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With the minority Liberal government most likely to turn to the NDP for support, where does that leave federal housing and real estate promises?

Joannah Connolly Glacier Media Real Estate
October 22, 2019

trudeau Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. — Dan Toulgoet

This week’s federal election results may not be a huge surprise, but it will certainly be a challenge for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to manage a minority government.

It seems most likely that the federal Liberal Party will turn to the NDP for support, given that their values align most closely (it’s also what most Canadians want, according to exit polls). Most crucially, the Liberals’ 157 seats plus the NDP’s 24 seats totals 181 votes, which is above the 170 needed for a majority vote to pass legislation and means the Liberals don't have to rely on working with any other party.

So, assuming that we see an NDP-supported Liberal minority government leading the country, what can we expect from the housing- and real-estate-related promises made during the two parties’ election campaigns?

With the Liberals in charge (mostly), one of the first orders of business is likely to be their promised increase in the qualifying purchase price for the recently launched First-Time Home Buyer Incentive (FTHBI) to nearly $800,000 in expensive areas such as Vancouver and Toronto.

In exchange for support on this, the NDP may hope to drive through their hoped-for policy to reintroduce 30-year amortization periods on insured mortgages for first-time buyers. But, as this was also a Conservative Party promise, and a move that the Liberal Party previously dismissed, the Liberals may well wish to push back on that. Considering that the increase in the FTHBI purchase price will be a major financial boost to many young Canadians, it may also be deemed unnecessary. The NDP may instead choose to push for their modest promise to double the Home Buyers’ Tax Credit to $1,500.

However, the two parties align, at least partially, in two key sections of the housing file. The first is the promise of more purpose-built affordable rental housing, which the NDP caucus will hope includes their pledge of an additional $5 billion fund to help build 500,000 affordable units over 10 years. (That said, Vancouver Courier columnist Michael Geller feels sure that $5 billion fund  is not going to happen.)

The second crossover platform is a national foreign homeownership tax of some sort. From the Liberal side, the plan is to create a national, annual property tax on vacant residential properties owned by non-Canadians who don’t live in Canada — a bit like a national extension of B.C.’s speculation and vacancy tax. From the NDP side, it is for a national foreign buyer’s tax, applied one time only on the purchase of Canadian home by a non-resident foreign national.

You might think that the new minority government will pick one of the above and run with it. But B.C.’s major metropolitan areas have both, and the GTA already has a foreign buyer tax, so the minority government may well figure why not both across the entire country?

If that comes to pass, it could dampen overall foreign investment in Canadian real estate, by removing currently tax-free alternative investment destinations such as Montréal. Thus, it could ultimately suppress the recent, modest national real estate market recovery, or at least limit growth. Which may, of course, be an intended consequence.

In general, first-time home buyers should benefit, both from a housing market that has seen some price correction and from the increased FTHBI purchase price threshold in the priciest areas. That said, with the Conservative hope of easing the mortgage stress test for first-time buyers now out of the window, it may not be enough. And whether it will be enough to will stimulate activity and ultimately lead to a gentle market upswing (particularly in Metro Vancouver) remains to be seen.

What seems likely is that for the many who can’t possibly afford even close to $800K, home ownership will remain out of reach. Let’s hope a lot of those promised affordable housing units get built, and soon.

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Many Canadians spend as much as half of their incomes on rent

by Ephraim Vecina23 Oct 2019

Around 800,000 households across Canada set aside more than 50% of their incomes on rental fees, a recent analysis by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association has found.

Overspending has increasingly become a feature in the Canadian housing market rather than a bug, with the advent of easy credit. Approximately 1.8 million households nationwide are also dedicating more than 30% of their incomes on housing expenses.

“Paying too much for rent has become the new normal,” association CEO Jill Atkey said in an interview with Global News. “That takes a real toll on health, on time and quality of life.”

Additional data from the Credit Counselling Society indicated that this spending is a major driver of anxiety, especially considering the pressures of inflation and rising costs of living.

One out of three Canadians admitted that their debt loads have increased since last year, and that they are spending more than their net income. Fully 43% are forced to live paycheque to paycheque, while 83% indicated anxiety over growing daily living costs.

“Canadians continue to rely on their credit cards or lines of credit to supplement costs of living,” CCS president Scott Hannah said. “If the economy continues to slow amidst trade tensions and other factors, Canadians need to prepare now for a potential recession in the future.”

During Q2 2019, Canada’s average household debt ratio dropped to 177.1% of disposable income, slightly lower than the previous quarter’s reading of 177.6%. Canadians are also shouldering a debt load of an average of $30,000 each – far above the $12,000 level just 20 years ago.

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Vancouver approves new housing grant for city's renters

by Steve Randall23 Oct 2019

A new program to help housing affordability for Vancouver renters has been approved by the city council.

It will award $25 million in grants to non-profit housing providers between 2019 and 2022, which will increase the affordability of social and co-op housing projects.

The Community Housing Incentive Program will be funded by revenue from the Empty Homes Tax and the City’s capital budget. It replaces the Housing Infrastructure Grant Program.

