Imagining downtown Maple Ridge as a social services precinct

Services available for low-income people, seniors and families in trouble in downtown Maple Ridge, summer 2019. This may not be the complete list. (Graphic by Farnsworth Designs.)

Like some other sprawling urban jurisdictions in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, Maple Ridge (population 80,000) has a downtown core built around an old rural crossroads. The construction of the Lougheed Highway through farmland in 1929 generated a commercial cluster at the intersection of 224 Street. The original Fuller Watson furniture store is still in business at this corner, and other 1929-era structures nearby are  home to newer retail businesses such as the gelato store and a micro-brewery.

There is money in Maple Ridge. The 2016 Canada census indicates the median income is relatively high — well above those in the City of Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam or Richmond. Managers and professionals commute from Maple Ridge to downtown Vancouver, the International Airport or the North Shore, online entrepreneurs and investors generate millions from their hillside estates, and double-income couples work in public-sector positions as university teachers, school teachers, nurses, bus drivers, municipal officials, police officers and prison guards. The money from these government jobs is not always spectacular, but it is steady and it comes with generous pensions.

Of course, there are lower-income people too. Many have settled in apartment complexes north or east of City Hall, where the can walk to buy groceries or to catch a bus. Some once worked in the lumber mills and factories that have disappeared over time; others have emerged a Maple Ridge jail without skills or aptitudes; the largest number, doubtless, work at a low wage in the hair salons, dollar stores and for-cash contracting businesses that form a big part of the local private-sector economy.

In a dynamic that has rolled out over many years, Maple Ridge has also spawned or attracted a prominent homeless population. For the B.C. news media, homelessness is a big part of the Maple Ridge brand; and for many local political candidates, homelessness became almost the sole issue in the 2018 municipal election campaign.

Other cities in the region — Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Surrey and New Westminster, for starters — also struggle with homelessness and related problems such as public drug use and property crime. However, it may be that the homeless are more visible in Maple Ridge than anywhere else, partly because the city’s founding families (think 1929) still own much of the inner-city land and have left it vacant.

The Port Haney homeless camp, Maple Ridge, on March 3, 2019, just after the City of Maple Ridge ordered residents to evacuate. In the next few days, 400 cubic metres of refuse were removed from an area the size of a standard residential lot. The City eventually allowed registered residents to return to the camp, under heavy security, but refused to admit any new campers. As as of summer 2019, the population had dwindled to something like 8  residents, down from a peak of 60 or more. The homeless, however, are still visible on the street, and appear to be scattered to gullies and the Fraser River shore.

Scored on the Fraseropolis urban villages index, devised for middle-class city dwellers such as myself, downtown Maple Ridge scores in the low to mediocre range. There is housing choice within 750 metres of the main streets, the transit system is improving, and there is growing urban interest around the farmer’s market. On the negative side, the retail and commercial services sprawl across too wide an area to encourage walking, the retail quality is often low, and retail businesses and restaurants frequently fail.

I developed the map at the top of this post simply on a hunch, to see what it would look like. My 2012 Fraseropolis index does not consider the density of social services — for the very poor, families in trouble, or low-income seniors. This is not a dimension of urban life that business improvement associations or local newspapers have focused on. However, the availability of such services is critical in pointing people towards employment, healthier choices and affordable housing. In exploring the urban villages of B.C. since 2012, I have frequently sensed a conflict between the need for social services storefronts and the consumer appetite for the chic and the trendy. The challenge, I guess, is to integrate services for the poor into trendy neighbourhoods; or alternatively, to think of ways to eliminate poverty.

Dewdney Trunk Road at 224 Street, Maple Ridge. Some visitors to the downtown may be driving in to shop in one of the strip malls, take a yoga class or have their truck repaired; others may be walking from apartments nearby to see their probation officer or negotiate free clothing at a charity store.

