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Monday Article - Faulty Towers - by Sid Tafler


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#1 G-Man

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 07:19 PM

This article is just wrong on so many angles that I had to post it. While the author has his heart in the right place at moments it is just momentous. Wondering if this is Russ Francis under a new name though I would say more likel a Malcolm Curtis article really.

Condos are too tall, too empty, too many, too expensive, and we don't let homeless people sleep in them. I just wish that it was an online article so that Aastra could tear it apart.

Oh yeah it is the largest boom the city has EVAR seen.




#2 gumgum

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 08:38 PM

I certainly don't agree with everything that Sid has written. But I have to agree that at the moment a lot of these units are empty and threatening to create a bit of a black hole in our community.Thanks for posting this!

#3 Coreyburger

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 08:40 PM

This article is just wrong on so many angles that I had to post it. While the author has his heart in the right place at moments it is just momentous. Wondering if this is Russ Francis under a new name though I would say more likel a Malcolm Curtis article really.

Condos are too tall, too empty, too many, too expensive, and we don't let homeless people sleep in them. I just wish that it was an online article so that Aastra could tear it apart.

Oh yeah it is the largest boom the city has EVAR seen.


He is largely correct in that large numbers of condos are owned by non-Victorians, many of whom likely don't live there. However, lights being dark doesn't mean a condo/apt is empty. I remember wondering where all my neighbours were when I lived at the corner of Burdett & Quadra, as 90% of the units would be dark at 6pm at night and would stay dark for the whole night (ie: they weren't just off to dinner).

Regardless, he does have a very valid point about people simply being priced out. The stock of rental housing is, and has been, in decline for over 10 years now. Where are the students and the working class supposed to live? We are not building new units for this class of people. Pretty much the only thing being built is condos, because they make the developer the most money. And no, as I have said in other places, this is not the developers fault. They are business people and are doing what they should, make the most money. However, it is a failure of the city and thus a failure of urban planning not to consider everybody.

Oh, and you want another sobering statistic? CRD has ~3000 subsidsized living units, a number which has not substantially grown, although the CRD did force the municipalities (all but the western communities, who declined to join) to commit money to a fund and that has spurred new development (75 last year). However, that pales to the waiting list of ~2000, ~1000 of which are families, ~500 are seniors, ~400 are mixed others (students, working class people, etc.), and ~100 are "hard to house" - drug addicts, former street people and the like. Add in a residential vacancy rate of 0.5%, wake up and realize that we have a serious housing crisis in this city of ours and it is up to the various municipalities to find a solution.

#4 G-Man

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 08:53 PM

If you walk down a street in Oak Bay Fairfield or Broadmead at the same time at night, how many have their lights off.

And he even points out the Metropolitan is 60 % dark well that building has been around for 15 years already and hardly part of the current market.
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#5 B.Bridge

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 10:10 PM

... However, it is a failure of the city and thus a failure of urban planning not to consider everybody. ...


Sid has shed some light on all that darkness. It isn't just Vancouver building vertical savings bonds with stainless appliances and granite countertops any more. But the city is legitimizing suites. Even Oak Bay is striking a little committee about suites to find a way to save people from being burned at the stake if they mention that evil word. Maybe the urban core is not the place for single moms, drug addicts, and mental patients.

#6 Mike K.

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 10:33 PM

As far as I'm concerned, window gazing used as a tool to gauge occupancy is as ridiculous as counting passengers on transit buses from atop a pedestrian overpass.

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#7 Coreyburger

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 10:55 PM

Sid has shed some light on all that darkness. It isn't just Vancouver building vertical savings bonds with stainless appliances and granite countertops any more. But the city is legitimizing suites. Even Oak Bay is striking a little committee about suites to find a way to save people from being burned at the stake if they mention that evil word. Maybe the urban core is not the place for single moms, drug addicts, and mental patients.


Victoria has already legalised them but Saanich is unlikely to, given that, as Dean Fortin said "Nobody ever talks to me(Frank Leonard) about them.", relaying a conversation he had had with Frank.

