Archive for February, 2018

Juwai reveals ‘Top 10 Chinese Buyer Picks for 2017′ report

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

other

Despite stricter outbound investment rules, Chinese investment abroad stayed robust in 2017.

In fact, Bloomberg reported back in September that Chinese property transactions had risen in 2017, although prices and sizes of the properties eyed by Chinese buyers were lower as they changed their investment strategies to opt for more affordable properties in emerging investment destinations.

That said, where were China homebuyers looking to buy abroad last year?

We look back at the most sought-after investment destinations for real estate investors from China last year, and examine the factors behind their popularity with mainland Chinese in 2017 below.

 

Top 10 favourite countries for Chinese property buyers

The US remained unshaken at the top as the most-viewed and most asked-for investment destination on Juwai.com for Chinese buying real estate abroad, followed by second-placed Australia.

However, while Canada and the UK nabbed the third and fourth places, respectively, in terms of Chinese buyer views on Juwai.com, it was Thailand that triumphed to become the third most enquired country by real estate investors from China, pushing Canada and the UK down to the fourth and fifth spot, respectively.

Likewise, Spain, France, and Singapore were favoured by China buyers in the initial stage of searching on Juwai.com, but eventually slipped out of the top 10 list to be replaced by Germany, Vietnam, and Malaysia when it came down to the actual requests and demands from Chinese homebuyers.

The biggest dark horse in 2017, however, was Vietnam, who charted a 483% y-o-y increase in Chinese buyer enquiries1 to leapfrog from its 19th position in 2016 to take the ninth spot in the list.

Other dark horses that saw a y-o-y boom in demand last year were Thailand (+114%) and Malaysia (+64%).1

This is testament to how the Chinese outbound investment is an ever-fluid market that changes at a rapid pace, as mainland Chinese have increasingly become sophisticated international property buyers who tend to research thoroughly – either by asking for information online and via social media or by asking friends and families for recommendations – before narrowing down their options to decide on their final international property investment destination.

 

Top 10 most-viewed cities by Chinese buyers

We go beyond country level, and lay out the top 10 locations most checked out by Juwai Chinese consumers in the following hotspots:

United States (US)

While Sino-US relations remained somewhat ambivalent throughout 2017, Chinese homebuyers were undeterred as they continued to snap up homes in the US last year, albeit at a slower pace.

On Juwai.com, Los Angeles (LA), New York City (NYC), and Seattle remained the top three hottest destinations in the US viewed by China property hunters on Juwai.com.

This ranking correlates with findings from Hurun Report’s ‘Immigration and the Chinese HNWI 2017 Report’, which revealed Los Angeles as the #1 emigration and property purchase location in the US for China’s high net worth population, followed by Seattle (#2), while New York City came in at #4.2

Elsewhere in the US, the cities of Houston, Orlando, and Beverly Hills steadily rose in ranks last year, even as 2017 welcomed two newcomers to the list – Manhattan and Chicago.

With the fate of the EB-5 visa scheme still uncertain, as well as recent tensions over trade between the two countries, how will Chinese buyer interest in the US fare in 2018?

While it’s early days yet, we perceive that the Chinese demand for US real estate is likely to be sustained into the new year, seeing as the US is a ‘near-perfect’ market for Chinese, thanks to myriad factors such as its top-notched education and strong growth prospects.

2018 © Juwai

B.C.’s new taxes on $3M homes could lean hard on Vancouver’s west side, maps show

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Coverage of B.C. housing affordability on Globalnews.ca

Jesse Ferreras
other

This chart shows single-detached homes with assessed values over $3 million across Metro Vancouver.

B.C.’s new taxes on properties worth $3-million or more could lean hard on West Vancouver and Vancouver’s west side, traditionally some of the region’s richest areas.

That’s according to maps produced by Andy Yan, director of the SFU City Program.

They show that there’s a $3-million line where another boundary once divided Vancouver between areas with single-detached homes worth $1-million or less.

And now, that new line marks out which properties could be hit with a pair of new taxes that were introduced with the 2018 provincial budget.