 

 

Vancouver’s housing crash and the cost of living

A recent report estimates that B.C.’s housing price downturn, underway for the past year or more, has cost Metro Vancouver homeowners 89 billion dollars in notional home equity or almost $40,000 for every resident of the region.

This number, which appears to originate with a couple of retired millionaires on the west side of Vancouver, feels about right. Monthly stats from the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board indicate that in the inner suburbs, the average owner of a detached home is losing more than $10,000 per month in estimated value. In the City of Vancouver and the District of West Vancouver, that number is more like $25,000 per month.

How much further can prices decline? At this moment, home prices from West Van to Abbotsford are still, in most cases, 85 to 130 per cent higher than they were 10 years ago. The cost of living has increased by 16.2 per cent during the same period, and wages (Statistics Canada, 2017) have tended to track the cost of living. Homeowners are still ahead of the game measured against what they would have made from other investments; would-be buyers still face a big affordability problem.

Fraseropolis Joyce Collingwood towersWhen Fraseropolis.com was launched in 2011, Vancouver-area detached housing prices were high and moving higher at an accelerating pace, but organized public concern was limited.

Through 2014 and 2015 the conversation around home prices heated up, and so, anecdotally at least, did the inflow of offshore money. But the benefits from the real estate boom were very attractive for many people payments to real estate agents and developers, construction and renovation jobs, landscaping jobs, retail sales of home furnishings, and windfall gains to the provincial government from the property transfer tax.

Starting in 2016, despite the benefits from a speculative market, governments have taken steps to cool things off, including:

  • A provincial foreign buyers tax
  • A federal mortgage “stress test” to confirm the financial position of all home buyers
  • A municipal vacant homes tax (City of Vancouver)
  • A provincial speculation tax to be imposed on all vacant non-primary residential properties in high-cost areas
  • A provincial investigation into the real estate effects of money-laundering, and a commitment to crack down on money-laundering in the housing industry.

So with all that, plus a chill in Canada-China relations, the price of housing in the Vancouver area is lower than it was a year ago. But prices are still high. Examples:

  • In North Delta, a suburban area that is relatively close to jobs in Burnaby, Surrey and Richmond, the benchmark price of a detached home dropped by 6.9 per cent from May 2018 to May 2019, to just under $900,000. It is still 61 per cent higher than it was 5 years ago.
  • Langley is an outer suburb with a growing employment base. According to the Fraser Valley stats, the benchmark price for a townhome dropped by 5.9 per cent in 2018-19, but is up 68 per cent over five years.
  • In North Vancouver, across the water from the City, there have been major additions to apartment supply. Prices dropped by 8.8 per cent in the year leading up to May 31 2019, but still showed a 55 per cent increase over five years.
  • In Port Coquitlam, where (my theory, based on 2011/2016 income numbers) an outflow of people from the City of Vancouver created a temporary housing price bubble, the benchmark price for a detached homes dropped by 12.2 per cent from 2018 to 2019, but was still 60 per cent higher than five years previously.

If we look back over 10 years, detached home prices in the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board zone have doubled, or close to it, in most urban locations — except for, strangely, Ladner, an attractive enough area where prices are now inching up.  Townhome prices in the Greater Vancouver zone are 80 to 100 per cent higher than 10 years ago, except for Port Moody at 71 per cent. Outside of a soft market in South Delta (Ladner and Tsawwassen), apartment prices are 80 to 120 per cent higher.

In Fraser Valley Real Estate Board zone, detached home prices on April 30 are 100 to 115 per cent higher than 10 years previous, except for the fringe community of Mission. Townhomes are 75 to 110 per cent higher, with a low outlier (62 per cent) in Abbotsford). Apartment prices have risen by 95 to 130 per cent over 10 years except in Mission.

What happens next? Home prices have risen far beyond the local wage gains of the past 10 years, but there are other factors at play, even as governments try to discourage foreign investment. Retired managers and professionals continue to move to the west coast from other parts of Canada. Extended families continue to pool their wealth to acquire property for the long term.

