Daniel Oleksiuk of Abundant Housing Vancouver joins Adam and Matt to discuss the issues surrounding housing affordability in Vancouver and what can be done to address them.
Adam: And welcome back to Vancouver Real Estate Podcast. I’m your host, Adam Scalena.
Matt: And I’m your other host, Matt Scalena.
Adam: Matt, we’ve got an amazing show today.
Matt: It’s a good one…yeah, Daniel Leksiuk from Abundant Housing in Vancouver.
Adam: Hey, he’s one of the founding members as well, right?
Matt: He’s a founding member. Him and Adrian Crook, past guest.
Adam: Past guest. Oh, I really enjoyed the interview with Adrian. We had a great interview today with Daniel so I’m excited for this episode.
Matt: Yeah. I’m pumped.
Adam: If you live in Vancouver this is a wealth of information.
Matt: Yeah, these guys are really pressuring the city toward pro densification and you know they’re talking to people all across North America about this issue and
Adam: Exciting times.
Matt: It is an exciting time and I really feel like there’s changes coming.
Adam: Yeah and some huge takeaways. But Matt, what have you been up to otherwise? Haven’t seen you in a while.
Matt: Otherwise, yeah, well I’ve been listening to S Town.
Adam: What’s S Town? Is that a new boy band?
Matt: I thought you…
Adam: S town 7? What’s the?
Matt: Yeah. It’s new out of London. The oldest one’s 19. No. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of S Town. Yeah, for any podcast listener out there if you’re not listening to S Town you got to listen to S Town, John V. McLemore, southern U.S. sort of who done it story from American Life.
Adam: So it’s like a true crime podcast.
Matt: True like everything else these days. True crime….
Adam: Ah, I wasted a lot of time before on that Somebody Knows Something and it turns out nobody knew anything.
Matt: The thing …okay…so here’s I’ve been making the case here to Brayden…Somebody Knows Something, Missing Richard Simmons…these have poisoned the well for true crime because what they’ve done is they’re letting you follow them along while they try and find something out
Adam: And hopefully something comes out in the wash.
Matt: and nothing ever happens. It’s like they conclude that yeah nobody knows anything and yeah, sorry for wasting 18 hours of your life.
Matt: These guys had the answers before they started
Matt: so it is the story, kind of meanders through, to a very compelling end.
Adam: You know, thinking about this we need to if we’re going to stay current and relevant in the podcast landscape I think we need to have a who dun it element.
Matt: Everybody’s going true crime.
Adam: This is got to be…
Matt: I think we’ve really…
Adam: true crime real estate
Matt: we’ve really missed our calling.
Adam: We might be in the right city.
Adam: Anyways, well hey without further ado why don’t we cut to our interview with Daniel Oleksiuk?
Matt: Yeah. It’s a good one, enjoy guys.
Daniel: Hello. This is Daniel here.
Adam: Hey Daniel. It’s Adam and Matt calling. How are you doing?
Matt: Hey Daniel.
Daniel: I’m doing great today. It’s one of the first beautiful days of the year.
Adam: Yeah. No kidding.
Matt: And it’s going to start raining again tomorrow so enjoy it.
Adam: Yeah. We’re just actually…we’re live on Union Bike Route here and it’s like you can’t walk across that street. It’s just a flood of bikes so
Daniel: That sounds awesome.
Matt: It’s working Gregor.
Adam: It’s working. So can you just start maybe by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Daniel: Yeah. I grew up in Vancouver and I live in Mount Pleasant again I guess I would say. I also spent part of my time growing up in Vancouver and I guess because it’s a real estate show I should say you know I grew up in a single family home near Clark and 11th. My parents bought it for under $200,000.00.
Daniel: which you know, and I’m not even that old. It was a very different city back then though and I’m just kind of shell shock by the idea of living my whole life in debt working to pay someone else just for the right to stay in the city I started off in.
Daniel: Yeah so just one of the many renters who’s kind of worried about what’s happening.