The taxes

The governing BC NDP introduced two measures that could affect homes valued at $3 million or more.

One is an increase to the Property Transfer Tax (PTT) levelled on homes that are valued at that level, from three per cent to five per cent.

The measure will see a further tax of two per cent applied to the fair market value of a property transaction that exceeds $3-million. And that’s on top of an existing three per cent tax on the fair market value of a transaction above $2-million.

That move alone is expected to bring in $81-million in each of the next three fiscal years.

Then, there’s increased school taxes on homes valued at over $3-million. The province will level a tax of 0.2 per cent on the assessed value of a home that exceeds $3-million, but doesn’t exceed $4 million.

A tax rate of 0.4 per cent will also apply to the portion of a residential property’s assessed value over $4-million.

This measure is projected to bring in revenues of $250-million over the next three fiscal years.

If Yan’s maps of Vancouver single-detached homes are any indication, much of that taxation will happen in West Vancouver and on Vancouver’s west side.

The maps show heavy concentrations of single-detached homes worth $3-million or more in those two areas, as well as in South Surrey.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that most of the taxation will be concentrated in this areas — the maps don’t account for condos or townhomes worth that much — but they do show that the provincial government is taking action to tax wealth, Yan told Global News.

Yan said the NDP’s new housing taxes may be a “policy innovation towards progressive wealth taxation.”

He suggested the taxes are a way of dealing with a “globalizing economy,” when foreign income has proven very difficult to trace and tax.

“We’ve based our immigration policy on wealth and turned around to expect taxation by income,” Yan said.

In 2015, Yan released a study showing that two-thirds of homes bought in a six-month period on Vancouver’s west side may have been purchased by people from overseas.

And with the BC NDP’s new taxes, he hasn’t noticed much of a backlash, either.

“There’s no Boston Tea Party in Coal Harbour,” Yan said, referencing a 1773 protest by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, who threw 342 chests of tea into Boston’s harbour to strike back against new taxes levelled by the British Parliament at the time.

Yan has seen nothing of the sort in Vancouver.

 “It actually doesn’t really necessarily care about representation, and it’s arguably a gift to those in government who can take advantage of this behaviour.

“The political consequence of increasing the taxes in this situation is none, or it’s limited.”

But new property transfer and school taxes aren’t the only ones that could be levelled in these areas.

If their owners don’t make income in B.C., those same properties could face a new speculation tax that would be charged at $5 for every $1,000 of assessed value this year, and $20 per $1,000 of assessed value next year.

The speculation tax is expected to come into effect in the fall.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Canada among four record-breaking countries in 2017

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

REP

The Canadian commercial real estate market set another record for investments in 2017 and was one of only four countries in the world to do so, according to a new report from CBRE Ltd

The report said there were more than $43.1 billion in investments last year, surpassing $34.7 billion in 2016, and CBRE predicts another record will be established in 2018.

CBRE said strong tenant demand, coupled with declining vacancy rates which are at, or near, all-time lows in many Canadian markets, will lead to strong increases in rental rates.

“Investors are not shying away from Canadian commercial real estate,” said CBRE Canada executive managing director Paul Morassutti Tuesday.

“We have record low vacancy rates, record low unemployment, increasing institutional allocation to real estate and supportive immigration that fuels population growth.”

CBRE said, however, that the commercial real estate market does face some risk in 2018, including rising interest rates and the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but it believes the underlying strength in the market will outweigh these concerns.

The company says Toronto and Vancouver began 2018 with the lowest downtown office vacancies in North America at 3.7 per cent and 5.0 per cent respectively and predicts those rates will fall even lower this year due to growing tenant demand and a lack of new office supply.

CBRE says growth in tenant demand is spreading to other cities, with downtown office vacancy rates also slated to fall in London, Ont., the Waterloo Region, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.

After surging for the past two years, CBRE predicts vacancy rates will finally stabilize in Calgary as the recovery in Alberta starts to take hold.

“In 2018, Canada will once again find itself at the centre of two very powerful investment trends,” said Morassutti.

