Monday, June 23, 2014

Daphne Bramham: Residents worry about False Creek South’s future

False Creek South is one of Vancouver’s most desirable neighbourhoods because of its proximity to Granville Island, mixed-income housing, expansive parks and, of course, access to the water.
But nearly four decades after its development, it faces an uncertain future.
Two-thirds of the 5,500 residents live on land leased from the city and their leases are expiring soon. The first runs out in seven years, while the majority are up in 2036.
The city has the option to not renew them. It could buy any or all of them back at the current market value of the buildings and rezone the land for highrises.
Or, it could renew some or all of the leases, setting the price based on the market value of the land. A rough estimate being mooted is $150,000 a unit.
At that price, some residents are wondering whether they can afford to stay.
In a survey done over the past two weeks and completed by nearly three-quarters of the condo owners, 85 per cent said they were “concerned” or “very concerned” about the leases.
A significant portion are also worried about whether they will be able to afford special assessments, levied by strata councils to cover big expenses.
Of the owners, about half are seniors and most have lived in the neighbourhood for more than a decade.
False Creek South was unique in the 1970s. It is a livable, walkable community for all income levels with everything from subsidized rentals to co-ops to luxury condominiums. It set the trend for residential development that became known internationally as Vancouverism.
It’s hard to believe now, but it was a controversial development. Some people (including a few city councillors) were certain that no one — especially not families — would want to live on reclaimed industrial land.
Initially, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. balked at financing condos on leased land. It had never been done before. But it had no problem finding the money for 729 co-op housing units.
And although False Creek South was considered high density at the time, looking across at Yaletown’s glass towers the south shore’s townhouses and low-rises seem quaint by comparison.
That density differential plays into the fears of False Creek South residents. With the city’s continued push for greater density, what might that mean for them and their leases?
And while the majority of leases still have 22 years left, there are already financial effects.
Most mortgages are amortized over 25 years. But financial institutions generally won’t provide mortgages for a term longer than the lease minus five years. They apply the same rules to loans.
So, the longer the uncertainty continues, the more prices and homeowners’ equity will decline. Major renovations and upgrades (including essentials like plumbing, elevators and rain-screening) will be harder to finance both for homeowners and for members of the six co-ops.
Residents Richard Evans and Jerry Roy are surprisingly sanguine about the future. They may be more optimistic than some of their neighbours.
For the past three years, they’ve worked on the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association’s Re*Plan committee 
With funding from Vancity, the committee has hired consultants and done surveys.