Now as for where people go, I am not talking primarily about drug addicts. People often think that housing is only about them. I am talking about students, low wage earners (you need to earn at least 13/hour before you can afford a bachelor in this city), and yes, single mothers. Where else are these people going to go? Sooke? I don't own a car and am lucky to have a great place in Oak Bay that I pay little for. If I had to move to the western comm. I would lose untold hours of my day in transit, hours I could be working or studying. And I am lucky enough to have a Upass. Force people to drive and you make them muuch much poorer. By force, I mean make the only vcheap place to live so far away from work/schools/transit that they are basically forced to own a car. So think carefully about how laisswz faire you get with planning.

#8 spanky123

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 06:58 AM

As far as I'm concerned, window gazing used as a tool to gauge occupancy is as ridiculous as counting passengers on transit buses from atop a pedestrian overpass.


Agreed. There is however lots of annecdotal evidence that Sid is at least partially correct in his analysis.

1. On another blog someone stated that they had looked up the assessment mailing addresses for a particular building and found that about 60% of the mail went to non-resident addresses. I have no idea whether the person actually did this or not but the method seems legit to me.

2. My wife has been contacting building managers in Fairfield looking for a place to have her parents stay this summer for two months. She has found a number of condos where she has been told that the majority of the units are available for rent and/or vacant during the summer months.

3. Although not statistically valid, I know a number of people who have purchased condos downtown as 3rd or 4th homes as Sid suggests. People so wealthy that it makes sense for them just to buy a place and let it sit furnished, even to visit for only a couple of weeks a year. In one instance a group of Egyptian businessmen bought 10 units for this purpose in one building. These condos will never be rented.

#9 spanky123

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 07:03 AM

If you walk down a street in Oak Bay Fairfield or Broadmead at the same time at night, how many have their lights off.

And he even points out the Metropolitan is 60 % dark well that building has been around for 15 years already and hardly part of the current market.


My boss lives in Broadmead and two of the neighbours across the street from him and one beside him don't occupy their homes year round. Two are Asian families who only come to Victoria a couple of months a year and one is owned by an engineer who works on a cable ship and only visits Victoria during breaks in their operations.

People don't just buy condos as investment or vacation homes.

#10 gumgum

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 09:46 AM

A lot of these developments are selling in bulk to investment pools that are only interested in a quick buck. Perhaps in a few years, once these units have been flipped, you'll see more of them actually being used.

#11 Baro

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 10:12 AM

That's what I always try to impart to people, don't judge a buildings uses by the first decade. All housing space has a life cycle and a few paths it can take.

Often the only way a new building can get money is by selling to people and investments like this, but who's to say who will be owning them in 10 or 20 years. It would be great if the economics of the region allowed developers to break even building mid-market rentals and affordable condos, but it doesn't.

I'm a huge pinko commie type, but even I'm not so economically ignorant to not understand this point. Sadly, many of my comrades on the left have a knee-jerk reaction to 'developers' and combine that with their utter lack of understanding on even the most simple economic concepts such as construction costs vrs market prices.

Of course a classic ignorant answer to this is that we simply shouldn't allow any construction until the economics change that allow all new buildings to right off the bat allow local single moms to live in new penthouse condos. The problem is, by restricting the housing stock with ridiculous policies like this the price will never come down. Developers are only responding to current market conditions, yet they get all the blame as if it's developers simply deciding to only sell to rich absent landlords in Alberta and Texas.

It's really a shame that around the time new units should have been built to come down the pipe and come down in cost in time for ME to afford them, we weren't building much anything downtown at all. This is why we need a continuous addition of new units.

#12 G-Man

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 10:55 AM

^ Exactly.

My point which I tried to make and Spanky123 has also pointed out that this is by no means about condo buildings. It is about housing in Victoria in general. I would say only about 80% of units in my 15 year old townhouse building are occupied at any given time and over half of the owners do not live here.

Why focus this attention on the buildings downtown when it is just as likely at 60 Dallas Road or somewhere on Hampshire in Oak Bay. It is IMO bordering on dishonest or oblivious to the actual market.

I mean the town house project in James Bay actually said that they were targeting cruise ship passengers. Why is it ok when they do that for a three storey building but in a 20 storey building it is evil and greedy?

