Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Langley City Council Approves Beefed Up Compensation and Relocation Policy for Tenants in Purpose-Built Rental Buildings Subject to Redevelopment

Rental Building in Langley City

Since I can remember, Langley City has had a policy to ensure that the number of purpose-built rental housing units in our city never decreases; in fact, the number of purpose-built rental units has increased over the years. If a purpose-built rental building is ever redeveloped, the number of rental units must be replaced one-for-one.

While this policy was in place for decades, the first significant redevelopment project of a purpose-built apartment building occurred with the Centreville Apartment at 20785 Fraser Highway in 2021. At the time, Langley City Council and staff acted quickly to implement an interim tenant relocation policy that required assisting tenants in relocating to another purpose-built rental home in Langley City, Township, or Surrey and provided a small amount of compensation above and beyond the provincial requirements.

At the time, Council acknowledged that we needed to enhance this policy to increase compensation and provide additional support for tenants in finding new homes. We adopted an enhanced policy in 2022, which you can read in a previous blog post. This policy was in place when Council received our next major redevelopment application for a purpose-built rental building, Pyramid Apartments, at 5360 -204th Street.

Based on the experience of the Pyramid Apartment project and the fact that rents have gone sky-high, Council asked Langley City staff to develop a significantly more robust policy that would maximize compensation, relocation support, and the ability to return to the new building at a below-market rental rate while still making redevelopment projects viable. The City hired a land economist to help us develop this policy.

This first change was an increase in compensation as follows:

Up to 5 years tenancy: 2 months of current rent -> 4 months of current rent
6 to 10 years tenancy: 3 months of current rent -> 8 months of current rent
11 to 15 years tenancy: 4 months of current rent -> 12 months of current rent
16-20 years tenancy: 5 months of current rent -> 14 months of current rent
Over 20 years tenancy: 6 months of current rent -> 16 months of current rent

As with our previous policy, we defined a “vulnerable” tenant. “Vulnerable” tenants qualify for additional support. We broadened who qualifies for additional support to people who have one or more of the following attributes:

  • Are seniors aged 55 or older
  • Have a recognized disability pension or are considered disabled for income tax purposes
  • Qualify for deep subsidy or Rent Geared to Income (RGI) Units, according to BC Housing eligibility criteria
  • Are currently paying monthly rent that is equivalent to or less than average monthly rents for RGI units in the City

If a “vulnerable” tenant is relocated to non-market priced rental housing, their updated compensation is as follows:

Up to 5 years tenancy: 4 months of current rent -> 12 months of current rent
6 to 10 years tenancy: 4 months of current rent -> 12 months of current rent
11 to 15 years tenancy: 4 months of current rent -> 14 months of current rent
16-20 years tenancy: 5 months of current rent -> 15 months of current rent
Over 20 years tenancy: 6 months of current rent -> 16 months of current rent

If a “vulnerable” tenant is relocated to market-priced rental housing, they automatically get 16 months of rent as compensation, no matter what.

The updated policy also increased moving expense compensation.

When a building is redeveloped and its replacement building opens, tenants have the right to return at 20% below the current market rent.

Finally, the policy has been enhanced to require developers to find a home for tenants who are being relocated with rents at or less than CMHC’s average rent in the City, suitable for the tenant’s needs, and with the same number of bedrooms as the tenant’s current unit. For “vulnerable” tenants, the relocation support goes further, requiring a developer to find non-market, subsidized units.

I encourage you to read the full updated policy. We must take care of people in our community, and this updated policy further supports people who may find themselves in a purpose-built rental building undergoing redevelopment. Updating this policy was a key priority for Council, and I’m happy it was adopted last night.

Monday, July 22, 2024

Provincial Transit Housing Areas: More Apartments North of the Fraser River

The Metro Vancouver Regional District recently created a model that shows the probability of where people could build additional apartments (both low-rise and high-rise) as a result of new provincial housing legislation and regulations that set minimum densities around SkyTrain Stations, Bus Exchanges, and West Coast Express Stations.

This model shows additional apartment buildings; for example, you'll see on the maps that there is no change in Langley City, as our Official Community Plan was already basically consistent with the new provincial rules.