Between 2015 and 2018, the Housing Infrastructure Grant Program supported 10 projects, with $10.8 million in grants that enabled the delivery of 780 non-market homes.

In consultation with non-market housing providers, staff revised the existing program to target a higher funding contribution from the City, increasing the number of homes that rent at shelter rate and Housing Income Limits (HILs) through new projects and redevelopment.

The grants will be open for applications later this year, with more information coming soon regarding how the new process will work.

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Being paid millions of dollars a year for a vacant site and locking up prime development land with no money down reveal a savvy side to Indigenous land transactions in Metro Vancouver

WI Staff Western Investor
October 17, 2019

First Nations Point Grey Three First Nations jointly own 90 acres of development land in Vancouver’s prestigious Point Grey neighbourhood. | Vancouver Courier

There is no doubt that B.C. Indigenous people lost out in a big way when their land was being appropriated by the first European settlers. But it seems today’s First Nations are masters of real estate negotiation, at least in Metro Vancouver, where they now hold some of the most prized residential and commercial land in the region and are being paid millions of dollars annually for a vacant waterfront site.

In Vancouver, the Musqueam Indian Band, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the Squamish Nation formed a development arm, MST Development Corp., after the trio purchased two parcels comprising more than 90 acres in Vancouver’s tony Point Grey neighbourhood from the federal and provincial governments. 

In 2014, the bands partnered with Canada Lands Co. (CLC), a federal Crown corporation, to buy 52 acres of the Jericho Lands for $237 million. Two years later, the three nations paid $480 million for 38.8 acres, the remainder of the lands. The province provided the down payment for this transaction, worth in excess of $96 million.

At that time, Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell told band members that, under the deal, the three nations would put up no cash. He said a seven-year vendor take-back mortgage arrangement with the provincial government would mean the accommodation payment would total roughly 30 per cent of the $480 million purchase price.

Currently, the MST partnership owns or controls about 160 acres of developable land in Metro Vancouver. As well as the Jericho site, this includes the Marine Drive lands in West Vancouver and the 21-acre Heather Street lands in Vancouver, which is co-owned with CLC. In a co-ownership with the Aquilini Investment Group, MST also holds a former liquor distribution branch site in East Vancouver and the 40-acre Willingdon Lands in Burnaby, both bought from the provincial government.

The Jericho Lands are the prize property and MST Development, CLC and the City of Vancouver held public open houses in Vancouver in March to discuss plans for the site.

So far, details are vague, but the open house was the start of a roughly two-year process that will produce a policy statement dealing with a range of issues including height, density, design, transportation and reconciliation. As Jericho is jointly owned by the MST and CLC, this policy statement will need approval from Vancouver City Council.

Unique to developers in B.C., First Nations have the final say on what is built on their land.

“The Squamish Nation would not be required to apply to the city to redevelop this area. The city does not have regulatory authority over First Nations development proposals on their lands but we do co-ordinate with them extensively,” said Ellise Lambert, communications manager for the City of Vancouver.

“Jericho Lands is a good example of where we have been collaborating closely.”

Perhaps more controversial is a plan from the Squamish Nation to develop up to 3,000 residential units on an 11-acre site it owns at at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver.

Waterfront lease

Meanwhile, a legal fight is on between the Squamish Nation and the federal government over lease payments in a deal signed 45 years ago, which sees the government paying around $13 million in rent every year for a piece of vacant land on the West Vancouver waterfront.

The Squamish Nation filed a petition in BC Supreme Court against the attorney general of Canada in August, after Canada and the First Nation disagreed on how much rent should be paid for the land.

Squamish Nation LandFor 45 years the federal government has been paying about $13 million a year to the Squamish Nation for a vacant parcel of land. | Government of Canada

According to court documents, the Squamish Nation wants the annual lease payments from the government set at $29.5 million a year for the next five years. 

The federal government has said it should be required to pay only $11 million annually.

The legal fight concerns a 71-year lease signed by the federal government in 1974 for 55 acres of the Squamish Nation’s Capilano Reserve on the West Vancouver waterfront. The federal government has continued to pay rent on the land at about $13 million annually, but has never used it.

According to the legal documents filed by the Squamish, Ottawa will continue to pay the annual rent at the previous rate set for 2014 to 2019, “a difference of over $16 million per year.”

In an emailed statement to the North Shore News, Environment Canada declined to comment further

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Immigrants, workers and refugees are investing in their new Canadian lives and having a significant effect on real estate demand in Western provinces, finds Royal LePage

WI Staff Western Investor
October 17, 2019

vancouver-house-sale-sign-sold-chung-chow Photo by Chung Chow

Newcomers to Canada are moving the dial on residential real estate demand, with one in every five Canadian homes purchased by a buyer who arrived in the past 10 years, according to a survey by national real estate brokerage Royal LePage.

The study of 1,500 newcomers to Canada, all of whom arrived in the past decade, included immigrants, refugees, those on working visas and international students.

