A Brief History of Vancouver Planning & Development Regimes

(co-authored with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath)

Say you want to construct some multi-family housing in Vancouver. How long will it take? The answer is simple: it depends. There are many factors upon which it depends. Here we want to highlight one in particular: when you started.

As it turns out, it used to take a lot less time to build multi-family housing. There is reason to believe we could reduce that time again, but getting there involves gathering a better understanding of our current development regime, and placing it in historical perspective. We begin this process below, before diving deeper into two case studies of developments along Alma Street, located very near one another in space, but separated by some fifty years in start time. We’re going to look at the 14 storey rental building currently under construction at the intersection of Alma and Broadway, and the 12 storey rental building built in 1970 two blocks to the north at 3707 W 7th Ave.

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Analyzing Ballot Composition in Vancouver

(Co-authored with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath)

So we recently had an election in the City of Vancouver. Citizens elected a new mayor, ten council members, park board and school board, giving a majority to the centre-right leaning new ABC (A Better City) Party candidates for each (full results posted by the City). There are a variety of narratives out there about how it all went down. Here we’re interested in examining a couple of them in further detail using the recently released individual ballot data (all ballots remain anonymous, of course). Of note, the mayoral vote is straight-forward, each voter got to vote for one mayoral candidate. The council votes are more interesting. There voters could choose up to 10 candidates. For this post we will focus on council votes, but we’ll return to examining how they relate to mayoral votes.

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On Broadway

(Written jointly with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath)

We have finally found some time to take a closer look at the Broadway Plan. There are many good things to say about the plan, it adds housing in an amenity and job rich area about to get a new subway line. It promises to not just undo the downzoning the city imposed on parts of the area in the 1970s but enables a bit more housing to make up for lost time.

The plan also tacks heavily against the displacement risk to renters in the established rental apartment areas by both 1) limiting the redevelopment potential in those areas and 2) increasing the strength of tenant relocation and right of return policies, a hard-learned lesson from the redevelopment activity around Metrotown in neighbouring Burnaby. In short, overall there’s a lot to like.

In this post we want to accomplish several somewhat diverse goals

  1. Provide some code to improve the data analysis in the plan that uses census data,
  2. Place the Broadway plan more firmly into context of historical zoning changes in that corridor, and
  3. Interrogate the decision to limit development potential in the existing low-density areas, which we have argued in the past make for ideal sites to concentrate development becaues of their low displacement implications.

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No Shortage in Housing BS

(Joint with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath)

Say you built a bunch of housing in a cornfield in the middle of rural Iowa. Would people come to live in it? Maybe. But probably not. Let’s imagine the same scenario scooted over to Vancouver. The conditions for our little field of dreams have changed. Here we’re pretty comfortable predicting: if you build it, they will come. Housing limits population growth here in a way it does not in rural Iowa.

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A Brief Data-Based Primer on Mobility and Housing

As a housing demographer, I’m on the lookout for various ways to explain basic aspects of how people and housing fit together. A recurring theme is that this stuff is not obvious to most people. For example, people tend to associate new housing in a metro area with new people coming to a metro area. In fact, most new housing houses people already living within a metro area. But their moves free up other housing, which often incorporates newcomers.

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Fixing Parking

(Joint with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath)

New parking proposal just dropped! As Vancouver City Council once again discusses parking it seems like a good time to give a brief overview of the trade-offs involved, with special focus on the progressivity of parking permit fees. Vancouver proposed to introduce a city-wide parking permit program, requiring residents to buy a $45/year parking permit to park their vehicles on city streets (reduced to $5 for people with low incomes), or pay a $3 overnight visitor parking fee. Additionally the City proposes higher annual fees of $500 to $1000 for new gasoline-powered cars built 2023 or later.

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Lots of Opportunity: Estimating the Zoning Tax in Vancouver

(Joint with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath)


We estimate the land value lost by lot subdivision restrictions in the RS (single-family) zoned lands of Vancouver. These restrictions, also known as the zoning tax, subsidize hoarding of land for the wealthy at the cost of those who wouldn’t mind sharing. We conservatively estimate the overall cost of preventing splitting of lots at $43 billion, or an average of 37% of existing lot land value. Alternative formulations enabling deeper subdivisions raise our zoning tax estimates to $146 billion. We provide examples of what subdivision could look like, tally up non-conforming lots by zone, and discuss some of the implications.

The zoning tax is real, and it is enormous. The exact amount of the zoning tax is hard to pin down because we are so far away from the equilibrium of where people would stop subdividing land or air parcels if they were allowed to do so.

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Basement Confidential: Vancouver’s Informal Housing Stock

(Joint with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at Mountainmath)

Informal housing

While housing is highly regulated via zoning bylaws, building code, and fire code, in situations of housing scarcity we often get informal housing that exists outside of – or only partially covered by – the existing regulatory framework. We often associate slums or shantytowns with the term informal housing, but it also applies to more organized settlements like Kowloon Walled City, or, in the context of subterranean Vancouver, a good portion of our secondary suite stock.

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