Matt: So just to be clear, Daniel. You grew up in Vancouver and then you went away for school or how long have you been back?
Daniel: I came back in 2014. I went away for most of 2008 to 2014.
Matt: Oh right.
Adam: Wow. And how did you get involved with Abundant Housing Vancouver? How did you decide to help found Abundant Housing Vancouver?
Daniel: Well I’ve been interested in urban issues for a long time. I did Urban Geography at U. of B.C. for my undergrad about finished that about 10 years ago now I guess. And so you know I’ve been interested in cities for a long time and as this has just kind of accelerated I guess I’ve become more interested as a lot of us have and eventually started going to zoning hearings, rezoning hearings at the city of Vancouver and seeing people again and again get up to just oppose new housing which for someone who doesn’t own land sounds like and has had to look for a lot of rental apartments it sounds like a crazy thing to do but a lot of people were doing it so me and a couple of other people organized ourselves to go to a public hearing and support some rental housing one day and then we decided it was fun and we would do it again and encourage other people to join us.
Matt: Fantastic, so can you tell us a little bit more about Abundant Housing Vancouver like what is what’s the mission statement and what exactly are you guys up to?
Daniel: Our mission is to organize people to talk to public officials, to city staff, to city politicians, to city candidates to support more housing in the city of Vancouver especially but also in the region. And you know, it comes out of the realization that low density housing is the real luxury housing and a lot of people are opposing higher density housing as luxury which just doesn’t make any sense because low density costs more. A condo is cheaper than a single family house even than most duplexes or town homes so the idea that high density housing is more expensive just flies in the face of fact and so we’re trying to get people together to support more of it.
Matt: Right on. Just out of curiosity, do you see this almost as a generational divide? Is Abundant Housing Vancouver largely kind of millennials or kind of the under 40 set?
Daniel: Yeah. It is largely but you know that’s not that’s it happens where the fault line often lies but not where it inherently lies like really it’s about people who got into the market and didn’t. Almost definitely younger people won’t have but there’s a lot of older people who also didn’t and there’s also home owners who are in the market who are benefiting from rising land prices who are members of our group who are more active supporters of our group or less active supporters because you know a lot of people just have a broader perspective about what they want the city to be so it’s not just young people
Daniel: and it’s not just renters but yes it does tend to seem that way.
Adam: Excellent, so Daniel can you outline the city’s current character home retention policy?
Daniel: I’ll do my best. You know, it’s very much in flux. I can speak to what they proposed and I’d say the push back from us and from other groups has led in part to this larger kind of rethink of single family zoning which is maybe really encouraging but what they came out with that led to some of this was this character home rezoning policy that actually downzones huge parts of the city, West Point Grey and southlands and Dunbar and also parts of Riley Park and up in the northeast by Wall Street. They took areas that had a lot of older homes and they were responding to this concern that older homes were being torn down and replaced by really large single family homes which I don’t think very many people want to see. We don’t really like to see that but the solution was probably even worse which was to say, especially in these really expensive Westside neighborhood, they were saying if you tear down a house you can only build even less and with land prices being what they are it ends up being very exclusionary and that planning for homes that cost 3 million and more which is planning for homes for almost nobody. So we made a bit of a stink about it and we said you know why if you’re going to look at rezoning this huge area why don’t you think about apartment buildings? Why don’t you think about housing that makes sense for the vast majority of income earners and I hope they listened they seem to have stepped back from the down zoning and we’re still waiting to see what they come out with and so we are still trying to put pressure on them to create more housing in these low density west side neighborhoods.
Matt: So Daniel, do you think there is value in retaining heritage or character homes? Is there a happy medium here?
Daniel: I do. Yeah absolutely and that’s a really good point. I think we don’t the policy was called the character home rezoning policy which makes it really hard to oppose. And makes it sound like
Daniel: we oppose Derrick which of course we don’t.
Matt: Don’t turn on…..