"In addition to supporting Canada's economic growth, newcomers to Canada are vital to the health of our national real estate market," said Phil Soper, president and CEO, Royal LePage. "The combined demand for affordable housing among younger Canadians and new Canadians can be met through housing policies that encourage smart and sustainable development, with a focus on protecting and developing green spaces in our urban centres. Canada's economy and labour markets are expanding and it is crucial that housing supply keeps pace."

Eighty-six per cent of Canadian newcomers said they see real estate as a good investment and 75 per cent arrive with savings to help purchase a property. The study showed that of the newcomers that purchased a home, the average time was three years after arriving in Canada.

“It is not surprising that newcomers see a home in Canada as a good investment. Having lived abroad myself, I have seen first-hand the challenges of relocating a family to a new world. It takes courage and commitment. Newcomers are doing more than investing in Canadian real estate, they are investing in their family's future,” added Soper.

Royal LePage said in its report, “Despite the desire to purchase a home, the homeownership rate of newcomers is only 32 per cent. The overall homeownership rate for all Canadians is 68 per cent. Of those who purchase a home, 51 per cent of newcomers buy a detached house, 18 per cent buy a condominium, 15 per cent buy a townhouse and 13 per cent buy a semi-detached house.”

If the current international migration level is maintained, Canadian newcomers are expected to purchase 680,000 homes over the next five years, said Royal LePage.


Royal LePage reported, “Alberta newcomers have a significantly high homeownership rate with 45 per cent owning their home. They are the most likely to believe that homeownership is a good financial investment (90 per cent). Newcomers represent 18 per cent of all home buyers in the province15 and they are projected to purchase 76,000 homes in the region over the next five years at the current rate of international migration.”

Corinne Lyall, broker and owner, Royal LePage Benchmark, said, “Alberta is particularly appealing to newcomers from all over the world, and already established Canadians who wish to migrate to the province. Calgary has a truly welcoming attitude. It is a relatively young city so the majority of the population was not born here. There is a lot of support for newcomers, along with a real sense of community and love for the area."

The brokerage reported that, upon arriving in Canada, 19 per cent of Alberta newcomers own their first place of residence, 55 per cent rent, and 13 per cent live with family or friends.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba

The two Prairie provinces, like Alberta, attract eight per cent of Canada’s international migrants, and 41 per cent of newcomers purchase their home within 10 years. Upon arriving in the province, 62 per cent of newcomers rent their first home, 20 per cent purchase and 17 per cent live with family or friends.

“Affordability reigns in this region of Canada,” said Michael Froese, managing partner, Royal LePage Prime Real Estate. “Newcomers come to the Prairies because the region can offer a great lifestyle on an affordable budget. It’s particularly appealing for newcomers who arrive as a family or those looking to start a family.”

Royal LePage said, “Newcomers are projected to purchase 71,000 homes over the next five years at the current rate of international migration. Of those who purchase a home, the average duration prior to purchasing is three years.”

The brokerage added that, similar to the national average, most newcomers in the Prairies arrive as a family with children (32 per cent). Eighty-six per cent believe that homeownership is a good financial investment.

British Columbia

In British Columbia, the homeownership rate among newcomers was the same as the national figure, at 32 per cent, and the figure was the same for newcomers living in Greater Vancouver. But the proportion of newcomers to British Columbia having enough funds to help buy a home was higher than the national figure, at 89 per cent.

Royal LePage added, “Consumer confidence in the province's real estate market is healthy, as 85 per cent of respondents in British Columbia believe that homeownership is a good financial investment. Eighty-six per cent of newcomers in British Columbia remain in their first city or region of residence. Currently, newcomers represent 15 per cent of all home buyers in the province and they are projected to purchase 91,000 homes over the next five years at the current rate of international migration.”

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Millennial employees demand different (and more) amenities than previous generations, and landlords and employers are starting to offer them

Glen Korstrom Business in Vancouver
October 16, 2019

wendy-waters-gwl-credit-rob-kruyt Wendy Waters, GWL’s vice-president of research services and strategy, stands in a newly added bike-parking area at one of the office buildings her company manages. Photo by Rob Kruyt

Landlords and tenants are learning that to attract millennial-generation workers, they need to upgrade their workplaces to add amenities.

Workers between 24 and 39 years old tend to have different preferences than previous generations had, say landlords and business owners.

One stark difference is that members of this younger generation more frequently want their workplaces to have lounges or entranceway lobbies that can be a second workspace – a place where they can go to for a few hours to hold some casual meetings or to do some work on their laptop computers, say landlords and business owners, who are relying on surveys.

“We don’t necessarily understand how conversant millennials are with social media,” Rennie Marketing Systems owner Bob Rennie told Business in Vancouver.

“We react to statements completely differently than they do. They are very comfortable communicating on Instagram, while we’re still picking up the phone.”

Rennie said many of his 92 employees and 162 real estate brokers are relatively young, and that he recently hired a new head of human resources in part to ensure that his workplace is meeting staff desires.

Rennie recently ripped out some walls on the ground floor of his 51 East Pender Street office to create what he calls “the park.”

