ReMax Select Realty.
This is because they’re afraid someone else will beat them to the punch if they wait or take their time, he said.
“It’s very typical for someone to enter the market once, twice or three times expecting to buy a house and going into the bidding war and losing.” Raven said.
“It really has changed the dynamic of the good old days when you see a place, put in an offer and wait a couple of weeks … people are going into a 40-year-old house with no inspections.”
Such tactics are not surprising in the most expensive region in Canada for residential real estate in 2014. The average residential sale price for a single-family home in Metro Vancouver this year was about $838,400, up from $781,517 a year earlier, according to the ReMax 2015 housing market outlook.
And the situation isn’t expected to improve much for buyers looking for deals in 2015, with home prices forecast to rise by at least three per cent across Metro Vancouver — similar to what was experienced this year. Healthy gains are also anticipated in Kelowna, which is expected to see a seven-per-cent increase, and Victoria, slated for a four-per-cent rise in house prices.
The market is so hot that sales of single-family houses are still being listed across Metro Vancouver into mid-December, when they would have usually stopped by now before resuming in the new year, said Brian Lamb, of Royal LePage Realty Coquitlam.
“It’s bizarre,” Lamb said. “It can only go up in the first quarter of 2015. I think we’re going to have an incredible first half.”
The ReMax report suggests young families and older homeowners wishing to downsize are expected to drive demand, while interest from Mainland China also continues to influence the Greater Vancouver market.
“The supply side has definitely been affected,” Raven said. “A lot of people who are housing rich don’t know what to do with the equity except to keep it.”
David Lamb, of Sutton Group West Coast Realty, agreed many older people are hanging on to their homes, which is having an impact on inventory. He recently had eight offers on a home in Windsor Park on the North Shore, while a property east of Seymour raked in $40,000 more than the asking price, which was round the mid-$800,000s.
“Earlier this year we had a guy who lost out four times and finally found a house,” David Lamb said. “It’s emotional, it’s tough. When there’s a lot of competition, there’s always somebody who will pay more.”
It’s not just older homes that are facing the crunch. Lamb said foreign investors are willing to pay more for a home in Metro Vancouver, particularly in the Tri-Cities and Burnaby, where they tend to knock down existing homes to build their own.
He cited the Rivers Run development as an example of foreign investment interests: in the first two phases 24 homes sold within hours, while the remaining 14 homes were snagged within an hour by buyers who camped overnight to get them.
ReMax expects there will be upward pressure on detached house prices in Vancouver’s west side due to high demand and low inventory, but said the condo and townhouse markets will likely sustain a more balanced market.
However, even those markets aren’t immune from buyers’ frenzy. ReMax realtor Mary Cleaver said a four-bedroom townhouse listed on Vancouver’s Carolina Street had seven offers and was sold within the week, with no subjects and at $50,000 more than the asking price. “It is unique for that to happen,” she said.
Condos in East Vancouver were in high demand near the end of 2014, according to the report, which suggested well-priced homes often sold within one to two weeks, whereas the average market time for condos was 45 days. “The condo market has been healthy but nowhere near the bidding wars and housing (price) gains,” Raven said.
But both Lamb and Raven said some people are starting to get buyers’ fatigue and bowing out of the bidding wars. Two Sundays ago, Lamb said, 28 people had come through an open house, but several parties decided not to bother in the bidding. “We had people who won’t get tied up in this flurry,” he said.
However, ReMax noted as those potential buyers move to the sidelines and wait for the market to stabilize, the demand in the region will continue to grow.
Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem said management is devastated after the city’s deputy chief building official — a trusted leader and rising star — was forced to resign for completing renovations on her home without permits.
On Thursday Ballem said in late November a whistleblower informed senior staff that Carli Edwards — a 17-year-employee seen as someone who eagerly tackled tough jobs for senior management — had breached city bylaws.
Staff investigated the complaint and found allegations were true, Ballem said. Edwards — whose husband Scott Edwards is also an engineer in city hall — co-operated with the process, and agreed to resign.
“Unfortunately, when you are the deputy chief building official and you do work without a permit in your own house, there are consequences,” Ballem said Thursday.
Ballem said she could not reveal who the whistleblower was, and she also could not talk about the nature of the renovations.
“This was not a huge rebuild,” Ballem said. According to property records, the East Vancouver residence involved is in the Fraser Steet and East 33rd Ave. area, and the property had $68,600 in land improvement in 2014, and $68,600 in land improvements in 2013.