Probability of additional densification: High-rise apartments

Probability of additional densification: Low-rise apartments

The red areas are where more apartments are most likely to be built, the yellow areas are medium, and the green areas are less likely.

Metro Vancouver staff make a few observations. The first is that these changes will not impact population growth, which is good. The second is that it will focus more housing along transit corridors.

My observation is that it may focus more housing growth back north of the Fraser River. My second observation is that we will need a well-funded transit system to support increasing the amount of housing near transit, which isn't the case right now.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

A Proposed $44.4 Million in Regional Parks Projects for 2025

While Metro Vancouver Regional Parks have always been popular destinations, even more people discovered these parks during the height of the pandemic. These parks continue to be extremely popular.

About a week ago, the Regional Park Committee reviewed the draft Regional Park 2025 – 2029 Capital Project Plan. The Regional District plans to invest $44.4 million into the regional parks system in 2025.

About half of that funding, $20 million, will be used to purchase land to grow the regional parks system. Over the years, the Metro Vancouver Regional District Board has been increasing the money spent on acquiring new parkland, which is included in people's property tax bills. I think this is a wise investment.

The following map shows some of the new parks and greenways the Regional District is developing, including two new regional parks in the Township of Langley.

A map of new parks and planned future parks and greenway enhancements. Select the map to enlarge.

The remaining funding will be used to enhance parks and greenways, as shown in the following map.

2025 Proposed Metro Vancouver Regional Parks Projects. Select the map to enlarge.

While I'm a fan of regional parks, many of them, such as Campbell Valley Regional Park, are only practically accessible via automobile. While not a capital project, the Regional District has introduced a shuttle bus service to some parks during peak periods. The Regional District does have some greenways which they fund. I would love to one day see a regionally funded greenway that allows people who take SkyTrain to Langley City to bike safely to Campbell Valley Regional Park.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Organics, Paper, and Plastic Still Not Being Recycling in Townhouse and Apartment Complexes

The Metro Vancouver Regional District conducts annual studies to determine what people put in their garbage. I've posted about these studies on the blog over the years. These studies aim to help inform our region's waste diversion programs, such as green bins, blue bins, and depot recycling programs.

Like most people in Metro Vancouver, I live in attached housing (also known as multifamily housing.) Attached housing has lower waste diversion rates than detached housing (also known as single-family housing.)

From my experience, one reason for the lower diversion rate is that common garbage/recycling/green rooms in most apartment buildings and townhouse complexes make it easier to "cheat." For example, some people consistently threw recyclable materials into the garbage bin in my previous apartment complex. The waste hauler would empty the big garage bin every week, regardless of whether it had banned materials. In my former strata, we spent a lot of time educating people on how recycling, green bins, and garbage worked, and we did see success. Of course, this was only because a few of us on the strata council were passionate about reducing garbage.

I now live in a townhouse, and each unit has its own pickup, just like detached housing. However, I have noticed that the waste haulers are more picky and won't take garbage bins with recyclable or green material in them.

So this is easier said than done, but the Regional District should increase ongoing education about waste collection for people living in attached housing. Another key would be to work with waste haulers to improve their enforcement/fines for strata and rental property owners who consistently put banned material in the garbage bins. Increasing education and enforcement at the source would go a long way to increasing waste diversion.

Compostable organics, plastic, and paper were the top materials in attached housing garbage bins in 2023, as shown in the following chart.

Overall Garbage Composition by Primary Category. Select chart to enlarge.

These are all super easy to recycle or put in a green bin. You can learn more by reading the full 2023 report.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Why there are so many road construction projects in Downtown Langley City

Many construction projects are happening right now in Langley City. One question that has come up recently is why there is so much road construction in the Downtown area on 56th Avenue, Michaud, and Fraser Highway.

Two significant projects are starting soon: the Fraser Highway One Way renewal project and SkyTrain. The City wanted to wrap up as many other projects in the downtown area as possible before those two major projects got going.

I imagine many more people will use 56th Avenue during SkyTrain construction, and that road should be fully restored by the end of this month.

Industrial Avenue will be one of the major construction areas for SkyTrain, so we want the other east/west routes to be open before construction starts.