The inside space has picnic tables and a large open area, with eight breakout areas. A pastry chef is at the site every day between 7am and 2pm to make cookies and croissants as well as coffee for workers who want to hang out on the ground level, Rennie said.

Interactiveness and sociability

Having such spaces on the ground floors of office buildings is something that Hudson Pacific Properties CEO, president and chairman Victor Coleman agreed is increasingly a priority.

“Millennials are looking for interactiveness – so interactive lobbies, great Wi-Fi systems, service in the lobbies, some place to gather beyond their own floors, their own spaces,” he told BIV.

Hudson Pacific owns buildings in Los Angeles, San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver.

The Los Angeles-based company and a private equity fund managed by a subsidiary of New York City-based Blackstone Group Inc. bought the four-tower Bentall Centre in Vancouver earlier this year from Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group Co. Ltd. in a transaction announced in March.

The sale price was not disclosed but Anbang reportedly bought the complex for $1.06 billion in 2016, the largest real estate transaction in Vancouver’s history.

Hudson Pacific owns a 20 per cent stake and is the operational manager of the site.

Coleman said his company plans to significantly upgrade and expand Bentall Centre and that lobbies will be transformed in part to appeal to millennials.

“You’re going to have some gathering areas where you can sit, plug and play,” he said. “You can get your work done and you’re not interfering with people coming and going. We’re going to be taking some useless space, typically, and making it an active space.

“You’ll know that you can walk out of your office and go to the lobby and you can camp out there for a couple hours and get things done and have some amenities circling around that.”

That means food kiosks, charging stations and 5G Wi-Fi, he said.

What the workers want

Similar things are happening at buildings that GWL Realty Advisors manages.

GWL recently surveyed 573 workers in three office buildings that it manages in Vancouver and asked staff what amenities they wanted that their buildings did not already have.

The response:

• 29 per cent wanted a sit-down restaurant or café (among those aged 18 to 34, this preference rose to 33 per cent);

• 28 per cent wanted access to a convenience store;

• 22 per cent wanted an outdoor seating area; and

• 21 per cent wanted a lounge where employees could mingle and socialize (among those aged 18 to 34, preference for this amenity rose to 29 per cent).

“At Robson Court, we’ve added [as a ground-floor tenant] Smak, which is a gluten-free, quick-service restaurant, and a poké restaurant, so there are two fairly healthy choices that are right there,” said Wendy Waters, GWL’s vice-president of research services and strategy.


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Cost to landlords with tenants will remain the same, but homeowners with unrented suites will save money

Kelvin Gawley Burnaby Now
October 15, 2019

house4.jpg A rental basement suite. — Rebecca Blissett/Files

The City of Burnaby is sending declaration forms to local homeowners to determine who needs to buy a $570 business licence to rent out their property. 

Starting next year, all landlords who rent out a detached home or duplex in Burnaby will have to purchase the annual house rental business licence. They will also have to pay a one-time $50 application fee. 

All owners will be required to fill out the declaration by November 30 – or face a $1,000 fee. 

The new system replaces annual sewer and water surcharges totalling $569 that were previously charged to homeowners with secondary suites, regardless of whether they rented it out. 

Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley has said the extra utility fee was a "stove tax" (for the way it was applied) and said it was unfair to homeowners who have secondary suites but lack a rental income, particularly if those suites are occupied by family members.

The city sent out similar declaration forms earlier this year and later refunded the utility surcharge to more than 1,900 homeowners who said they did not charge rent on their secondary suites. 

The new business licence will be required for all homeowners who intend to rent out all or part of their home for any amount of time in 2020, whether or not the owner lives there. 

“Previously, homeowners who rented out their home when not living on the premises avoided paying supplementary utility fees, while homeowners who rented out a suite were subject to an additional charge. This change now ensures equity in the treatment of these two groups,” stated a City of Burnaby press release.

If a homeowner declares she or he doesn’t intend to rent out their suite next year, but then changes plans, they will be required to tell the city and pay the $570 fee, according to a city staff report. 

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Residential resale activity “built on momentum from the summer” with transactions up 24 per cent year over year and average prices on the rise

Joannah Connolly Glacier Media Real Estate
October 15, 2019

BCREA home sales September 2019 Source: BCREA Economics

Although residential real estate is seeing a stronger resurgence of activity in Greater Vancouver, the sales uptick is being seen throughout the province, according to the latest monthly data from the B.C. Real Estate Association (BCREA).

There were 6,938 home sales on the MLS across B.C. in September, the BCREA reported October 15, which is an increase of 24 per cent compared with September 2018.

The average home sale price in September was also higher than one year previously, up 2.1 per cent to $697,943, which is 1.8 per cent higher than in August.

However, this doesn’t mean a return to the overheated housing markets of 2016, according to the BCREA.

“Markets across BC built on momentum from the summer,” said Brendon Ogmundson, BCREA’s chief economist. “While the year-over-year increase in provincial sales was quite strong, home sales in most areas are simply returning to historically average levels.” (See graph above.)

The BCREA said in its report that “overall market conditions remained in a balanced range, with a sales-to-active-listings ratio of about 18 per cent.”