City managers found that Edwards, who is held to a higher standard because of her position, seriously breached her “fiduciary” duty under the city’s Code of Conduct.
The city consulted legal experts to ensure that terms in Edwards resignation will ensure she will not sue the city, Ballem said.
City hall insiders say the process must have been difficult, especially as Edwards was seen as having a close working relationship with Ballem, and undertook some transformations that may not have been popular with Edwards’ subordinates.
Ballem confirmed that Edwards, prior to her unpermitted renovation, was seen as a hard worker and change agent at city hall, with an “unblemished record.”
“I tried to mentor her and support her on some pretty difficult files,” Ballem said. “It is pretty devastating to all of us. But she understands there was only one landing place here.”
Ballem said that Edwards received $65,000 — six months of pay — in her resignation terms.
Earlier this year, we found out that Tap & Barrel was expanding to open the company’s third location in Metro Vancouver at the foot of North Vancouver’s Lonsdale. We had the chance to meet with Daniel Frankel, president and CEO of Tap & Barrel Restaurants, to get an inside look at the new location before construction started. Since our walk through, the group has signed their official lease and construction has begun.
The Shipyards of North Vancouver first opened as the Wallace Shipyards more than a century ago in 1906, and was one of the most impressive industrial operations in western Canada, completing a total of 379 vessels before it closed in 1992. The Shipyards have become a defining aspect of the City of North Vancouver and Lower Lonsdale, and is recognized as a heritage site. The foot of Lonsdale, constructed in the 1930s, is currently undergoing a site stabilization and environmental remediation, and is anticipated to be completed by January 2015.
The Coppersmith Shop building
“I had snapped pictures of this building wondering what would happen,” said Frankel, reminiscing seeing the building back in 2011. “I always wanted a building like this.”
The building currently sits as one big empty space, but Frankel’s plans are to increase the size from 8,500 sq. ft. to over 12,000 sq. ft. With high ceilings, the opportunity to build a second floor mezzanine (with 120 seats) was brought forward, which will complement the extraordinary cathedral-style window opening up to the downtown view.
The location of the soon to be constructed second floor mezzanine
“We always talked about a really cool, heritage-style location,” Frankel said, emphasizing the unique features around the Coppersmith Shop building.
Like the Coal Harbour and Olympic Village locations, 300 seats, or in this case half the restaurant’s seating, will be on the patio, which will be built to almost wrap around one half of the building.
“It’s truly what I’ve always envisioned for Tap & Barrel. A building that can tell a story.”
Reclaimed wood found to use in the North Vancouver location, something Frankel is big on
Opening a new location, which Frankel is calling his flagship, also allows the restaurant to put a focus on food and service. Frankel wanted to take the food to the next level, creating everything from scratch, which he admitted hadn’t been the case when the restaurant first started.
In December 2013, they hired former Corporate Chef of Earls, Reuben Major, whose mandate was to raise the food program and focus on local, seasonal and fresh produce. Frankel wanted to see “addictive food” that was high in quality and taste. To help with this, they’ll be adding a test kitchen into the new location, perfect for training and product development, which will double as a 22-seat private room.
The future of Tap & Barrel
There’s still lots of room to grow in Vancouver, according to Frankel. The Group felt diluted and wanted to focus on Tap & Barrel rather than doing so many different things, so they sold multiple spaces they had owned around Metro Vancouver. Now, the focus is on improving food and service, and removing the human error from it.
“Right now there’s a pretty big appetite. I’m having a really fun time doing this. It’s not about the number of locations, it’s about getting it right,” Frankel said when asked how many more locations he wanted to open.
Why North Vancouver?
Frankel felt the city was progressive and had a big sign over it saying it’s open for business, saying it’s very unique and feels a lot like Vancouver did 30 years ago.
“It’s one of the greatest developments for young families,” Frankel said. “Real estate is getting more expensive, but it’s cheaper [in North Vancouver] than Vancouver.”
With millions of passengers travelling to and from downtown every year, it’s no wonder the City of North Vancouver would want to spend money and invest in the area. It’s a prime location with lots of potential. In fact, Frankel said that City of North Vancouver Mayor Darryl Mussatto promised that every dollar that came in from rent would go right into the Shipyard maintenance along with activations, like the Shipyards Night Market, Saturday Summer Sessions and Shipyards Christmas Market.