Other Langley City projects are under construction or about to start. The City recently updated our construction information signs so you can easily find the latest information about a project. You can also visit the project information section of Langley City’s website at any time.

Example of new project information sign. Select the image to enlarge.

I'm super proud of our work to keep Langley City’s roads, parks, facilities, and trails in good repair and of our overall investment in our community. I also acknowledge that construction projects do cause disruptions.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Proposed Apartment Project at 53rd Avenue and 200th Street

Last Monday, Langley City Council gave first and second reading to a rezoning bylaw that would enable the construction of a 6-storey, 95-unit apartment building on the corner of 53rd Avenue and 200th Street if adopted.

Rendering of proposed building at 5302 200 St, 20030 53A Ave, & 20011-20031 53 Ave. Select the image to enlarge.

The applicant previously submitted a building with a slightly different design back in 2022. It included a "green" roof and extensive top-floor unit patios. The proposed building had 84 units, including five three-bedroom units, 34 two-bedroom units, 36 one-bedroom + flex units, eight one-bedroom units, and one studio. According to the application, the building design and unit mix made it financially unviable to construct, so they value-engineered a new building design. This design includes streamlining some design elements, increasing the number of units, and adjusting the unit mix.

You can read my 2022 post about the original design of the building. The unit mix of the currently proposed building will have 27 studios, 40 one-bedroom units, 18 one-bedroom + flex units, and 10 two-bedroom units. This building is market-pricing, and each unit will be for sale.

Council discussed the lack of three-bedroom apartment units in this project. As I previously noted, Langley City Council has directed City staff to develop a three-bedroom unit policy. About 25% of our community's new housing units (including townhouses and 'plexes) should have three or more bedrooms per our housing needs report. Of course, overall, we need more housing units period across all unit types.

The provincial and federal governments must play a significant role in incentivizing the construction of affordable three or more bedroom housing for families.

You can read about the feedback from Langley City's Advisory Design Panel that the application incorporated into the building's design.

Council also gave third and final reading, and issued a development permit, to allow the change of unit mix for the building at 5382 200 Street. You can learn more about this in a previous post.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Updating Parking Requirements for 'Plexes. Council Approves Signing Canada Community Building Fund Agreement.

A parking lot in Langley City

In June, Langely City updated our zoning bylaws to enable provincial transit-oriented area zoning and "Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing." While I encourage you to read a previous post on this, the short of it is that people can, by right, build four- or six-plexes within urban areas. You can build at higher densities by right as you get closer to SkyTrian stations and transit exchanges.

Another provincial change is that municipalities can no longer set minimum on-site residential parking requirements within 800 metres of SkyTrain Stations and 400 metres of frequent bus stops. However, municipalities can still set minimum requirements for accessible parking, visitor parking, on-site loading, and commercial parking. Removing parking minimums has been a win for communities, and this is a widespread and growing trend in North America.

Langley City is completing a comprehensive zoning and parking update, but the province required all municipalities to enable "Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing" zoning by the end of June. As a stop-gap until this review is complete, Langley City Council gave first and second reading to update our parking requirements for "Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing" on Monday.

In areas where minimum residential parking requirements still apply in Langley City, Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing units of 969 sq. ft. or less will require one parking spot. For units larger than 969 sq. ft., 1.5 parking spots per unit will be required.

As I posted last week, Langley City will receive continued funding as part of the renewed Canada Community Building Fund. On Monday night, Langley City Council signed off on 2024 – 2034 funding from this program, which will deliver $157,059 each year for the first three years of the agreement and $163,342 in years 4 and 5. Funding for the final five years is not yet determined.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

New Development Cost Charges in Effect for Langley City

As I posted in April, Langley City was in the final steps of updating our Development Cost Charges. The City applies a Development Cost Charge to all significant new construction in our community.

The provincial government strictly regulates Development Cost Charges; municipalities can only use these charges for infrastructure directly related to accommodating a new construction project. This idea is sometimes called "growth should pay for growth." The Development Cost Charge is part of a suite of funding mechanisms to help pay for municipal infrastructure due to development (or redevelopment in Langley City's case.)

Langely City last updated our Development Cost Charge in 2012. Since then, our community has changed, and the cost of building infrastructure has increased.