Also I am sick and tired of hearing about how developers should be building tons of housing for the homeless with every project. I mean we put so much bureaucratic nonsense into the process that there is no possibility for money to go into affordable housing.

I mean if people wanted affordable housing built with a project how about tell developers if you build 20 % affordable housing we will have your project go through the entire city process in 4 months. That is how you do it. With incentives. Forcing them to add on extras for no benefit only moves the money to other cities willing to accomodate them more.

I will say this again, though I know it may be a difficult concept for some people (though perhaps not those on here). A 100 million dollar project does not mean the developer is making 100 million dollars. This is how much it costs to build the project. They then hope that they can sell enough units to recoup the cost. This is known as the profit margin. All businesses require a profit margin if they are to stay in business.

The estimates I have heard is that current office can be built with about a 7 percent profit margin or about 1 percent more then putting it into a long-term bank account. Which do you think is a better idea a guaranteed return of 6 percent or the possibility of a 7 percent return.

I have heard that residential projects return in the range of 10 - 15 percent still not a guarantee but of course better than office. Still that means that a developer has a chance of making 15 million dollars on a 100 million dollar project. This is by no means guaranteed.

There are many companies in Victoria with far higher profit margins than developers but for some reason they are not evil or greedy. They are great corporate citizens.

Alright end of my little rant.

#13 aastra

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 12:36 PM

Great article by Mr. Tafler.

Although I did find his reference to non-existent towers on the Songhees to be a bit confounding.

A couple of thoughts:

1) Is it just me or does he fall flat on his face in the first paragraph? Condominiums are "turning this city into an enclave of absentee haves and homeless have-nots"? What possible relevance could the redevelopment of parking lots have on the issue of homelessness? Where did everyone get this idea that Victoria's surface parking lots were housing people? If parking lots are indeed so valuable in this regard then what are we waiting for? There are plenty of them left! Let's get serious, let's march to Ogden Point, and let's start putting up tents and PortaPotties. Hillside, Tillicum, Mayfair, the legislature's lots...what an opportunity!

2) "Hermetically sealed concrete suite"? Good gravy, is this guy 200 years old or something?* I'd welcome him to the 20th century but I think I should probably welcome him to the 1950s first. (I really don't understand what he's taking a shot at with that one. I presume he's making a negative assessment of contemporary architectural esthetics, but if so, the criticism hardly holds any water since his targets are so varied (Shutters, Astoria & Belvedere, old Songhees stuff, the Metropolitan...).

3) He mourns the eviction of the Songhees band. Indeed, it was a sad state of affairs. I just hope he knows they weren't evicted for condominiums. I also hope he knows the eviction of the band has no relevance to vacation rentals in Shutters. The Songhees property was an industrial site for a lifetime before anybody ever thought of living there again.

4) The Metropolitan?? What is it, 15 years old now? Does he even know that? (I see G-Man has already made this point)

5) Why does 860 View of all places earn a compliment ("handsome")?**

6) He's way off on the floor counts of Astoria and Belvedere. I'm just so tired of these negative accounts from people who can't see and have no memory.***

7) "...irreplaceable land in the heart of this one unique city on the far edge of Canada."

And all this time I thought Victoria was located on the NEAR edge of Canada! Silly me. But then I'm FROM Victoria, so I suppose my perspective wouldn't be nearly as clear on this matter as would Mr. Tafler's.

 

--

 

edit looking back in 2019: some people still want to claim that the parking lots, empty lots, car dealership lots etc. were/are housing people, and that building apartments on them would somehow translate into a housing deficit.

 

*if so, that would make him older than the average VV forumer

 

**I  like 860 View, but it seems odd how he singled it out

 

***as I've noted countless times, the forces of eternal opposition never give much heed to particulars. Don't trouble me with specifics... I'm opposed.


Edited by aastra, 22 November 2019 - 01:09 PM.


#14 jklymak

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 12:43 PM

I'm always confused when people present these things like they are a zero-sum game. If there is demand for part-time housing in Victoria those people are in the market place anyway, so you either drive the cost of existing units or you build new units. More units = lower prices, almost no matter what.