Daniel: We oppose down zoning and zoning for the very rich where you can keep beautiful old homes and look my first house in Vancouver was a beautiful 100 year old home and I spent a summer doing residential contracting on the west side so I’ve seen the inside of these houses too and they really are a lot of them beautiful old homes. So sometimes what will make sense is just to keep the home and build it on these large lots you can easily build a second home. It’s like a lane way home is a small step in that direction but yeah there’s space on the land to keep the current home in a lot of cases and just add to it or build a second home and there are many examples most of them tree zoning of people doing things like that so yeah you don’t have to tear them down and we should have a policy to save a lot of them.
Adam: So you’re suggesting then if I understand correctly more of a push towards light density in these areas.
Daniel: In some cases yeah I mean in some cases you know you can double the density of a lot of the city by just building not lane way cottages but lane way homes
Daniel: and I think that that is one part of the solution and of course apartments are part of the solution and in some places towers are part of the solution.
Adam: So kind of switching gears towards more incentives for developers and builders and for home owners what sort of incentives are needed to encourage affordable housing development?
Daniel: Oh so many I mean but our group’s big thing is actually that partly we just have to get out of the way. A lot of the reason that we get really expensive housing is because that’s all that’s allowed. And again it’s this point that higher density housing, rental apartments, even condos are less expensive significantly less expensive than single family homes and if you take it to the extreme there’s areas Belmont Avenue and Drummond Drive just above the Spanish Sphinx Bluffs and your Point Grey where homes every home on the street goes for 10 million dollars up to 50 million dollars and it’s zoned only for that so I mean what kind of incentives could you give to build affordable rental housing on that land? I mean it just seems like the wrong question. First of all, all apartments and then we can talk about how to make those more affordable with other policies.
Matt: So Vancouver’s long had an affordable housing crisis and it seems what you’re suggesting here is that the city is largely in the way of making Vancouver more affordable. Why do you think their policy has been so misguided?
Daniel: Well I’ve been to… again you go to public hearings and you see why. City councilors of all parties, of all political ideologies… I do admire their patience. You know, they sit there and they listen to the public and the public comes in and says whatever they do and a lot of the public for many years has mostly been saying don’t build new housing. Don’t build new housing near me. It will take my parking. It will create traffic. It will bring renters into my neighbourhood and some people don’t want renters in their neighbourhood. We need to be honest that that’s part of what this is as well and part of what its’ always been and city council has largely responded to that. That’s why on 80% of our residential land it’s illegal to build apartments so it’s just democracy for better or for worse or city council responding to what they think voters want.
Adam: So keeping in that line, how should the city address these concerns on the Nimby side?
Matt: Not in my backyard, right?
Daniel: Yeah, the Nimby concerns about parking and the traffic and what not, right?
Matt: Yeah, just the kind of… I think there’s a fear that the character of the neighbourhoods’ going to change quite quickly with the increased density and all that.
Adam: Do you guys see those as serious concerns or?
Daniel: I think the kind of integrity of the neighbourhood is a really important thing and I think that the quadrupling of single family home prices in Vancouver in 11 years is about as drastic a change to the character of any neighbourhood that I can really think of.
Matt: Yeah, good point.
Daniel: So the idea that the neighbourhood hasn’t changed like a lot of that time that’s just a disguise about the people want the buildings to look the same. That’s the most important thing to them. But the idea that we haven’t had neighbourhood change or that we even can avoid neighbourhood change is just not going to work. I mean things change… the world changes around us and we need to go with it. In terms of the concerns about parking or traffic I mean I’d say that the response, the solution to traffic is actually Yimbyism, that we solve traffic in part with denser, more walkable neighbourhoods. You solve traffic by creating…by getting people out of their cars. You don’t solve it by moving people to somewhere else. You don’t solve it by creating more sprawl. The Nimby solution is actually to have people live farther out, to need more bridges, more highways and to have people travel farther and that creates more traffic. The best solution to traffic is to build more central housing and actually have people not have to travel so far.