In a recent commentary on CBC Radio, business analyst Mark Ting suggested that we may be past the halfway point in the downward trend for detached home prices.  The downward movement in apartment prices began more recently, and will be pushed along by a wave of apartment construction across the region, at the transit nodes (Brentwood, Lougheed City, Surrey Central) and in the urban villages (Langley City, Maple Ridge). This may result in a sustained decline in apartment values.

Mr. Ting’s guessing assumes a relatively health economy; a global recession would presumably add to the downward pressure on home prices.

Fraseropolis Port Moody condos

 

Landing at Marine and Cambie

Fraseropolis Marine Landing perspective

The towers at Marine Landing seen from the north, April 2019

The Canada Line went into service just about 10 years ago, as a rapid transit connection between the City of Vancouver’s downtown and the international airport in Richmond.

Fraseropolis Marine Drive station

Outside the Marine Drive transit station. Starbucks, Subway, liquor store… “Lots of places in Bangkok look like this,” said co-tourist Calvin Hutton.

Tower development along the new line has been significant, although Vancouver’s plan for how it should fit together (the 276-page Cambie Corridor plan) was only recently completed. Continue reading

Kerrisdale, vaguely defined

Fraseropolis W 41 Kerrisdale

Classic one-story shopfronts on West 41 Avenue,  February 2019

This is an urban village with extensive services, a large stock of apartment housing, some of it pre-1960, and elegant streets with fine detached homes — as you would expect on the west side of Vancouver.  In case you’re interested, the detached homes currently sell for between $2,000,000 and $4,000,000, even with the recent subsidence in the luxury housing market related to foreign buyer taxes, speculation taxes, money-laundering investigations and the like.

Fraseropolis Kerrisdale redevelopment

A two-storey commercial building on the West Boulevard, possibly 1930s, set for demolition and redevelopment

Residential and commercial properties on the main streets are under redevelopment pressure with new condos on the southern arterial and visible retail turnover. There is an influx of shops catering to Asians; this does not necessarily mean big money, but it might when there are large number of expensive cars parked on the streets, and expensively dressed 40ish couples of all ethnic types pushing baby strollers. The City website does not show a neighbourhood plan; there’s a 2005 “vision” document for a wide area that includes Kerrisdale, basically a wish list based on conversations with residents, but it doesn’t provide insight on what’s happening now. Continue reading

Back in Langley City

Fraseropolis Langley City square

The central square in downtown Langley, where they have music and such when it is not raining

This is a promising urban village in Metro Vancouver’s South-of-Fraser, with a wide array of locally owned businesses and housing choices. The arrival of Skytrain, connecting with Surrey and Vancouver, is anticipated sometime in the 2020s, and this will bring new population growth and business activity.

We reported on the City of Langley’s urban centre in September 2013, and scored it at a relatively high 76.0 as an urban village despite the presence of too many car-dependent strip malls. At that time, the City’s government was working to achieve a greener feel and continued housing development in the downtown area. I would say they have made some progress. City policies have also discouraged chain stores and restaurants from locating in the core. Continue reading

Industry in the big city: evolution, decay or disappearance

Fraseropolis Southeast False Creek 1

Automotive shop, possibly c. 1920, at the boundary of Southeast False Creek and the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area

Old-time Vancouverites often describe 1986 as the year that everything changed.

Expo 86, staged on the north shore of False Creek, brought the world to Vancouver. Once a rail, seaport and mill town, Vancouver became a place where the primary economic activity is the purchase and sale of promises. Continue reading

The Interurban Tram, 1950-51

Fraseropolis Interurban tram 1951 from YoutubeMy sister Morna has shared a link to a one-hour video record of interurban trams in Vancouver and Burnaby, dating from 1950 and 1951.

A brief history on the TransLink website states that these self-propelled street railway cars were “like streetcars, only larger and more powerful.” The video speaks to a time when the pace of life was slower. The area that is today’s Metrotown (at about 20 minutes) appears semi-rural.