What's more, I don't have a huge problem with absentee owners. They still pay property taxes, so they support the city financially, but put little strain on the resources. More vacation owners means more money for the city to spend on things like social programs.

The only valid issue I can see people complaining about is gentrification as poorer folks get pushed to the outskirts. Not sure what can be done about that except let areas run their cycles. Humboldt Valley will look pretty dated in 50 years.

#15 aastra

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 12:56 PM

Really good article.

Although, if "irreplaceable land" was being used to PARK CARS or otherwise sitting empty, is it really such a "tragedy of urban planning failure" that the land is now being used for vacation rentals? What exactly is it that can't be replaced? The surface parking?

A few more thoughts:

1) He's a good griper but what's his alternative? I suppose we should be building gigantic homeless shelters on the Y-lot? Or maybe single family homes? Sell them for $10 million each? Would either of those situations be preferable to condominium communities in which some of the units are used as vacation rentals?*

2) "...often without a word of wisdom about the kind of city we're building, who we're building it for and why."

This bit really bugged me. For whom was Victoria built in the old days? Who were all of the great homes and downtown buildings built for? For the poor and disadvantaged? Was the Empress Hotel built for the homeless? Were the mansions of Rockland a community project? Were all of the fine commercial buildings in the old town designed by committee, by the city?

One of the key elements that makes Victoria an attractive place, a distinctive place, is the fact that there was and still is wealth here. If you don't have that foundation then you don't have a beautiful city. Every fine old edifice in Victoria represents wealth in one way or another. What on earth is so wrong with that?

Why isn't Nanaimo a big tourist draw like Victoria? It's the same island, right? Same ocean? Because it doesn't have the wealth, the opulence, the detail...all of that. It's not something to be ashamed of. It's what sets a city like Victoria apart from a city like Saskatoon. The rich folk and the trappings of wealth belong just as much as the poor folk and the trappings of poverty (as do everyone and everything in between).

3) "...the biggest boom cycle in living memory..."

I give him credit for almost getting that one right. It's actually the second biggest boom in his living memory and mine as well, and maybe the third or fourth biggest in the city's history (depending on how you measure it, of course...I measure it in terms of population growth, the total number of new SFDs, and the total number of new large/significant buildings).

 

--

 

edit looking back in 2019: do many Victorians resent the city's variety and complexity? It's almost as if they expect (or would prefer) the city to be more exclusively stratified and much less of a flavourful mix than it is. I think the "hidden gems" thing comes out of this. Why does a relatively small city like Victoria have such a long list of supposedly hidden gems? Because many people self-impose a peculiar exclusivity upon certain attractions, neighbourhoods, experiences, etc.

 

*key point being "some of the units"


Edited by aastra, 22 November 2019 - 01:30 PM.


#16 Mike K.

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 01:01 PM

^You're so right, aastra.

Is Victoria the only city in North America with absentee ownership?

I'm willing to bet similarly sized cities all over North America have far greater absentee ownership markets than does the entire CRD, but then that wouldn't fit the mold of fear-mongering diatribes some local writers are obsessed with, would it? Absentee ownership is a normal worldwide phenomenon, see, but in Victoria (and apparently uniquely to Victoria) its only compounding the forces already conspiring to destroy our fine city (like our new airport expansion, busways, the Belleville terminal, contaminated land reclamation, etc).

A recent media article covering Bear Mountain's success glamourized the development's knack for attracting non-local buyers. G-man already mentioned this, but clearly absentee ownership is not a downtown phenomenon any more than it is a regional phenomenon (in fact I'm sure more individuals live in downtown units, regardless of a units ownership details, given the demand for rental space in the core).

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#17 aastra

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 01:14 PM

I really enjoyed this article. It's got me thinking:

If we consider it a failure of urban planning not to consider everybody, then aren't we just now starting to consider all of those people who aren't hurting for money and who also want to live in the core? What were their options before this downtown condo boom (the very first downtown condo boom in the city's history)? How come people who have decent jobs and reasonably secure financial situations don't count? Why is it such a deplorable situation when accommodation is built for them? I'll never understand it. You had parking lots and now you have homes for the upper middle class. Is that really such a despicable scenario?