Only two of the 12 individual real estate boards across the province failed to record higher sales in September than one year previously. These were the small market of Powell River, where sale and price percentage changes fluctuate greatly each month, and Vancouver Island, which saw 5.1 per cent fewer sales on an annual basis.

Vancouver Island was also one of four boards to record a lower average home sale price than a year ago — down three per cent. The others to see lower average sale prices in September were Greater Vancouver (-5.9 per cent), Victoria (-6 per cent) and Powell River (-0.3 per cent).

In larger markets, an increase in sales coupled with a decline in average sale price could mean that there are increasing numbers of sales at the lower to mid end of the market — perhaps as buyers take advantage of improved affordability and cheaper mortgage rates. A larger number of lower-priced homes being sold will pull down the average sale price; it does not necessarily mean home prices are declining in those markets, although this could also be true.

Even though the province’s sales and price activity over July through September has been relatively strong compared with the previous year, it was not enough to offset the slow sales of the 2019’s first half and it is certainly possible that 2019 will finish behind even the weak showing of 2018.

Year-to-date, January through September, B.C. residential sales dollar volume was down 12.4 per cent to $39.7 billion, compared with the same period in 2018. Total home sales were 8.9 per cent lower at 57,773 units, and the average MLS resale price across the period was down 3.9 per cent year-to-date at $687,530.nits, and the average MLS resale price across the period was down 3.9 per cent year-to-date at $687,530.

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 “Despite headwinds” in housing, PwC forecasts strong commercial sector combined with likely residential recovery makes Vancouver the hottest market to watch
Staff Western Investor
September 20, 2019

Vancouver — Dan Toulgoet

Vancouver has been ranked Canada’s #1 market for real estate investment in 2020, in the annual PwC Canada Emerging Trends in Real Estate report, released this week.

In the “Markets to Watch in 2020” section, the report authors said that “despite some headwinds, Vancouver re-emerged at the top of our survey this year for overall real estate prospects.”

The report observed that Vancouver’s office and industrial sectors were both doing “particularly well” with very low vacancy rates and robust development.

It continued, “Looking at the housing market, the long-term trends remain favourable. Recent softness is largely a reflection of a correction from an overheated environment and policies that have caused investors, whether foreign or domestic buyers, to exit the market.”

PwC’s report added, “The [Vancouver housing] market rise was too strong, and now it is reacting to that. However, by the time it is done, it will be in line with where a steady increase should have gotten us over the years… With a strong economy and population growth, Vancouver remains a desirable place to live that will eventually draw buyers back into the market. The question isn’t if, but when, they’ll come back.”

Toronto was ranked in the #2 spot, followed by Ottawa, Halifax and Montreal rounding out the top 5.

Of the Western Canadian and Prairie cities, Saskatoon came in sixth place, Edmonton eighth, Winnipeg ninth and Calgary 10th. The other Canadian city to make PwC’s top 10 was Quebec City in seventh spot.

Click here to see the online version and download the full report.

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by Neil Sharma 18 Sep 2019
How divorces affect mortgages

They say about half of all marriages end in divorce—whatever the figure, complications arise when it comes to dividing assets like homes, and determining who keeps making mortgage payments.

“It’s a commercial transaction irrelevant to marital status,” said Nathalie Boutet of Boutet Family Law & Mediation. “If one person moves out and the other stays in the house, they still have an obligation to pay the mortgage to the bank, so the sooner the separating spouses make an arrangement the better because it could impact credit rating.”

According to Statistics Canada, there were roughly 2.64 million divorced people living in Canada last year—a figure brokers may not find surprising. While divorcing couples often fight over their marital home as an asset, the gamut of considerations is in fact more onerous.

“With the stress test, it’s a lot harder,” said Nick Kyprianou, president and CEO of RiverRock Mortgage Investment Corporation. “The challenge is qualifying again with a single salary. The stress test adds a whole other level of complexity to the servicing.”

Additional complexities include a new appraisal, application, and discharge fees.

“If you have a five-year mortgage and you’re only two years into it, there will be some penalties,” said Kyprianou. “Then there’s a situation of whether or not the person will qualify as a single person for a new mortgage.”

As an equity lender, RiverRock has welcomed into the fold its fair share of borrowers whose previous institutional lender wouldn’t allow one of the spouses to come off title because they were qualified together.

If one spouse is the mortgage holder and the other is not, Boutet explains how the law would mediate.

“Let’s say she owns the house and he moves in and pays her something she would put towards the mortgage but it’s still below market rent, she’s effectively giving him a break,” she said. “Would part of his rent go towards a little equity in the house because he helps pay the mortgage? Or is he ahead of the game because he pays less than he would to rent an apartment? What they have decided in this case is that a percentage of his payment will be given back to him as compensation for helping her out with her mortgage and he will never go on title.”

Boutet recommends that cohabitating couples, one of whom being a mortgage holder, should have frank discussions at the outset about where the rent payments go.

“Sometimes the person who pays rent has a false understanding of paying the mortgage. They have a misunderstanding of what that money is going towards.”