The key is to ensure that we apply a fair rate that is enough to meaningfully contribute to paying for infrastructure to accommodate increased usage but not too high to prevent construction, including much-needed housing, from being built.

Municipalities must submit Development Cost Charge rates to the provincial government for approval as part of the process. Langley City submitted our request and received approval from the provincial government on June 10th. As such, on Monday, Langley City Council officially adopted our new rates as shown:

Building Type Unit of Measure New Rate Former Rate
Detached Residential Per Lot $45,563.00 $18,409.00
Townhouse Per Dwelling Unit $32,683.00 $14,503.00
Apartment Per Dwelling Unit $21,246.00 $9,549.00
Commercial Per gross floor area (in sq. ft.) $14.46 $6.83
Industrial Per gross floor area (in sq. ft.) $5.81 $3.03
Institutional Per gross floor area (in sq. ft.) $14.46 N/A

As a note, even while the rate changes were significant, the new rates are average or below average compared to other municipalities in Metro Vancouver. To help reduce these jumps in the future, the City is committed to updating our rates more frequently.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

$2 Million In And Nothing to Show: The Langley School Site Acquisition Charge

Langley City and the Township of Langley are in School District #35. The School Site Acquisition Charge is one funding tool that school districts and their boards use to help finance the purchase of new land for schools.

The Langley School District collects this Charge from developers for every new unit of housing built. The idea is that new housing means new school sites, but this isn't always the case.

School District #35 has collected $2,047,677 in School Site Acquisition Charges from Langley City development projects since 2002. Unfortunately, not a nickel of that money has been invested in purchasing new school sites in Langley City. Every nickel collected in Langley City has been used to purchase land for new schools in the Township of Langley. We actually lost a school site in Langley City. The former Langley Prairie School at 20062 Fraser Highway was torn down in 2008, and the School Board of the day sold off the land.

Langley Prairie Elementary School from the front during tear down in 2008. Source: The Langley Centennial Museum

In 2014, Langley City Council unsuccessfully opposed a double of the School Site Acquisition Charges in Langley City. You can read more about this in a blog post I wrote over a decade ago.

The School Site Acquisition Charge must be set consistently within a School District per the province. Each new housing unit in Langley City and Township is uniformly subject to the Charge.

Last night, Langley City Council received notice that the School Board is updating its School Site Acquisition Charge policy to fund purchasing land for the following new sites:

Williams Elementary
Smith Elementary
Willoughby Slope Middle
Brookswood Fernridge Middle

Langley City Council formally "objected" to the proposed locations. While the four proposed sites in the Township of Langley make sense, Council believes a fifth site in Langley City is warranted. Council asked that City staff work with the School District to identify a site in Langley City that could also become an eligible site in our northwest quadrant. There will be two SkyTrain Stations in that area, and thousands of new residents will need a school.

The Local Government Act, which sets the rules around the School Site Acquisition Charge, states that the School District and impacted municipalities must work together to reach a mutually agreeable solution. If we cannot, the province will make the final call.

I know that the Langley Board of Education and School District are looking out for current and future Langley students, and I'm hopeful that this formal "objection" will help move us in a good way to consider the impacts of SkyTrain on the School District.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Hazelmere Rural Lands Once Again Under Threat in Surrey

In 2018, the Metro Vancouver Regional District Board denied an application to allow the development of 145 single-detached houses on 23.7 hectares of rural land, known as Hazelmere in Surrey.

Hazelmere lands are the subject properties in red. Select the image to enlarge.

People can build housing on rural land, but if they do, that housing needs to be at a density low enough not to require regional water and sewer services.

As part of the original 2018 application from the City of Surrey, they proposed extending the Urban Containment Boundary to the Hazelmere Lands. This proposed boundary extension would also make the area eligible for regional water and sewer service and generally contribute to sprawl, as it would be near impossible to service with transit.

The makeup of the Regional Board changed in 2022 due to the local government elections, so the City of Surrey has again submitted this application to the Metro Vancouver Regional District Board. This application is unchanged from 2018. Because this is such a serious change to our Regional Growth Strategy, it requires a 2/3rds weight vote of the Regional District Board. Each municipality in Metro Vancouver is assigned votes based on population, and each municipality appoints Directors to the Metro Vancouver Board.