However, Frankel also mentioned that the city has a ways to go from reaching its potential. North Vancouver lacks diversity and should have more for kids, teens and youth, along with artisanal stores and smaller, local merchants, and that Lower Lonsdale might take well to subsidized space, like Granville Island, to attract artists and smaller businesses to open up shop.
Housing prices in Lower Mainland are predicted to rise a modest three per cent in 2015, while Canada’s highest prices, in Vancouver, will be sustained by demand from Mainland Chinese buyers.
That’s the view from RE/MAX’s 2015 national housing outlook, in a relatively optimistic report that suggests Greater Vancouver real estate is well supported by a variety of supply and demand factors.
RE/MAX’s report diverges strongly from a new Bank of Canada report that warns parts of Canada’s housing market are overvalued by 30 per cent.
RE/MAX’s report says average residential prices in Greater Vancouver increased from $781,517 in 2013 to $838,400, and are projected to rise to $863,600 in 2015.
Price gains in Vancouver will continue to be driven by hot demand and limited supply for detached homes in west-side neighbourhoods, RE/MAX predicts, while buyers who hoped to break into Vancouver’s market on the east side and lost multiple bid battles may drop out of the market in 2015.
Frustrated buyers won’t limit the market, though, because “the pipeline of demand for the region will continue to grow,” according to RE/MAX.
“Offshore buyer demand from Mainland China continued throughout the year,” the report says. “Demand for westside homes will continue to be driven by offshore buyers who can afford to pay the two million dollar-plus price tag.”
Cory Raven, managing broker at RE/MAX Select Realty in Vancouver, say agents report that “the mindset” of Mainland Chinese buyers focuses on “parking wealth” in Vancouver, rather than seeking price appreciation. That means a significant group of buyers in Vancouver is content to buy higher and higher, agents believe.
“Assuming that tap stays open, the higher end of the market will (continue to see aggressive gains),” Raven says.
There has been speculation that the flood of cash pouring from China into Vancouver real estate will be limited with the ending this year of a federal immigrant investor program. The South China Morning Post has reported a replacement program will be much smaller in scope, and will subject applicants to rigorous audits. But Raven says the perception among realtors is “the tap” will stay open.
“Many realtors have told me that the way business is done (in China) is very different, and the wealthy can always find a way to get their money out.”
Meanwhile, in a new report, the Bank of Canada studied worrying debt loads carried by homeowners across Canada, and calculated that some markets are at risk of correction, with homes overvalued by up to 30 per cent.
But Helmut Pastrick, chief economist of Central 1 credit union, says he believes the Bank of Canada’s data and study method is “constrained” and does not account for unique supply and demand factors in Vancouver’s housing market.
Pastrick says limited land supply in Vancouver is the main factor justifying high housing prices, and demand from Chinese buyers impacts Vancouver’s west side, and West Vancouver. But even if the flow of investment from offshore were to end, according to Pastrick, there would not be a significant drop in Greater Vancouver home prices.
Pastrick says he sees RE/MAX’s prediction of a three-per-cent rise in home prices across the region as reasonable.
“This market is not booming, but it is pretty solid,” he said. “It certainly is not a bubble.”
Pastrick says while U.S. officials appear ready to raise historically low interest rates within half a year, the Bank of Canada probably will not raise rates until late 2015 or longer.
While the Bank of Canada warns that high home prices and heavily indebted households raise risks of a housing correction, Pastrick believes the only real risk is an economic recession.
A drastic fall in oil prices that caught almost all economists by surprise will impact Alberta and other areas of Canada, but actually could support provincial economies such as B.C. that are net importers of oil, Pastrick believes. At this point, he sees no recession risk for B.C. on the horizon.
Toronto-based InnVest Real Estate Investment Trust (TSX:INN.UN) has bought Vancouver’s 644-room Hyatt Regency Hotel for $140 million, the equivalent of $217,000 per room.
Following completion of the sale, a Hyatt Hotels Corp. affiliate will continue to manage the hotel under a new long-term management contract. The sale is expected to close this month.
Built in 1973, the Hyatt is located at the northwest corner of Burrard and West Georgia streets and has some of the city’s largest standard guest rooms and meeting space.
Carrie Russell, managing director of hotel industry analyst firm HVS International, said there has been increased investor interest this year in downtown Vancouver hotel properties. She noted that so far in 2014 the Days Inn and Best Western Sands hotels have sold, both to investors from China. Also a “good portion” of the hotel-condos in the Westin Grand hotel has reportedly been sold to a single investor, Russell added.