“Firstly, our status as a safe haven with stable rule of law gets more pronounced as geopolitical instability continues to accelerate. Secondly, real estate has arrived as a true `fourth asset class’ that provides yield in a yield-starved world. As a result, institutional allocations are set to increase by over 20 per cent in the next five years.”

Copyright © 2018 Key Media Pty Ltd

Smart REITs are playing the land development card

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Timbercreek senior managing director Corrado Russo sees potential of double-digit returns on real estate investment trusts despite higher interest rates

Frank O’Brien
Western Investor

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) weighted towards commercial and mixed-use real estate sectors in big Canadian cities could see returns as high as 15 per cent this year, according to the senior managing director, investments, and global head of securities at Timbercreek.

Toronto-based Timbercreek is a global asset-class management firm with more than $7.5 billion in assets under management. 

“Large cities in Canada are currently experiencing a wave of gentrification,” Corrado Russo said in an exclusive interview with Western Investor. “This is creating a number of compelling opportunities for REITs to experience outsized growth and offer increasing value for investors.”

Russo defines big cities as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and cautioned that there is one metric REIT portfolio managers and investors should watch if considering smaller centres: population growth.

Many smaller cities may have stable income from commercial real estate, he said, but REITs require the growth in returns and valuations that comes only with an expanding population, including high immigration. 

Mortgage rates

Russo takes a counterintuitive approach, however, when it comes to rising mortgage rates, which are traditionally seen as a drag on REIT performance.

“The empirical evidence shows that at the beginning of an interest rate hike, REITs do poorly because of the intuition that rising rates are bad for real estate income,” he explained. “But when rates actually start rising, REITs outperform because interest rates are typically going up because the economy is doing well: GDP is strong, there is a low unemployment rate, and inflation potential on the horizon. These are all very good for cash flow, and the increase in REIT cash flow outweighs the cost of capital and higher mortgage rates.”

He noted that after three Bank of Canada interest rate hikes in the past year, most REITs are trading at discounts to what the underlying assets could be sold for. This is particularly true in REITs weighted towards retail real estate, he said.

Retail plays

There is a lot of negative news about retail assets, he said, but there is also opportunity because they can be trading at deep discounts.

“Some retail will fail,” Russo said, “but much of the retail will survive and thrive.”

He said a key smart REIT managers have found is maximizing the underlying land and location value of retail assets, particularly in urban infill locations. 

He pointed to RioCan REIT as an example. Canada’s largest REIT is leveraging transit-oriented retail assets it owns in Calgary and Toronto into mixed-use projects with a substantial mix of residential. In Calgary, RioCan has joined with residential developers in a $70 million mixed-use retail and residential redevelopment at its Brentwood Village Shopping Centre, which is served by Calgary’s light-rail transit. 

 “There is a global trend of people wanting to live, work and play in the same [urban] location,” he said. 

“That strip plaza with a Loblaw’s is going to get torn down, but it will be replaced by offices, condominiums and apartment rentals. The Loblaws may still be there, but in the basement. The retail mix will be towards bars, restaurants, fitness centres and movie theatres, more of a gathering place than somewhere to buy another plasma TV.”

Russo said retail is the single largest real estate sector that Timbercreek is overweighting. 

“It is a massive contrarian call,” he conceded, “But it is because [retail] is being priced as is with the retail in place, not to the potential of redevelopment as the highest and best use of the land.”

Despite the success of some Canadian REITs in the U.S. market, such as Vancouver-based Pure Industrial Real Estate Trust, which recently cashed out in a $3.8 billion sale, Russo said it is not necessary for a Canadian REIT to have U.S. exposure.

A REIT investor could be better off  buying the local expert in any U.S. real estate sector, he said, rather than a Canadian company expanding into a foreign market.

Russo said Timbercreek had forecast overall REIT returns of 8 per cent to 10 per cent in 2018, based on current lease rates and contractual increases. 

But, Russo said, when he overlays the cash flow from equities and other sources into REIT, GDP growth and the potential of adding value through development, “I think we are talking about big double-digit returns in the 12 per cent to 15 per cent range.” 