Metro Vancouver staff are recommending that the Board deny this application because:

  • Recent provincial housing legislation may result in higher permissible housing density than initially proposed.
  • It will create urban sprawl and increase traffic congestion.
  • The housing created in this proposal is not expected to support regional affordable housing goals.
  • It will impact adjacent rural and agricultural lands.
  • It could impact the Little Campbell River watershed.

The Board will consider giving this proposal its first and second readings at its July 26 meeting. If it proceeds past the first and second readings, it must undergo a regional public engagement process.

While there have been previous examples of rural land conversion since the 2022 local government elections that have created a reason for pause, this is the first application in which Metro Vancouver staff has explicitly recommended that a proposal be denied since that election. This proposed application will be the first test of our region's locally elected representatives' resolve to preserve rural land in Metro Vancouver.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

While the Renewed Canada Community Building Fund Is Great, the Feds Must Turn On the Permanent Public Transit Fund

Yesterday, I received an email from the TransLink Mayors' Council Executive about the recent renewal of the Canada Community Building Fund, which used to be called the Federal Gas Tax Fund.

This fund delivered $3 billion in funding to local governments in BC and TransLink between 2014 and 2024. This rebranded fund, indexed to grow at 2% annually, will deliver $3.5 billion to local governments, of which $1.7 will be delivered to TransLink between 2025 and 2035.

This funding is allocated per capita, and like in the last decade, 95% of the per capita funding for the Metro Vancouver Regional District has been allocated to TransLink.

I am pleased that the Canada Community Building Fund negotiations have concluded. I think there is some confusion about this fund; I received an email from a resident asking if Langley City would receive funding from the new program.

This program isn't new money but the renewal of a critical funding source. TransLink and local governments have come to rely on this program, which has been operating since 2005.

While the Canada Community Building Fund's renewal is excellent, the federal government needs to move up the Permanent Public Transit Fund implementation date by a year, so it occurs before the upcoming federal election. This fund will provide new, stable funding to help expand transit service in Metro Vancouver and the rest of Canada. Without this fund, we cannot expand transit services to meet the needs of our growing population, which is directly linked to federal policies.

Returning to the question of funding for Langley City, under the renewed Canada Community Building Fund, we will receive $157,059 annually between 2024 and 2026; it will grow to $163,342 annually in 2027. This funding is small, but every bit helps.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

How Langley City Council Has Invested Into the Community Since 2017

In 2017, I created a simple infographic on how property taxes, fees, and other revenue sources fund Langley City's operations and projects. You can read that older post to learn more.

How revenue the City receives is used. Select infographic to enlarge.

We must increase property tax every year to maintain the status quo of operations. If you live in the strata, you will be familiar with this as it is like your strata fees. This "status quo" usually represents between half and three-quarters of the annual property tax increase. Inflation and salaries are the main drivers of this increase. As our community grows and needs increase, we must make additional investments.

As I've noted previously, I delivered a "State of the City" address for Langley City at the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce dinner a few weeks ago.

As part of my preparation, I looked at how Langley City Council has been investing in our community on behalf of Langley City taxpayers. The following is a list of the increases in investments we've made since 2017 (the first year I was meaningfully a part of the budget decision process.)

2017
Hiring a Bylaw Officer
Joining eComm First Responder Enhanced Radio System
Hiring a New Plan Checker and Building Inspector
Increasing Maintainance of Parks, Boulevards and Trails
Increasing Maintenance of Timms Community Centre
Increasing Contributions to Infrastructure Reserves

2018
Hiring a Building Inspector
Increasing City-Owned Building Maintenance
Increasing Recreation Programming at Timms Community Centre

2019
Hiring a Bylaw Officer
Hiring 3 Firefighters
Hiring a Planning Assitant
Increasing Recreation Programming
Enhancing Street Tree Maintenance
Enhancing Park Maintenance
Increasing Contributions to Infrastructure Reserves

2020
Increasing Playground Maintenance
Increasing Park and Trail Maintenance
Increasing Contributions to Infrastructure Reserves

