Alternative Proposals

City Land Key To Funding Housing Alternatives

The No Tower Coalition has already proposed one alternative to the Boffo/Kettle towers (see here and here).  While we have had lots of positive community response to our alternative, we have had only minimal positive response from the press (with the exception of Carlito Pablo in the Straight).

Further, we have had no response so far from City Hall. It seems that city staff have been involved in discussing the Boffo/Kettle proposal for over 5 years. That’s a lot of staff time and effort put into only this one possibility! However, we think it’s reasonable to ask them to put just a little bit of time and effort into considering, sincerely, our alternative.

More than that, we notice that with other social housing projects built recently in Vancouver, the principles and assumptions that guide our alternative are already in use. Two examples, are the Sanford/Kettle building at 1700 Kingsway and the Burn Fund Building at 3891 Main St.

1700 Kingsway – Sanford Housing with Kettle Friendship Society

Built through the Community Housing Land Trust Foundation, it is one of four sites being developed as part of the City’s affordable housing initiative. The Land Trust Foundation has been granted a 99-year lease at 1700 Kingsway. This single site is connected to 3 other sites (The Fraserview Co-op (2 sites) and Tikva Housing Society (1 site) both on East Kent Ave South), all of which together produce enough revenue to generate multiple affordable housing units:

  • The Fraserview Co-op (278 units) has housing close to market rates, providing revenue to the other sites;.
  • The 48 units at 1700 Kingsway will be rented at below market rates and divided between clients of Sanford Housing and the Kettle;
  • The Tikva Housing Society will operate 32 townhouses for low-income families;.
  • Further, the retail lease at 1700 Kingsway will be sold as a prepaid lease, providing additional revenue to all four sites.

Compare the ratio there to the proposed Boffo/Kettle ratio at Venables and Commercial:

  • 278 Co-op units at close to market rates and 80 units at below market rates, including some that will be large enough to accommodate families. Co-op units require a share price, but this is generally much less than a down payment and therefore tend to be accessible to a broader range of people.
  • In the Boffo/Kettle scenario, we get 200 condos and 30 studio-size below market rate units plus program and office space. Not only is the ratio of market to non-market units worse, all of those condos will be sold at new build retail rates, some with premium pricing as a result of fantastic unobstructed views of the North Shore mountains. An overall much less accessible and inclusive project.

Don’t believe us? Check it out for yourself at the Land Trusts website, or see the Vancouver Community Land Trust Foundation_1700 Kingsway pdf.

1700_Kingsway-a

Two views of 1700 Kingsway

Two views of 1700 Kingsway

 

3891 Main St – Burn Fund Building

This site was originally purchased by the City of Vancouver to be used as the new Little Mountain Neighbourhood House. When the City realized it was too small to work for that purpose, they agreed to enter into a 60-year low-cost lease with the Burn Fund. The Burn Fund project has only 8 residential units, but has a large programming and administrative space, similar to that being requested by the Kettle. The total cost for this project is estimated at $15 million.

The City of Vancouver estimated that through the lease agreement the City is providing $1.5 million in capital costs to the project. The Burn Fund did their own fundraising, but also secured $4 million in capital costs from the Provincial government (half from each of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Housing and Social Development). Finally, a retail lease for the ground floor space (3135 sq ft) added revenue of $38 psf or $119,130 annually. The building has been built and now operates.

BurnFundCentre-4

BurnFundCentre-1

Two views of the Burn Fund building

These two project were made feasible because the City of Vancouver provided land through a low-cost lease. Both have retail leases as part of the funding structure. One has other buildings, though not a condo tower, as additional funding sources; the other has a combination of self-raised funds and Provincial government funds to add the needed revenue.

All of these ideas are possible at Venables and Commercial and should be seriously considered as community-friendly alternatives to the highly controversial and unpopular for-profit tower.

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More On Creative Alternatives

The NO TOWER Coalition today issued the following media statement:

 

COMMUNITY PROPOSES VIABLE AND CREATIVE ALTERNATIVE TO MASSIVE TOWER PROPOSAL AT VENABLES AND COMMERCIAL

Vancouver. The NO TOWER Coalition is proposing a viable and creative alternative to a massive three-tower development under discussion in the Grandview-Woodland community.

The alternative would see the City of Vancouver provide available land (a city-owned parking lot on the site) to the Kettle Friendship Society as an outright grant.  The Kettle would sell its existing building (also on the site) and use the proceeds to construct up to 25,000 square feet of community service and housing space, on the land, provided free by the city.

Estimates put the cost of a 25,000 square foot, four-storey structure, with service space and 30 small units of supportive housing at $5.2 million, excluding land costs.  The Kettle’s current building was assessed in 2015 at $2,068,000 million.  The city parking lot was assessed in 2015 at $2,259,000.

“We have looked carefully at the footprint,” says Sue Garber, a NO TOWER spokesperson. “The City of Vancouver and the Kettle together own over half the total square footage of the land in question. With the city contribution, this approach could work very well.”

“We think this is a very viable alternative. And it is much preferable to public land being turned over to a developer for tremendous profit, with so many unfortunate impacts on the neighbouring community.   These lands are currently in community hands.  They should stay that way,” Garber notes.

“This alternative would provide the Kettle what it needs and would spare the Commercial Drive community from the devastating effects of a massive three-tower complex, with associated rising land costs and displacement of nearby rental and non-profit housing.”

