Valley apartment action up; joint venture helps house veterans

Apartment surge

“Be bold or move to suburbia,” was the tag line for the Woodward’s redevelopment when Rennie Marketing Systems sold the project in a blockbuster day back in 2006.

Nowadays, with Vancouver housing ranked among the least affordable in the world, people are more likely to think, “Be rich or move to suburbia” – even though the suburbs have seen their own shifts in pricing as people seek more affordable digs.

In the past year, for example, the benchmark price of Fraser Valley housing climbed 27.1%, ending the year at $628,800. While this was down somewhat from a peak of $642,800 in August 2016, it nevertheless represented a radical upward shift in values. Small wonder some are asking how sustainable the increase in housing prices is, even in the Fraser Valley.

The decline in recent months underscores a general cooling trend in the market.

But if there’s one hot spot, it’s apartments.

Year-end data indicates that Fraser Valley apartments were alone among Lower Mainland housing types to appreciate steadily through 2016, rising 26.3% to $259,000. It’s also attractive compared with a benchmark apartment price in Metro Vancouver of $510,300.

In Abbotsford, Quantum Properties Inc. is developing the tallest residential building between Surrey and Calgary – 26 storeys – in response to demand. Pre-sales accelerated in 2016 as markets across the region hit fever pitch.

Set for completion in 2019, the tower will have three floors of commercial space designed to serve both residents and the community and 152 units that average about 1,000 square feet – larger than those in Vancouver, but smaller than the ranchers that dominate surrounding streets.

Quantum president and CEO Diane Delves says most buyers are local, people who wanted to downsize from detached homes while staying within the community. A handful relocated from more expensive communities.

All told, Abbotsford saw 667 multi-family starts last year, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., a 61.5% increase from 413 in 2015.

Not fade away

“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” ran a popular First World War song. With a new wave of veterans dealing with the trauma of missions on distant shores, however, Royal Canadian Legion branches hope for reincarnation.

In the case of Whalley’s legion, groundbreaking could occur this summer on a 160,000-square-foot redevelopment of the 6,000-square-foot hall.

To do so, the legion’s BC/Yukon command formed BCYC Development Corp. to partner with Surrey’s Lark Group.

The arrangement is an increasingly common strategy for property owners who want to hold properties but don’t have expertise or financial resources to undertake a project, Colliers International observes in a recent report on joint ventures in the Lower Mainland.

“Given the rising costs of development in Vancouver in recent years, the focus has shifted to locating a site and working with the owner on a potential partnership from the beginning of the project,” Colliers says.

Redevelopment of the Whalley branch will give the legion a rejuvenated space for its 800 members as well as improve the services it provides the community.

“The legion has had an operation that’s been limited in scope,” said Rowena Rizzotti, vice-president, health care and innovation, with Lark. “There was an opportunity to perhaps expand their contribution back to the community in a service-oriented type of way.”

The project will include a centre of excellence in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), rehabilitation services for returning and aging veterans and at least 48 units of non-market housing.

Stable housing is especially important, said Sandy Reiser, executive director of BC/Yukon command, because PTSD and other issues hinder reintegration into civilian life and contribute to homelessness.

“There is nowhere to go,” she said. “The purpose is to support veterans and our communities.”

Completion is set for 2019, and the project could point the way for other branches.

“This is a model that we want to see replicated across Canada,” Rizzotti said. •