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by Ephraim Vecina18 Sep 2019

New foreigner-targeted taxes proposed by the Liberal party will not likely help the housing market, industry observers warned.

Barclays Capital analyst John Aiken stated that any such levy will be just an “incremental factor” that will reduce demand only slightly.

“Realistically, the inelasticity in demand that these type of buyers have, I’m not sure if this is going to have an overly material impact on pricing or the housing market,” Aiken told the Financial Post.

The remarks came in the wake of a new campaign promise by the Liberal party, which vowed that it will “address the impact of foreign speculation, which drives up housing costs” upon re-election.

A 1% speculation and vacancy tax will be slapped on residential properties with “non-resident, non-Canadian” owners – on top of already existing levies in markets like Ontario and British Columbia, where a 2% foreign ownership tax is in place.

Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter cautioned that the proposal will likely not prevent the national housing market’s return to its previous red-hot state.

“I don’t rule out that it could have an impact on cities other than Vancouver and Toronto, but I think they’re much less influenced by non-resident purchases,” Porter said. “And what’s driven the housing market has largely been healthy job gains, strong population growth and, yes, a pullback in long-term mortgage rates this year.”

However, Porter added that any such measure will be a powerful message to unscrupulous wealthy foreigners taking advantage of current conditions.

“In a world where, especially in the big cities, housing affordability is such an issue, I don’t really think we can afford to allow any forms of speculation, especially from outside of the country, to be influencing the market.”

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by Neil Sharma18 Sep 2019

As the cost of living soars, more couples are cohabitating, even getting married sooner. But, as Statistics Canada showed, there were 2.64 million divorced people living in Canada last year, and when you throw a family gift into the mix, things get hairy.

“Family gifts are a very complicated area of the law and there are two different ways of looking at it,” said Nathalie Boutet of Boutet Family Law & Mediation. “A gift received before marriage is treated as a pre-marriage asset. There’s a huge exception if that gift is the matrimonial home.”

In other words, pre-marital exclusions don’t apply to matrimonial homes—the reason for which is to rectify a historical transgression that saw women spend most of their time in the matrimonial home but have their name excluded from title, effectively leaving them no recourse upon divorce. 

“Parents who want to give money to their child need to understand before marriage that if it goes into a matrimonial home, they end up sharing that with their spouse if there’s a separation,” said Boutet. “If the parents have a condo and they give it to their child who gets married, that becomes equal sharing with the spouse. A parent should understand that first and have a conversation with their child. Sometimes when a person owns a house, they ask the person to sign a marriage agreement as a way to get themselves out of that mess should it ever occur.”

Even if parents retain ownership of a home wherein a child who gets married lives, their spouse is entitled to it because the law recognizes it as equal sharing. Boutet recommends that in-laws-to-be have the dreaded conversation about signing an agreement that will protect them from relinquishing their asset in the even their child gets divorced.

“I often get called in when parents still own a home and let someone go live in it,” said Boutet. “Sometimes, for planning, have them sign a prenup, or a cohabitation agreement if they’re not going to get married. At the time they begin living together, sign the agreement in case they separate.”

Another interesting scenario divorced couples and their in-laws sometimes find themselves in pertains to cottage ownership. What happens if the couple is married for a period of time during which the cottage was renovated with contributions from the outgoing spouse?

“I have a case right now where the parents own a cottage and the family has been using it for upwards of 30 years, but their child is getting divorced and his wife wants to know what her rights are to recoup renovations,” said Boutet. “The husband’s parents had been very well-advised by their own lawyers and, because they paid for all the materials, the wife could not pinpoint any specific expense she paid out of her own pocket. It was determined that she had done a little here and there, and it offsets the cost of free accommodations she’s had over all the years—she didn’t pay for the land, heating, repairs, things of that nature. So she was entitled to nothing.”

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by Steve Randall11 Sep 2019

Ensuring that every Canadian has a home they can afford is the aim of governments at levels and new research shows that the benefits of this stretch beyond the obvious.

The BC government says that the reports show that its approach to tackling homelessness is the right one.

Through the Building BC: Rapid Response to Homelessness program, the Province is investing $291 million to build over 2,000 homes throughout B.C. and more than $170 million over three years for 24/7 staffing and support services.

The reports led by BC Housing show that in a study of those accessing supportive housing, including many of the province’s most vulnerable and those who have been without stable housing for many years:

  • 94% of residents remain housed in their units after six months;
  • 84% of residents report improvements in overall well-being;
  • 82% of residents report experiencing positive interactions with neighbours;
  • 56% of residents report improvement in their physical health;
  • 44% of residents report they had been admitted to hospital less often;
  • 44% of residents report improvements to their mental health; and
  • 39% of residents report improvements to their addiction issues.

“These outcomes demonstrate the remarkable impact that having a home has for a person,” said Kennedy Stewart, mayor of Vancouver. “Temporary modular housing has provided immediate relief for hundreds of people experiencing homelessness across our city, who now have a safe, warm place to sleep. We’re grateful for our partnerships with BC Housing and the non-profit organizations who manage each building. These life-changing homes are only made possible through working together.”