The proposal also suggests the adjoining street be permanently closed to car traffic for a pedestrian “piazza” which would extend the low-rise and human scale of Commercial Drive north towards the renovated York Theatre and Hastings Street.

The Coalition also released the following additional notes:

 

Thoughts on Financing the Kettle Alternative:

  • The city would donate the parking lot land to the Kettle (assessed value: $2.259 million).
  • The Kettle would sell its existing building on Venables and use the proceeds to partially finance the construction of a new building (assessed value of Kettle’s existing building and land $2.068 million).
  • Estimated cost (excluding land) for a 25,000 square foot, four storey building to house the Kettle’s needs (on city parking lot) estimated at $5.2 million.
  • The province of BC and the federal government may provide $$ based on the city coming forward with its contribution of land.
  • A lender would be able to lend a substantial amount to the Kettle project, based on the asset value of the city parking lot land and the Kettle land.
  • The city’s donation of the land to the Kettle would kickstart the whole process.
  • Upon completion of the new four-storey Kettle building on the parking lot, there would be a considerable value lift available to the Kettle.
  • The final Kettle building would be an asset of considerable value, likely much more than what they started out with.
  • Going forward and into the future, the Kettle would be “masters in their own house” and in charge of their own destiny. They would not be forever dependent on a developer for their future, and locked into a condo tower they could never modify or change.
  • The Kettle and the city have already demonstrated such a partnership at 1700 Kingsway in Vancouver, where city land was provided for supportive housing for the Kettle. (This building is currently under construction.)

 

Alternatives Explored

The footprint in question comprises four properties, a lane and a street:

Venables location

While we cannot know all of the details of the financial situation of the Kettle Friendship Society and cannot speak for them on this issue, we do see that there are viable alternatives that will benefit the Kettle, allowing the organization to expand, the community to gain additional community space, and preventing 200 high-priced condos in 3 towers from being added to our neighbourhood.  The proposal involves the following:

  • The City of Vancouver provides lot 5 for the Kettle relocation on a long-term lease or as an outright grant.
  • The Kettle could elect to sell its current property or mortgage it along with the city-granted land to raise most of the funds needed for construction of social housing and expanded office and program space. The most recent assessment for the Kettle’s existing property is $2,068,000.  Preliminary estimates put the cost of constructing 30,000 square feet of space for the Kettle – not including the land – at $5.2 million. 
  • With assistance from the provincial government, the municipal government, granting agencies, and the public, the Kettle could add to its own financing capacity, raising the additional funds needed to build 30 social housing units and other needed space within 4 storeys (30,000 square feet, approximately).
  • The city-owned rear lane behind the current buildings (lot 4) could be incorporated into the final footprint as required.
  • The Kettle could potentially remain in its current building, until its new purpose-built structure is complete, avoiding re-location costs and service disruption.
  • The adjoining street (lot 6) would be permanently closed to car traffic and would become a pedestrian-only area with various people-friendly elements such as outdoor seating and other appropriate community amenities. This might take the form of a beautiful piazza, such as the ones pictured below, which will reflect the Italian heritage of Commercial Drive.

PlazaCavana-1

 

Italy-Sorrento-Courtyard

Overall, this proposal provides benefit to Kettle Friendship Society and the neighbourhood around Commercial Drive, leaving only the properties along Venables available for for-profit development.  This development or developments should be kept within the 4-storey height limit that exists in the area.  Minimal land assembly and no upzoning will have less effect on surrounding land value.

Even better, if we could have Federal government investment in more rental and cooperative housing along Venables we could further increase affordability in Grandview-Woodland.

We welcome your responses and other ideas: notower@telus.net

 

Alternatives Exist

Our campaign has often been accused of being against supportive housing for Commercial and Venables.  We are not, as we have written before.  We are against the condo tower.  We believe the issue of supportive housing can and should be separated from for-profit development at Commercial and Venables.  We believe that alternatives to for-profit private development exist.

Lewis Villegas sketch_best

Image credit: Illustration by Lewis N. Villegas 2015

For example, the image here is a rendering of a four-storey building on the parking lot at Commercial Diversion, just north of Venables.  This is a potential alternative to the tower.  The building in the rendering contains enough room for 30 studio units of supportive housing as well as administration and program space for staff and service users.

The parking lot is public land, owned by the City of Vancouver.  The City of Vancouver could make this rendering or another four-storey non-profit building possible by giving the parking lot for a nominal fee to a non-profit housing agency, such as the Kettle.  This would reduce the overall cost of the project, making self-financing with mortgages and donations possible.  Better still, such a gift by the City of Vancouver might put pressure on the Provincial and Federal governments to fund construction.   And, it would prevent 12, 10 and 8-storeys of gentrifying condos from being built at enormous profit to the developer, which is, of course, the real reason a condo tower is “necessary.”

If you think our city government should play a bigger role in stewarding this project, such as by selling public land at a nominal fee to a non-profit housing and service provider, write them to let them know and CC us.

If you are also angry that our health and social service systems are increasingly privatized, write your MLA and MP.

Or, send letters to the editor of our local newspapers on any of these issues.

And, if you have other ideas for low-rise (under five-storey) alternatives for the site that provide the needed supportive housing and services, please let us know.  We’d love to get community feedback on this idea and hear yours.  Email: notower@telus.net