Last week, Daniel Fournier, chairman and CEO of Ivanhoe Cambridge told BIV that its Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is close to a sale under a bid process that is now closed.
Russell is not surprised by the hotel sales action.
“Vancouver is heading into a very strong convention year, Revpar [revenue per available room] is very high, and there has been little new construction. The outlook for the Vancouver hotel market is very positive.”
A Vancouver woman has a cautionary tale for anyone living next to an abandoned house after she battled city authorities for months to stop strangers from partying on the decaying back porch of a rundown house across her lane.
Laura De Munain moved into her family’s Oak Street house on the outskirts of the tony Shaughnessy neighbourhood in April. While working from home, the pregnant lawyer soon noticed groups of two or three people regularly stumbling around her back alley in a daze.
She went to check out the house. After walking through the rubbish-strewn carport, she climbed a rotting back staircase and found a large porch littered with aerosol cans, garbage and a camping stove. Above, a mouldy piece of drywall drooped down from the ceiling, exposing the rafters. With its back door unlocked and kitchen windows open, anyone could, and did, easily slip in.
Police answered her first call to their non-emergency line and toured the property, but they “said they didn’t see any evidence of consistent living here,” according to De Munain. She says city staff referred her back to the police when she complained about drug users and squatters in June and asked the city to force the owner to board the home up properly.
Eventually someone boarded up the patio’s back door, but over the next three months, De Munain and her husband regularly cleaned their alley of broken glass and discarded aerosol cans as she feared for the safety of their three-year-old daughter when walking to their parked car. Several more calls to the police and the city yielded little action, De Munain says.
“The gist of it is: you can have someone purchase property in your neighbourhood, they don’t start constructing, they leave it abandoned, they don’t secure it and suddenly this is your neighbourhood,” De Munain said while giving The Sun a tour of the back patio and adjoining carport. “It’s an unsafe environment and no one will help you. Because you call the police and you call the city — each will point to the other and say it’s not their problem.
“It’s your problem.”
In the weeks leading up to this month’s civic election, a blog showcasing “beautiful empty homes” of the west side and a proposal from COPE mayoral candidate Meena Wong for a vacant home tax gained support from residents simmering with anger over Vancouver becoming a “hedge city” for foreign real estate investors. A poll last month showed 72 per cent of respondents thought such a tax a “very good” or “good” proposal, and only 18 per cent deemed it “very bad” or “bad.”
Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs said he, like many, finds it offensive when a perfectly good home is held empty for speculative reasons, but he doesn’t know that such a tax is “legally possible or even desirable.”
“There’s also been a concern on my part and many others that the enforcement of such a (tax) program would create an intrusive new bureaucracy that would be peering through keyholes to make sure people were telling the truth about whether a place was being used or not,” Meggs said.
This summer, two vacant homes in Strathcona burned down reportedly after a squatter lit a fire in one of them.
City inspectors went out 79 times last year to investigate squatters or other problems at 36 vacant addresses, according to a city official. The year before, inspectors were sent out 107 times to 47 addresses, which was about same as in 2010 and 2011.
There are no figures available yet for this year, when the issue began touching a nerve in this increasingly overpriced city. Meggs said Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Agency is researching how many properties are vacant and will report back to council some time “in the new year.”
In the most extreme cases of owner neglect, neighbours’ complaints can spur city council to order demolition.
That’s what happened on Marshall Street, near east Vancouver’s Trout Lake Park, almost two years ago.
Next-door neighbour Kora Small remembers how the rotting home blighted the neighbourhood, with nesting raccoons scaring the area’s many young children. She and her husband also worried they would be liable for any damage to their place if a fire broke out because the empty home’s mercurial owner didn’t have home insurance.
Once, they phoned the VPD’s non-emergency line after noticing the front door had been open three days, Small says.
Police arrived and, after going in, told Small “it was one of the scariest buildings to enter because it was so decrepit.”
“It’s a hard situation — I feel for him, but it also is pretty ridiculous to have an empty lot for so long and an unusable lot,” Small said. “Other neighbours have said (it has been uninhabited) 15 to 20 years — so that’s a long time.”
At the time, neighbour Zoe LeGood told The Sun she was dissatisfied with the city’s drawn-out response, initiated in 2009 by complaints from neighbours.
She and other neighbours complained regularly to the city, which charged the owner three separate times for cleaning up his overgrown yard, Small says.