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CMHC designates Vancouver market ‘moderately vulnerable’

by Neil Sharma12 Aug 2019

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has reduced Vancouver’s real estate market to moderately vulnerable from “highly vulnerable,” a designation it carried for three years.

The reduction is largely due to a sales pace that’s nowhere near as fervent as it had been before new mortgage rules were introduced in January 2018. Additionally, CMHC is not as worried anymore about price escalation in the city, reducing its concern from “moderate” to “low.”

According to CMHC, rapid price escalation occurs when there’s sustained speculative activity in the market. The government agency considers overvaluation the result of prices levels that aren’t congruent with local employment and wage gains.

Still, CMHC considers overvaluation to be moderate in Vancouver.

“When they talk about prices and affordability, it’s still very much in their red zone,” said Turcotte. “The reason the designation had to do with the slowing pace of sales and the slight reduction of pricing, but the latter alone wouldn’t have done it. It’s not an overheated marketplace where demand exceeds supply, which drives prices up at unprecedented levels. If we look at prices relative to local incomes, they’re still unaffordable and there’s no question we have to recognize we’re not only a local economy: we have global appeal with growth of high-income immigration. The strong demand here will, from a global interest perspective, keep prices high.”

The sales cycle is also rebounding in the city. July sales figures released by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver show a 23.5% year-over-year increase, for a total of 2,557 sales, outdoing last year’s 2,070. It also marked a 23.1% increase over the 2,077 home sales recorded in June 2019.

And while sales in July were 7.8% below the 10-year average for the month, Turcotte reminds the previous decade has been an aberration.

“The 10-year averaged a number we will always struggle to meet because those were unprecedented 10 years,” he said. “I think the whole dynamic of the marketplace has changed in Vancouver, and what it shows us is that with ‘normal’ buying activity we see prices hold.”

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This will be the first time the city has created a city-wide plan since the 1920s

Naoibh O’Connor Vancouver Courier
July 17, 2019
vancouver The development of the city-wide plan is expected to cost almost $18 million for the years 2019 to 2022 and involve a staff team of 30 to 35. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The City of Vancouver will launch the first step in developing a city-wide plan this fall — the "listening" phase — after council approved on July 16 the budget and process for the multi-year project.

Its development is expected to cost almost $18 million for the years 2019 to 2022 and involve a staff team of 30 to 35. It will be the first time the city has created a city-wide plan since the 1920s.

Goals of the new plan include addressing a wide range of issues, including reconciliation, housing, affordability, the economy, climate change and public amenities. Existing rezoning policies will remain in effect during the process unless council opts to update or change them based on new directions that evolve.

While describing the process as "an unknown journey," Mayor Kennedy Stewart also said, "It's really exciting" and Vancouver is ready for it.

NPA Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung called it a "huge opportunity tp bring people together," while acknowledging there is a lot of uncertainty and divisions in the city.

"A lot of that comes down to when people are dealing with really core issues that affect them fundamentally, like affordability or things that are happening in their neighrbourhood and there is a pace of change, that creates discomfort for people," she said.

"I know people want to get to a place where there is more understanding and certainty in what will be happening in their neighbourhoods. I really, truely hope and believe this is the vehicle to get there."

Green Party Coun. Pete Fry was equally optimistic.

"This is just the beginning of this plan and we are actually embarking on a great journey," he said.

Other councillors, including OneCity's Christine Boyle, said they hope the city-wide plan will help council rebuild trust with residents.

"I'm particularly really excited about the depth of Reconciliation that is embedded in how how we're going about this report, as well as the committment to engaging folks who we know face a lot of sytemic barriers to participation," Boyle added.

But cracks in support for the city-wide plan have already appeared. To launch it, councillors voted on several clauses, one by one, that made up the overall motion. COPE Coun. Jean Swanson voted against several, while NPA Coun. Colleen Hardwick voted against all of them.

Swanson said she was "torn" about the city-wide plan. While her party supports it, and she sees value in creating a plan that deals with housing affordability, homelessness, how to get affordable transit, and climate change, she questioned whether a city-wide plan will "get us there." She also questioned the cost.

"What really disturbs me is this plan so far ignores the last part of the council motion to report back on how to prevent renoviction, demoviction and gentrification," she added.

Swanson said she doesn't know what the plan will achieve other than it's "$20 million for this big mystery everyone is so hopeful about."

"I've been burnt by a couple of plans so I'm skeptical about it," she said.

Hardwick, whose election campaign endorsed a city-wide plan, is unhappy about the way it's coming together.

She tried to introduce an amendment, which included points such as:

  • ensuring traditional neighbourhood boundaries are used,
  • putting planning programs like the Broadway Plan on hold and integrating them into the larger city-wide planning process,
  • putting the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program and the Rental 100 program on hold, and
  • specifically including neighbourhood residents association as stakeholders.

There was no seconder, so the amendment failed. Hardwick characterized her reaction was one of "deep disappointment."

"I've been pushing and ran on a city-wide plan. It's been a passion of mine for years and I am deeply afraid that it's headed in the wrong direction and that's a hard thing for me to say having worked as long as have, and as hard as I have, for this," she said before the vote.