Adam: Right. No, that makes complete sense.
Matt: Yeah, no, a good point.
Adam: So thinking about the city of Vancouver and I know you’ve lived elsewhere, are we unique in our resistance to change?
Daniel: Vancouver is if at all unique actually and this is maybe not very helpful…unique in that we’ve moved farther away from the single family house than almost any other North American city so actually most North American cities are more resistant to density building than Vancouver is. We’re actually something of a leader in North America so for whatever reason that might be it’s a really good thing. We could do way better but no, this is a problem all across North America certainly where established home owners want to protect their property values. They don’t want more people in their neighbourhoods. They don’t want more people in their community centres and their solution to that is just to pull up the ladder behind them and say everyone else out and I think we are seeing that across North America right now especially in popular urban centres with rents going through the roof. We’re not building enough housing in these places and you know incumbent home owners are fighting a lot of the new housing and so no, this is not a Vancouver problem. It’s a whole west coast problem and generally a North American urban problem.
Matt: So Daniel, do you see Abundant Housing Vancouver as part of a larger movement? I know there’s been speakers that have come to Vancouver recently to address density. Are you in touch with other groups that have a similar mission?
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely and that’s part of what I like about it is this is a broader movement and you know we took our name from Abundant Housing LA who took their name I understand from Abundant Housing Austin. And so yeah we’re talking to each other and learning from each other and you know the issues really are similar in a lot of these cities because you know North American cities have a lot in common
Daniel: and a lot of them were built post war for a kind of like auto centric low density homeowner model and I don’t think that’s what a lot of people want anymore. They want denser neighbourhoods. People travel to Europe and they love it. They travel to Asia and they love it. What it was so great. I could walk everywhere. There was cafes and you know we take plane trips halfway around the world just to experience that and I think some people want that a little closer to home.
Matt: Sure, so last question before we get to the Five Wire, Daniel are you optimistic about the future for renters and people generally that are looking for affordable housing here in Vancouver?
Daniel: I think there’s some cause for optimism. Things are really expensive right now and I guess the cause for optimism is that everyone is talking about it and the cause for optimism is that we have to all get together and decide what we want to see…which I think is again more urban housing, more fairness in the real estate market and not just shutting people out by zoning for mansions.
Matt: Well, at least we’ve been doing this a year and a half and our experience it seems like the call for density and your guys’ kind of push here is becoming louder at least from where I stand.
Adam: Yeah. Absolutely.
Matt: Okay. Well we usually end the program on a little bit of a lighter note with five questions. We call it the Five Wire.
Matt: Are you good for that?
Daniel. I’m good I’m not sure what’s coming but…
Matt: It’s not as drastic as you think.
Adam: We’re going to throw you a huge curve ball at the end though, I promise. So your favourite neighbourhood to spend time in Vancouver?
Daniel: Oh man. I live in Mount Pleasant now and I like it a lot so with all due respect to the rest of them I think I like Mount Pleasant.
Adam: And you grew up I guess in Mount
Adam: Well right on the fringe of Mount Pleasant there.
Daniel: Yeah and also in Cedar Cottage but yeah, yeah, exactly.
Adam: Awesome. Born and raised in East Vancouver, very few can say that.
Daniel: Well born in Toronto, I have to admit but
Daniel: was raised there, yeah.
Adam: so you can’t quite say that either. So favourite bar or restaurant?
Daniel: Oh, I’m going to have to go with Uncle Abe’s.
Adam: Uncle Abe’s…. where exactly is Uncle Abe’s?
Matt: Uncle Abe’s?
Daniel: Uncle Abe’s 14th and Main. It’s just a little hole in the wall. You can buy falafels from the place next door and bring them into Uncle Abe’s.
Adam: Matt and I are showing our age here.
Matt: Showing our age but also I know where I’m going for lunch. Where’s the first place you bring somebody from out of town?