If you walk down a street in Oak Bay Fairfield or Broadmead at the same time at night, how many have their lights off.


Plenty of expensive properties throughout Victoria's core neighbourhoods and suburbs are used as vacation rentals. But that's okay, because it's always been that way. These downtown condos are new, so they're bad.

Victorians love playing poor. Wealthy Egyptian businessmen exist, I'm not saying they don't. But what about the folks on this very forum who live in the Wave and 860 View? What about the folks on this very forum who've bought units in the Juliet? What about the acquaintance of mine who bought in Dockside Green? Are they wealthy Egyptian businessmen? Oil execs from Calgary? Hardly. They're real people. They should count, too.

Perhaps in a few years, once these units have been flipped, you'll see more of them actually being used.


Exactly. Victorians tend to rail against things that are new. And yet, inevitably, things once new become not new, at which point they are accepted as essential Victoriana. Happens every time.

It's really a shame that around the time new units should have been built to come down the pipe and come down in cost in time for ME to afford them, we weren't building much anything downtown at all.


Is it really a shame, or is that just how things work and how they've always worked? Hardly anyone was interested in living downtown before! Demand has increased slowly but surely (over almost 20 years) as the number of new buildings has increased slowly but surely, and the prospect of living downtown has become ever more attractive. The process will always be gradual. Crikey, Victorians were really down on their downtown for a long time. Many of them still are really down on it.

Why focus this attention on the buildings downtown...


Mr. Tafler should actually be pleased that the prominent properties that tourists will see are finally in active use again, and that the new mixed-use developments that tourists (and Victorians) will experience are reasonably attractive (in some cases, very attractive). If you want utilitarian housing projects (or industry, or surface parking), the last place you should put it is on the waterfront in the tourist areas or in high-profile areas downtown.

#18 Coreyburger

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 02:48 PM

If you want utilitarian housing projects (or industry, or surface parking), the last place you should put it is on the waterfront in the tourist areas or in high-profile areas downtown.


Ah, the irony. Songhees is sort of nice to look at but almost nobody walks there. Why? Because it feels like a rich ghost town. There are no shops, no cafes (with a few very minor exceptions). There are no children. It is not a living neighbourhood, it is a vertical suburb.

Now, as for the ugly argument, that is very much in the eye of the beholder. There is ugly rich houses and attractive subsidized housing. Being one or the other doesn't really mean it will be attractive (in the long term, I am discounting NIMBYs who had any development).

#19 Phil McAvity

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 04:53 PM

The thing about Monday magazine is that it is so poorly written that it actually makes the Times-Colonist look good, and that's not easy to do. You know you are reading a shoddy rag when the first sentence isn't even finished and you are already shaking your head. "Come with me on an evening stroll through Condoria, an empty world of failed housing policies that is turning this city into an enclave of absentee haves and homeless have-nots." As the rest of you have covered the myriad half-truths, fallacies and misinformation in the article, i'll tackle the grammar. ".....failed housing policies that is turning this city...." Since the word "policies" is plural, the sentence should read;".....failed housing policies that ARE turning this city....." Keep in mind that the only writing course I have ever taken was in high school and I have never been paid for writing anything.

Tafler also says that there are people of all political stripes on City Council, but that's news to me. I'd love to find just one card-carrying member of the Conservative party in the group because I highly doubt there is one.

As an old buddy of mine said, "I would get Monday magazine if I had a bird, but otherwise it serves little use for me."

I also loved the irony in Aastra's comment about suggesting that Tafler is behind the times thus needing an introduction to the "1950's" promptly after using the vastly outdated expression, "good gravy". Holy **** Aastra! I mean, who says "good gravy" anymore?!?!?! :D

#20 Ms. B. Havin

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 07:58 PM

Tafler is a poseur of the first order, and that article is a ridiculous caricature, literally from start to finish.

I hope he reads this thread, ...although, judging by the hyperbole of his piece, it's no doubt too late to get through to him.
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