"I wish it were otherwise and hope springs eternal. But I think that we have to really be listening to the people and not come in with a prescriptive framework and then shoe-horn people's opinions into it, which is kind of what I've been seeing."

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From B.C.’s capital to the Pacific Rim, rebooted and new real estate projects define a changing Vancouver Island

Frank O'Brien Western Investor
July 17, 2019
nanaimo-aerial-supplied-cbre-victoria Nanaimo's tax incentives and population growth are credited for record-setting building permits this year. Image supplied by CBRE Victoria

Victoria is facing big-city problems – and potential – as an industrial land shortage and white-hot demand for office and retail space characterize B.C.’s capital city, the province’s strongest commercial real estate market outside of the Lower Mainland.

Up island, Nanaimo is setting records for building permits, while giant mothballed projects from Colwood to Comox and Ucluelet are shaking off the dust and putting stakes in the ground.

It is all related to population growth in one of the fastest-growing regions in Canada, with the population of the central Island alone forecast to surpass half a million people within the next 10 years, from 460,000 today, according to BC Statistics. Construction is now the Island’s second-largest employer, said Woody Hayes, former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of BC, who helped compile a recent check-up on the Island’s economy.

In downtown Victoria, the office vacancy rate began the year at 6.4 per cent, down from 7.2 per cent a year earlier, according to CBRE, and it could drop to below 6 per cent this year, despite the addition of 280,000 square feet of new space in 2018.

“The main drivers for the office market in Greater Victoria remain the technology and government sectors,” said Elyse Norgaard Kituri, chair of the Victoria chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association of BC. “There’s a particular demand from government for Class A office space.”

A major addition to the office scene is the Merchant House Capital makeover of the former Times Colonist building on Douglas Street, which is being transformed into 120,000 square feet of office space and about 10,000 square-feet of retail, including a brewpub, as the Victoria Press Building.

The Times Colonist has taken 15,000 square feet in the complex. A private college has also leased space in a landmark project that will complete in a year, said Nathaniel Simpson, leasing agent with CBRE Victoria, Greater Victoria’s vacancy rate for industrial properties is at a 10-year low of 1.7 per cent as the region faces a “critical undersupply” of industrial-zoned land, said a report from Colliers International.

Russ Marshall, senior vice-president with CBRE Victoria, said Greater Victoria is attracting investors and developers from the Lower Mainland searching for higher yields.

In the West Shore community of Colwood, Vancouver-based Onni is well into construction of Colwood Corners, a mixed-use development the company rescued from default five years ago. Scheduled to complete in 2021, the development will include 152,000 square feet of commercial space and, eventually, more than 450 homes.

Onni is also behind the resurrection of a 360-acre mixed-use, residential-heavy waterfront development at Ucluelet on the Island’s West Coast, where Onni purchased the bankrupt Wyndansea project in 2015.

In the Comox Valley, the former Kensington Island Properties development, which shut down nearly a decade ago, has been revised as Union Bay Estates, which could become the largest Island real estate development north of Victoria. Plans call for more than 2,900 homes on the 349-acre site, in a number of phases.

But while land clearing is visible on the property, no infrastructure has been put in place, according to Jennifer Steel, manager of corporate communications for the Comox Valley Regional District, which provided an updated master development agreement for the project two years ago.

The agreement details community amenities that the developer will provide as well as the installation of infrastructure to ensure road, water and sewer servicing are available to the lands.

Attempts to reach the Union Bay developer were unsuccessful.

Nanaimo boom

There is no such ambiguity in Nanaimo, where a record-setting construction pace is well underway in the Island’s second-largest city.

As of the end of June, Nanaimo’s building permit values had already hit $300 million. That is compared to $216 million in all of 2018, according to Arit Manhas, Nanaimo’s economic development officer.

While 75 per cent of the new construction is residential, Manhas noted that three new hotels are also underway, including a $22 million, 172-room Four Points by Sheraton being built next to city’s conference centre.

Other non-residential projects include a $12 million private medical office complex and “skyrocketing” construction at the Nanaimo Airport, led by a $15 million expansion project.

Meanwhile the Port of Nanaimo is starting a $34 million upgrade that will increase marina capacity by over 50 per cent.

Current Nanaimo housing projects total nearly 700 of units. Much of the work is downtown, where the city provides a 10-year property tax exemption for eligible residential and commercial projects.

The number of permits could increase dramatically when development starts on One Terminal Avenue, a high-density, mixed-use, 7.16-acre waterfront site in downtown Nanaimo, now accepting developer bids expected to top $20 million range.

Average home prices in Nanaimo are in the $565,000 range, about half that of Metro Vancouver.

Hayes, who worked with the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia on a 2019 study of the Island’s economy, is not surprised that residential, tourism and service-related projects dominate Island development.

Vancouver Island’s former industries, like forestry, have “imploded” and manufacturing has never been as important as government and the service sector, Hayes noted. “The Island economy is now based on an influx of people from across Canada, including from Metro Vancouver,” he said.

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