Ease Regulations for Lower House Prices and More Housing

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A top University of British Columbia (UBC) professor says local politics should help keep supply low and prices rising.

A sharp drop in Metro Vancouver housing sales in July and an apparent stall in rocketing price increases has shocked residential investors, but a top University of British Columbia (UBC) professor says local politics should help keep supply low and prices rising.

Michael Goldberg, professor and dean emeritus at UBC's Sauder School of Business, argues too-restrictive zoning and the NIMBY factor mean not enough new homes are being built, especially around rapid-transit hubs.

Goldberg says the solution for bringing down the cost of development and housing in Vancouver lies in reduced planning regulation and allowing property developers more leeway to construct taller buildings faster.

"It can take six years to get rezoning for a highrise tower in Vancouver," said Goldberg.

Lifting restrictions and allowing developers to build higher-density projects would result in an oversupply of homes and, subsequently, lower prices, he said. "We should be tapping the greed factor [of developers]."

Goldberg said municipalities and residents voice support for higher density but, when projects are planned, politicians often cave in to local "not-in-my-backyard" protests and shelve the projects.

The professor says Vancouver council should be pushing for highrise condominium towers along major commercial strips, such as Dunbar and West 41st in Vancouver, and next to Skytrain and Canada Line stations.

Vancouver council voted May 10 to increase density in the Cambie corridor to 12 storeys, but Goldberg said much higher buildings are needed both there and around the Oakridge Centre and Marine Drive transit stations.

"It's ludicrous," he said, noting that the Commercial Skytrain Station, a major transit hub, has no adjacent high-density housing and only a small food-anchored shopping mall. He added that the Cambie Street/Broadway Avenue Canada Line Station has attracted only a new retail complex. "None of the transit stations are linked underground to residential or retail buildings," he said.

The City of Vancouver should also abandon regulations that protect "views of the mountains," said Goldberg. He considers the mountains to be high enough that buildings are not going to interfere sufficiently with the views to bother with a regulation.

Building-height limits, too, should be dropped across the Metro region, according to Goldberg. He argues that market condition should dictate the height of buildings, not planning regulations.

"Seventy per cent of the residential in Vancouver are single-family, detached houses," Goldberg said, "but the trend is toward smaller homes," due to empty nesters and young people who want to live in urban centres.

Judging from July stats, the trend toward higher density and lower prices may have already begun.

According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., multiple-family housing starts are up in Vancouver and across the region. In the first six months of 2011, 1,473 strata apartments or townhomes broke ground, up from 1,373 in the same period last year. At the same time, less than 300 new detached houses were started.


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