2021
Increasing Brydon Park Maintenance as New Dog Park Opened
Adding Annual Repayment for $7.5 Million Loan to Support SkyTrain and Infrastructure

2022
Enhanacing Clerical Support
Hiring IT Support Person
Increasing Funding to Support Encampment Cleanup

2023
Hiring a Social Planner to Address Social Challenges
Hiring an HR Assitant
Hiring 2 Firefighters
Hiring a Fire Prevention Officer
Increasing Recreation Programming
Increasing Urban Forest Maintenance
Increasing Park Maintenance
Enhancing Public Engagement
Enhancing Community Day and Magic of Christmas Events
Increasing Contributions to Infrastructure Reserves
Adding Annual Repayment for $15 Million Loan to Support SkyTrain and Infrastructure

2024
Hiring 3 RCMP Members
Hiring 3 Firefighters
Starting the Langley City Emergency Program
Hiring a Bylaw Officer
Enhancing Community Day and Magic of Christmas Events
Increasing Contributions to Infrastructure Reserves

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Wild Changes in Langley City Commercial Property Values and Commercial Property Tax

As I posted last week, I delivered Langley City's "State of the City" address at a Langley Chamber of Commerce dinner. Of course, one topic that came up was commercial property tax.

The BC Assessment Authority determines each property's value. These values are critical for determining the amount of property tax and the change in property tax that a property owner pays.

In BC, municipalities must use a mill rate to determine the tax that a property owner pays. A municipality sets the mill rate for commercial properties by dividing the total property tax it wants to collect from commercial properties by the value of all commercial properties in a municipality.

Because we must use a mill rate, if someone's property values increase more than average, they will have a higher percentage increase in their property tax. If someone's property value increases (or decreases) lower than average, they will have a lower percentage increase in their property tax.

Some commercial property owners saw a significant increase in property tax this year, while others saw a significant decrease. These wild swings are entirely out of Langley City's control, as the BC Assessment Authority, an independent agency of the provincial government, set these values. I did hear from several business owners about their property taxes this year.

Langley City staff prepared the following map of commercial properties and their percentage change in assessed property value as determined by the BC Assessment Authority.

Map showing percentage change in property values in Langley City between the 2023 and 2024 property tax period. Select the map to enlarge.

There are some puzzlers of changed values. For example, the purple areas saw a decrease in property value between 2023 and 2024. These include the Willowbrook Mall, City Square Mall, and the RioCan Power Centre. Willowbrook Park (where a new King Taps is under construction) saw a massive increase in property value.

City staff prepared a table looking at the ten highest-valued commercial properties in Langley City.

Address Tenants 2023 Assessment 2024 Assessment % Assessment Change Tax $ Change Tax % Change
20085 Langley Bypass RioCan Retail (North) $60,655,000 $57,817,000 -4.7% -$19,071 -3.2%
20150 Langley Bypass RioCan Retail (South) $88,621,000 $84,832,000 -4.3% -$24,280 -2.8%
19868 Langley Bypass City Square $60,300,000 $57,996,000 -3.8% -$13,773 -2.3%
19705 Fraser Hwy Willowbrook Mall $52,615,000 $50,884,000 -3.3% -$9,217 -1.8%
20451 Logan Ave Langley Mini Storage $34,108,000 $33,790,000 -0.9% $2,143 0.6%
20151 Fraser Hwy Valley Centre $47,949,000 $47,968,000 0.0% $8,476 1.7%
5501 204 St Langley Mall $67,159,000 $67,184,000 0.0% $11,855 1.7%
1-20393 Fraser Hwy Gateway Casino $47,622,000 $52,726,000 10.7% $62,758 12.5%
20577 Langley Bypass Various Businesses $42,621,000 $47,468,000 11.4% $64,012 13.7%
6131 200 St Willowbrook Park $45,127,000 $54,275,000 20.3% $98,676 22.2%

As you can see, one owner saw a 22% increase in property tax, while another saw a 3% decrease.

What does this mean at the end of the day? If you think your commercial property tax has increased higher than the average property tax increase, you have the option of disputing your property's value with the BC Assessment Authority. This could help lower your property tax bill.