Just Sold…

April 7, 2012 at 3:49 am (Gardening, permaculture, Vancouver) (, , , )

My post about life in a dying house could not have been more timely.  Soon after writing that piece, in which I mused on the implications of Vancouver’s rapid gentrification and the supreme irony of practicing permaculture on a site slated for commercial redevelopment, I discovered that our property has been sold.

Did my landlord inform me of this?  No, I had to do some sleuthing to tease out the truth.  Some strange things had occurred recently that started to add up to a major tip-off.  First, a few months back, I saw from my kitchen window two men, looking very white-collar, stopped in the backlane; they seemed to be discussing and photographing something in my direction.  I went to get my shoes so I could run out and ask them what they were doing, but when I got outside, they were gone.  I told myself it was the condo building above that they were pointing out, because I didn’t want to think otherwise.

Not long after that, I saw a two-man survey team working in the back lane.  Once again, by the time I got back there, they were walking off around the corner of the far end of the block.  From back inside, I saw them get into a City of Vancouver Engineering Services van, so I told myself they couldn’t have anything to do with a private property deal.  I really wanted to ignore the red flags, because I love this house and I want to live in it as long as possible, even though I know (and have known since signing the lease) that our time here would be limited.

I got really suspicious when, for a third time, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a strange man walking through my garden.  When I asked what he was doing and if he was sent by the company that owns the house, he explained that he was from a third-party “environmental company” checking for a buried heating oil tank.  He was evasive about who sent him but, when pressed for information about the property development process, he indicated that oil tank removal is a prerequisite for obtaining financing.  I assumed this meant that the current owners intended to finally do something with the property.

The following day, I asked the neighbor if he knew what was going on, since our houses are both owned by the same company.  The neighbor said that one of his bums said they saw an ad for our two houses for sale on-line.  I immediately googled it and, sure enough, a realtor’s website came up with a photo of both houses under the banner “Just Sold!”  The price tag?  $1,700,000!

The current landlord says he was going to tell us as soon as the sale went through.  Now I realize the inspection required for financing was not being sought by the current owners for building, it was part of deal to sell the property altogether.  We’ve been told that, even if the new owners want to move right away to demolish and rebuild, it takes at least a year for permits to go through and plans to be approved by the city.  We’ll see what they say in May; that’s when the deal is supposed to close.

In the meantime, I’ll garden like there is a tomorrow.

I placed an order for manure and straw bales to be delivered just days before I discovered that our house was sold. No time to ponder the loss: I'm going to get the most out of this year's garden since it may be the last.

I added a healthy dose of composted manure to the garden beds and a layer of fresh straw to protect the soil surface from compacting and drying out. Already, I've sown seeds for salad greens, carrots, radishes, fennel, spinach, collards, and kale.

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Gentrification in Vancouver

March 1, 2012 at 6:01 am (goings-on, Other, Vancouver) (, , )

My house (on right) is owned by a property development corporation and will be redeveloped in the next few years--rightly so, given the high traffic volume on Knight St. The view from the backyard is of the King Edward Village tower.

Over 180 concerned residents of the Mount Pleasant community were registered to speak at Monday night’s Vancouver City Council meeting to state their concern for the re-zoning and development of the southwest corner of Broadway and Kingsway.  The developer, Rize Alliance, wants to erect a 19-story luxury condo tower (down from the 26 stories initially proposed), which residents contend is completely out of scale with surrounding properties and will ultimately signal the beginning of the end of affordability for the area.  For more details on Rize and this project in particular, see the Mainlander’s article on Gentrification in Mount Pleasant.

Unfortunately, since the development proposal and opposition hearing was item six of six on Monday night’s agenda and since there were so many people signed up to speak, only one of the 180 citizen speakers was given a chance to speak before the meeting adjourned.  The rest were invited back the following night to speak, if they could make it, but it must be assumed that not everyone could come back for round two.  So, while City Council goes through the motions to appear sensitive to citizens’ concerns, gentrification marches on.  Even if the re-zoning application is denied and Rize agrees to build a comparatively modest mixed-use development of only 5 to 10 stories, what the neighborhood will end up with will be a glut of one- and two-bedroom condos.  Why no three- or four-bedroom condos?  A three-bedroom may have the same floor space as two one-bedrooms, but the developer can’t double the sale price on it.

For those who do not reside in Vancouver, a one-bedroom condo priced under $500,000 is what passes for “affordable housing” here.  City Council talks a lot about creating “affordable housing,” but it only ever seems to result in more market-rate condos.  The character of a neighborhood can’t stay the same when all the families are forced to leave, which is the pattern in Vancouver: so-called “affordable housing” moves in and families stay as long as the kids are small, but inevitably move east when they outgrow a two-bedroom condo.

What’s taken for granted is that home ownership is achievable and desirable for all families; none of these new developments include affordable rental housing (except that many of the units do sell to wealthy international investors, who profit from renting them, further exacerbating the upward pressure on rental rates).  A kind of middle ground exists between owning and renting, but non-profit co-operative housing has all but disappeared from the city’s vocabulary–this, despite the fact that units in the existing co-housing developments, built in the 70’s and early 80’s, are in high demand and co-op applicants can be waitlisted for years.

I’m not proposing that development should be altogether halted; but the rampant over-development that is driving Vancouver families to the financial brink, just before driving them out completely, is ultimately going to rob this city of its designation as one of the most livable cities in the world.

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