Development industry criticizes mayor’s pre-sales initiative

Mike Howell - Vancouver Courier


The mayor wants city staff to develop a policy giving local residents first crack at buying pre-sale homes. photo Dan Toulgoet

The Urban Development Institute is pouring cold water on Mayor Gregor Robertson’s announcement last week that he wants the city to develop a policy that gives Metro Vancouver residents first shot at buying pre-sale homes.

The institute, which represents more than 650 members that include developers, lenders and real estate professionals, said in a statement that its members already sell more than 90 per cent of multi-family housing units to local buyers. The statement noted pre-sales to locals is often a bank construction financing requirement.

“While the city’s new policy framework may have public appeal, [the institute] recommends the city increase supply through density bonuses, reduced fees or expedited building approvals, all of which would improve affordability for locals and working professionals,” said Anne McMullin, president and CEO of the institute, in the statement.

Robertson’s office issued a news release Oct. 6 saying the mayor will introduce a motion at next week’s council meeting aimed at the city developing a policy that gives Metro Vancouver residents priority over off-shore buyers on pre-sale homes.

The release didn’t provide statistics or evidence to show such a policy was needed. Robertson, instead, focused on the need for employers to be able to “retain talent” in what continues to be an increasingly unaffordable city for people with good jobs and incomes.

“In Vancouver’s red-hot housing market, local employers are crunched to retain talent, whether they’re doctors, tech workers, retailers, firefighters, teachers or nurses,” Robertson said. “I regularly hear stories about people who work in Vancouver, but are forced to move elsewhere in the region because they can’t find a place to live. At a time when we are seeing record levels of housing construction, local residents should be able to get the first shot at purchasing a home in new developments.”

Robertson’s definition of a “local resident” is a person who lives and works in Metro Vancouver, irrespective of citizenship. The mayor pointed to a program in West Vancouver, where in 2016 the city council negotiated an agreement with developer Westbank to give locals first shot at buying into a new development.

That program required the homes be only marketed to West Vancouver residents for the first 30 days, then open it up to Metro Vancouver residents for the next 60 days. Buyers also had to sign a document to promise to live in the building and not flip it. Bulk purchases of units were restricted.

“We want young people and families to put down roots in the city,” the mayor said. “This motion will support that by helping make sure people who live and work here get the first opportunity to buy into new developments in Vancouver.”

NPA Coun. George Affleck took to Twitter to react to the mayor’s announcement, noting it comes one week before the Oct. 14 byelection to elect a new councillor. Vision’s candidate, Diego Cardona, is campaigning heavily on making housing more affordable.

“Here we go again,” Affleck wrote in his tweet. “Promises. Promises, Gregor. Not surprisingly one week before the by-election.”

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