British Columbia·Analysis

Mayor's motion on condo presales passes but may not impact Vancouver's affordability

"It's tough to know for sure how strict or how much of an impact it's going to have, in terms of maintenance and controlling anything. It's such a murky process," said one realtor.

'It is a small piece of a multi-faced solution to what we face,' says one Vision councillor in favour

Coal Harbour condominium towers rise above Vancouver. (David Horemans/CBC)

Vancouver city council has passed Mayor Gregor Robertson's motion to explore developing a policy that would give "residents who live and work in Metro Vancouver the first opportunity to purchase new presale homes in Vancouver."

"This motion really is about local tools. Looking at affordability and access," said Robertson in introducing the motion.

"It may help to curb the market skyrocketing as it has done in recent years. But the intention of their motion is to ensure there is some access for local buyers getting priority in new projects."

The motion, which carried by a 7-2 vote, also asks staff to look at preventing the bulk purchase of units in new development applications and limit the quick resale of units, including reassignments.  

Since the mayor's initial announcement, there have been questions about the net effect any policy would have on the marketplace.

"It is a small piece of a multi-faced solution to what we face," said Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie, who said it would still help combat the city's affordability crisis. 

"It's giving first opportunity for people that live and work in Metro Vancouver to purchase the product first. We've heard a lot of people concerned about having access to the market. The motion put forward by the mayor should help in terms of providing additional access." 

One third of the units in the Vancouver House condominium tower designed by Bjarke Ingels were sold to foreign buyers when it went on the market in 2015. (Vancouver House)

'It's such a murky process'

Last week, an email exchange between Kevin Quinlan, Robertson's chief of staff, and Anne McMullin, CEO of the Urban Development Institute, was released to multiple media outlets. The exchange shows Quinlan agreeing the motion would do "nothing for affordability."

Both McMullin and Quinlan were unavailable to comment Monday on their exchange.

"It's not the specific focus," said Louie, when asked if the motion would help affordability. 

"Constraining some of the activities of foreign investment ... will perhaps give some relief. But what we're focusing on right now is to ensure that those that live and work in the region get the first chance at purchasing within our city."

The motion was opposed by NPA councillors Melissa De Genova and George Affleck.

"If you were born here, if you grew up here in Vancouver, the way the motion is ... written is you will not be able to move back and purchase a pre-sale condo and be on the top of the list if you have left Vancouver," said De Genova.

One thing everybody acknowledges is that the effect of the motion won't be known until city staff come back with tangible suggestions on how a policy might be implemented, which could be several months from now.

"It's tough to know for sure how strict or how much of an impact it's going to have, in terms of maintenance and controlling anything. It's such a murky process," said Vancouver Realtor Steve Saretsky.

The Sewell's Landing development buildings at Horseshoe Bay will contain more than 150 units. (District of West Vancouver)

Horseshoe Bay development cited as a model

Robertson's motion specifically cites one agreement made in the District of West Vancouver last year.

There, the municipality negotiated with Westbank to limit presales of the Sewell's Landing development in Horseshoe Bay to locals only for the first month, and the Metro Vancouver area for two months after.

Each buyer had to sign a form promising not to flip their unit, and for them or a family member to reside in the property once it was built. 

"The project has been a great success so far," said Westbank's Michael Braun, who said about two-thirds of the project have now been sold.  

But whether that one-off model can be applied across an entire city is still to be seen. After all, the agreement wasn't legally binding, and there's no way for Westbank or West Vancouver to actually enforce the declaration buyers signed.  

And what "success" looks like in the region, when it comes to affordability, is an open question. 

After all, Braun called the development "probably the most affordable new product on the market in West Vancouver."

Of the seven units currently on the market, the cheapest is a two-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor.

It's selling for $1.4 million. 


Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.