Eventually staff passed the problem over to council for a vote on the home’s demolition. City councillors were “very responsive” to the concerns of Small and four other neighbours who showed up to the hearing, but she wonders if the demolition process really needs to be lengthened by going to council.
“It doesn’t seem like something that is necessarily a good use of their time, when someone can just check it out and see that this is clearly a house that can’t be restored,” Small said.
The owner has held onto the property since the home was demolished in January 2013, and some enterprising members of the community have seeded a verdant lawn and started a guerrilla garden.
“The neighbourhood just wanted to make it a nice space,” Small said.
In De Munain’s case, at the end of September the city had only registered one formal complaint about the property, which is worth $2.2 million according to its 2014 assessment. Eventually, city staff boarded up the kitchen door and windows and in September gave the owner 14 days to cut the lawn or else a city work crew would clean it up and the bill would be added to the owner’s property tax.
In the first week of November, the owner put yellow fencing around most of the property to try to block access to the abandoned home, De Munain says. But the barrier didn’t cover a decaying clapboard fence that people kicked in to create a new entrance from the alley, she says.
Now, those holes have been patched with scraps of plywood, but De Munain says people are still hopping over that part of the fence. Two weeks ago, her husband chased off a man who parked his trailer and began dumping asbestos tiles over the fence — a problem she’s worried might continue.
VPD spokesman Const. Brian Montague confirmed officers have visited the property a “handful” of times in recent months, but “in most cases officers searched the home and found no one.”
He said even if anyone was caught “loitering” or “prowling” at night near a dwelling on private property it would be hard for police to recommend charges because the Criminal Code defines a house as “the whole or any part of a building or structure that is kept or occupied as a permanent or temporary residence.”
“The question then arises … is an abandoned house kept as a permanent or temporary residence?” Montague wrote in an email. “One could argue no, depending on the state of the property, how long it has been unoccupied and if it is abandoned or merely unoccupied.”
Carli Edwards, Vancouver’s assistant director of inspection services, said any neighbour with a problem involving a vacant property can register a complaint by calling 311. The city then sends inspectors to investigate and it can impose a 14-day notice forcing the landlord to resolve the issue, as it did with the property behind De Munain.
The owners — listed as Toyo Developments Ltd. — applied late last year to redevelop the house, a city spokeswoman confirmed. Toyo’s directors are Chien Cheng Peng and Wen Li Peng, according to corporate records. Their home address is listed as a multi-million dollar mansion on Shaughnessy’s famed Crescent, not far from the property that De Munain and her husband have been complaining about. The owners did not return repeated calls.
De Munain says she just wanted the property and back porch “boarded up” properly and access to the property secured.
“I empathize with the property owner. If he’s stuck in permitting, fine, but just be respectful of your neighbours and realize if you have an abandoned property it is going to attract all sorts,” De Munain said. “This is pretty bad, but it could be a lot worse.
“And it’s not safe, it really could start a fire.”
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Livability poll finds we love Vancouver, but hate real estate prices
Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun
Only three per cent of people who live in the city of Vancouver think they are paying a reasonable amount for their mortgages or rent, according to a new poll funded by Vancity.
And across the Lower Mainland — known for its sky-high real estate prices — just one quarter of residents think they are getting good value for money when it comes to housing or rental prices.
The poll results, released to The Vancouver Sun less than a month before the Nov. 15 municipal election, delved into the topic that Vancouverites love to debate — housing affordability.
“Whether you grew up in this region, moved here 20 years or two months ago, housing costs are increasingly becoming part of how we define our relationship to Metro Vancouver,” said Shachi Kurl, senior vice-president of Angus Reid Global, which conducted the poll.
“It’s not a new conversation. We’ve been talking about these issues over coffee, in line at the grocery store, on date night or at family dinner for a generation. But as time goes by, housing costs appear to take on a more significant and prominent role in our lives.”
The city of Vancouver had by far the lowest percentage of fiscally happy homeowners — only three per cent thought they were getting good value from their mortgages or rental payments. The next most disgruntled lived on the North Shore (17 per cent) and Burnaby (19 per cent).
In no community was there a majority of residents who were happy with housing bills, although it came closest in Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge (49 per cent) and New Westminster (45 per cent).
Nearly 1,100 Metro Vancouver residents were asked to rate their cities on “livability” factors, including green space, ethnic diversity, transit, family issues, safety, and the economy. Vancity used the results to produce a “Livable City Study.”