Daniel: I guess I like to bring people to Queen Elizabeth Park and Stanley Park. You know if they haven’t been here before those…those places as much as they’re tourist traps for a reason. They’re just spectacular.
Matt: They’re extraordinary. Yeah for sure so 15% Foreign Buyer’s Tax…yay or nay?
Matt: And that’s not the curve ball.
Adam: We’re keeping it light here.
Daniel: Yeah, I don’t know. I could go either way on that one…slight yay, slight yay.
Adam: Okay, see if you can go either way on this one…Celine Dion in Las Vegas or an intimate concert in her native town of Charlemagne?
Daniel: I’m going to go with Charlemagne.
Adam: Nice. Nice. I’ll see you there.
Brayden: No question about it.
Adam: No question. That was no thought eh? No thought…straight to Charlemagne. Excellent well hey how can people find out more about Abundant Housing Vancouver and if they want to get in touch with you as well, Daniel?
Daniel: You can go to www.abundanthousing.com although I guess you just google it these days and you sign up for a mailing list where we send out messages about walking tours and rezoning hearings that if people want to see more housing they can find out about good projects on our mailing list.
Adam: Well hey, we all really appreciate the work that you guys are doing and thank you very much for your time.
Matt: Yeah. Really appreciate your time, Daniel.
Daniel: Thanks for having me, guys.
Adam and Matt: Okay. Take care.
Matt: So there you have it folks, our discussion with Daniel Oleksiuk from Abundant Housing Vancouver.
Adam: Super interesting interview with Daniel. Pleasure having him on the show. Tons of information.
Matt: Tons of information there. You know, there’s a few things that are so exciting about guys like Daniel. One is that he’s taken an issue that he cares deeply about and he’s actually getting engaged. It’s always awesome to see people that are just
Matt: active in terms of civics.
Adam: And he’s a lawyer too. He’s a practicing lawyer.
Matt: Yeah, he’s got a full time job.
Adam: He’s a busy guy.
Matt: This is just a… you know he believes in it and so it’s so fantastic talking to guys like that. I mean the one take away for me apart from just the general kind of wealth of information he gave there is this idea that neighbourhoods aren’t static so anybody that’s talking about neighbourhoods…we want our neighbourhood to stay the same you know he makes a point that the last 10 years in Vancouver has changed every neighbourhood so drastically so whether or not it looks identical to the way it did 10 years ago you know you can’t go back.
Adam: Absolutely and there are ways to work within and maintain the character of a neighbourhood while still increasing density and increasing affordability.
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So anyway what else do we have for people?
Adam: Well, we should definitely tell you to go check out our website because there’s been some excellent feed-back.
Matt: Yeah. For sure.
Adam: On the website.
Adam: So check that out and sign up for…
Matt: We’ve got the VRep Live wire.
Adam: Yup. Sign up for that. And Matt, how can people get in touch you?
Matt: Give me a call anytime…778-847-2854 or email@example.com
Adam: Or you can try me at 778-866-4574 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt: Yeah and Adam and for anybody else who is listening you got to check out S Town.
Adam: S Town? Yeah, and I mean honestly I’ve never heard of another podcast pumped up so hard on a podcast, our podcast. Is that what we’re doing now?
Matt: Wait, we’re in the business of making compelling radio, right?
Adam: Well maybe we should just start heading that direction. Here’s a teaser for next week.
Next week on the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast:
Matt: Hi, this is Matt.
I know your jacket and shoes are.
Matt: Shoes and jacket…from the Aquatic Centre. Wait, who’s this?
Adam: Oh, man. I can’t believe they opened that cold case file.
Matt: In other news, we’ve got Todd Talbot from Love It or List It Vancouver coming up next week.
Adam: I’m super excited. We’ve never had a real live celebrity on the show. I’ve got to lose 10 pounds.
Matt: We’ve only got 7 days.
Adam: I can take it off. Take care, guys.
Matt: Take care.