Very few residents in Vancouver, the North Shore or Burnaby thought there were any affordable homes left, the poll found, while a majority of respondents in Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge and the Fraser Valley thought well-valued homes could still be found with some diligent searching.
The poll also showed, though, that just because housing was expensive, it didn’t mean people were unhappy. When asked whether “it is worth every penny to live where I live,” nearly three-quarters of respondents said yes in the Fraser Valley, the North Shore and Richmond/Delta — often commenting about the region’s beauty and mild weather.
That happiness was lowest — dropping to just over half of respondents — in Surrey, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver.
Courtney Komonasky, 42, is happy living in Vancouver, where she has been for 20 years, but cannot afford to buy a home. She has rented the same apartment for 11 years, so her rent has stayed reasonable, but she has watched similar units go up and up in price.
“I have a good job and I get paid a good wage, and I really don’t know how people do it getting paid just minimum wage jobs,” said Komonasky, a registered massage therapist.
Komonasky answered the Vancity poll and, like many others who completed the survey, believes escalating real estate prices are partly due to foreign buyers who invest in local houses and condos but leave them sitting empty.
This situation has been debated by candidates in Vancouver’s mayor race, sparked by COPE’S Meena Wong who suggested investors should pay a fee if they don’t live in the properties they own. That’s an issue Komonasky will follow during the election.
“There should be some kind of tax on the people who don’t live here,” she said. “(Empty houses) makes the cost of things less affordable. They are not here to eat in restaurants or shop in the stores.”
Komonasky will monitor candidates for affordable housing solutions, saying she hasn’t witnessed cheaper rental units available in the city despite all the political talk in recent years.
All of Vancouver’s main political parties have included affordable housing in their platforms, but they range significantly in details and depth.
Perhaps the catch-22 of living in expensive Vancouver is that residents often can’t afford to take advantage of local playgrounds — sailing on the ocean or skiing in the mountains — because they are house poor.
“I don’t know that I necessarily take advantage of the things that people talk about, like the skiing. I used to snowboard but that is expensive,” Komonasky said.
Indeed, more than two thirds of poll respondents from Vancouver (67 per cent) said they have “given up a lot” to be able to afford to live in the city, followed by 59 per cent on the North Shore and 52 per cent in Burnaby. That concern was lowest among residents in the Fraser Valley (36 per cent) and Surrey (39 per cent).
The survey results showed people had made sacrifices to save money, regardless of where they lived in Metro Vancouver, including: living in a smaller space (Burnaby), getting an extra job (Vancouver), quitting golf and skiing (North Shore), reducing bills such as eliminating TV cable (New Westminster), and taking transit instead of driving (Surrey).
Nearly all respondents on the North Shore (91 per cent) and in Vancouver (89 per cent) agreed that people born in those cities cannot afford to buy real estate there. That sentiment existed across Metro, but dropped to two-thirds of people in the Fraser Valley and Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge.
In Komonasky’s case, most of her friends moved to the suburbs after having children, searching for cheaper housing.
Survey respondent Frank Wirrell dismissed as “propaganda” that Vancouver is considered one of the most livable cities in the world, promoting instead his hometown of Abbotsford. “Living in the Fraser Valley is more affordable and is excellent for retired persons,” he said.
Deanna Overland of Burnaby appeared to suggest that livability and affordability can be polar extremes in the region. “Vancouver is beautiful and has a lot to offer however the cost of housing makes it unlivable for the average person,” she said.
These issues will undoubtedly be weighing on voters’ minds when they cast their ballots Nov. 15.
Information courtesy of TorontoSun.com and DavidSuzuki.org
Above is a video of an obviously irate David Suzuki, who many believe to be the earths saviour but not me. I am all for saving the earth and am cognizant on the effects of fossil fuel energy BUT....is David Suzuki a hypocrite? Mr Suzuki is upset at the RCMP for arresting his grandson for 'crossing the line' on his Burnaby Mountain protest.....didn't he just answer his own concern? His Grandson illegally crossed a boundary of safe/peaceful picketing. What else do we know about Mr Suzuki from the Toronto Sun/ DavidSuzuki.org
His view on population
In David's autobiography he says "…there are too many of us; we consume too much; we pollute too much…" and goes on to critisize India for a child born every 1.2 seconds.
David Suzuki has 5 children
We burn too many fossil fuels
I typically take 1 plane ride a year to somewhere warm (to keep the girlfriend from chopping my head off) as a lot of other north americans so I do contribute to our carbon footprint as much as the next guy.....unless the next guy is David Suzuki who makes a LIVING taking planes trains and automobiles to educate us on how not to take trains planes and automobiles, makes sense right?
David Suzuki gets paid $30,000 per speech he gives plus expenses
Oil Companies are evil
What we know is that oil is essential, the computer I am typing this on, the car you drive, the coffee cup in your hand, all require oil. We cannon sustain a life without fossil fuel, not at this point, it is literally impossible. So if we need to rely on oil, why not transport it in a manner that is more effecient and creates more jobs, where Kinder (Devil) Morganis getting taxed heavily by Burnaby for this. The other methods would be via Train which is a heavy pollutant or tankers which also has a human error risk associated with it. Here is also a real fun fact.
David Suzuki is Co-Owner of a property in Nelson Island with (drum roll please) Kootenay Oil Distributers
I guess oil companies are only sometimes bad? Mostly when you dont share a land title with them probably
Use only what we need
I am a fan of using only what I need, probably because that is all I can afford. David Suzuki is a big supporter of not being glutonous at the expense of the environment. That is great advice for us!! Unfortunately David Suzuki doesn't really believe this.
David Suzuki owns 3 properties in BC alone, valued at over $10 Million dollars.
That's a lot of heaters, lights, furnaces etc etc etc going. # is better than 1 I guess?
This is my personal opinion on David Suzuki's rant at the police doing their job. I know I may get a lot of comments supporting him, and your feedback is always welcome and I am looking forward to hearing your constructive thoughts!
An accident by a contractor caused damage across four units
Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun Newspaper
Carmen Cheung thought her condo renovations were almost done – then a contractor punctured a pipe, sending an hour-long cascade of water through the walls of her Burnaby home.
"I saw … like rain coming down from outside, it was pouring like a waterfall," Cheung told CBC News.
The damage was so extensive that Cheung — and the occupants of three other condos in the building - had to relocate during the repairs. A disaster turned into a nightmare, as Cheung found herself in a snarl of seven insurance companies.
"I feel so frustrated, and at the same time I feel very sorry for the other units, because they have to pay the expenses too," she said.
Cheung says that the strata's insurance corporation insists that her mother — as the legal owner of the condo — is responsible.
"My mom didn’t drill a hole. My mom didn’t cause the flood. So we went to our insurance company, and basically they said it's not their responsibility."
"It’s really, like no one is telling me anything."
The insurance companies stalled over who should cover what.
The property manager for the strata corporation began demanding deductibles and leaving phone messages, suggesting Cheung is responsible to pay or the matter may end up in court.
A renovation accident caused a massive flood in Carmen Cheung's condo, forcing her and the residents of three other units in the building to move out while repairs were made. (CBC)
Cheung says she scrambled to understand her rights. Her elderly mother, the legal owner, felt blamed and tried to make amends with neighbours by apologizing, and even paying $189 for damages done to another unit.
"But when you have a situation like this, when you have three different adjusters involved in one probably relatively small loss, and a whole bunch of insurance companies and a property manager involved and a strata council involved — it's just too much. It's just too confusing - and frankly it shouldn't happen."
McIntyre says a lot of times an insurance broker can act as an advocate for the individual condo owner.
Many condo owners are also under-insured. More than half of B.C.'s condo holders do not have homeowners' insurance, according to McIntyre.
Carmen Cheung's apartment before she began renovations. (CBC)
That is a risky situation, says Tony Gioventu, of theCondo Homeowners' Association, because if an owner is responsible, they are likely responsible for paying a deductible that could be anything from $500 to $100,000.
Water damage and floods are the highest causes of loss to Canadian insurance in recent years — flooding alone costing $3.4 billion to the industry.
That’s driven premiums up — and put a lot of pressure on condo stratas not to make claims — according to Gioventu.
He says he's seen bullying from all sides in disputes, from condo board members, property managers.and from neighbours.
"People putting a lot of pressure on their neighbour because they say, 'Hey wait, just because you had a claim doesn't mean I want our insurance to go up.'"
The worst part about situations like Cheung’s, McIntyre says, is not the soggy walls — it’s the bad blood between neighbours.
"The saddest thing for me is, it's neighbour against neighbour, in a place that you want to go home and enjoy your life and relax in."
Numerous calls to the property manager received no response. Attempts to reach condo board members were unsuccessful so far.
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