Copyright © 2018 Western Investor

Chinese government takes control of Canadian real estate assets

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Steve Randall
Canadian Real Estate Wealth

Real estate assets of Chinese insurance company Anbang are now under the control of the Chinese government which has accused the firm of “illegal business practices.”

These assets include Vancouver company Retirement Concepts, the largest owner of retirement homes in British Columbia, which was acquired by Anbang in a $1 billion deal last year.

The Vancouver Sun reports that Anbang owns several US hotels including the Waldorf Astoria.

When the possibility of Beijing taking control of Anbang was first raised last year, the prime minister Justin Trudeau said the retirement homes in BC will continue to be regulated by the provincial authorities. However, concern was expressed by Conservative MP Mark Strahl.

Copyright © 2018 Key Media Pty Ltd

B.C.’s real estate taxes to impact activity in southern areas

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Ephraim Vecina
Canadian Real Estate Wealth

The British Columbia government’s latest decision to increase the foreign home buyer’s tax is projected to make noticeable ripples in the central Okanagan, the Fraser Valley, and much of southern Vancouver Island.

Foreigners will now pay the province a 20% tax on top of the listing value, up from 15%. A levy on property speculators will also be introduced later this year, according to budget documents released earlier last week. The tax would be 0.5% of the assessed value in 2018, and 2% in the following years.

Developers and real estate experts in the Okanagan expressed concern that this raft of measures could impact the building and sales of recreational and second homes for people outside of the province.

Other industry observers said that the uncertainty over the tax could interfere with confidence that is driving economic growth in the region, Global News reported.

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James announced the measures targeting foreign buyers and speculators in the first budget, in a follow-up to her campaign pledge of making housing more affordable for residents of Canada’s Pacific Coast province.

The government will also crack down on the condo pre-sale market and beneficial ownership to ensure that property flippers, offshore trusts, and hidden investors are paying taxes on gains.

Premier John Horgan is facing formidable demands after taking power in a fiercely contested election last July. His New Democratic Party made expensive promises to topple the Liberals, whose 16-year-rule brought the fastest growth in Canada, but also surging property while incomes stagnated.

Public outrage has intensified amid perceptions that global capital seeking a stable sanctuary, especially from China, is driving double-digit gains in Vancouver, the country’s most expensive property market.

“The expectations that we will do everything in our first budget are huge,” James told Bloomberg. “Our goal is fairness – fairness for the people who live here, who work here and pay their taxes here.”

Copyright © 2018 Key Media Pty Ltd

Fairways 303 171 Street Surrey 22 townhomes backing on Peace Portal Golf Course by Zenterra Developments

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Zenterra?s Fairways plays off golf course

Michael Bernard
The Vancouver Sun

Fairways – South Surrey

Project Address: 303 – 171 St., Surrey

Project Scope: A boutique-style development of 22 townhomes in four wood-frame buildings backing on to Peace Portal Golf Course. Designed to attract the downsizing market, the three- and four-bedroom homes range from 1,430 to 2,110 square feet. Prices for three-bedroom units start at $679,990 and four-bedrooms start from $769,990. Close to Morgan Crossing shopping centre, Grandview Aquatic Centre and 35 minutes to YVR

Developer: Zenterra Developments Ltd.

Architect: Bernard Decosse Architect Inc.

Interior designer: Zenterra Design Department

Sales centre: 2280 163 St., Surrey

Centre hours: noon — 5 p.m., daily

Sales contact: Bryanna Christopherson

Sales phone: 604-560-0272

Website: http://www.zenterra.ca/fairways

Occupancy: Fall 2018

Zenterra Developments has made its mark with the young crowd, selling its acclaimed SOHO and SOHO 2 new townhomes largely to an under-40 crowd. Now it is turning its attention to older and more affluent downsizers with its Fairways project of 22 townhomes backing on to the popular Peace Portal Golf Course.

“We’re looking at a different demographic than SOHO because Fairways is going to appeal to people in their sixties,” said Bryanna Christopherson, Zenterra’s sales manager. While the younger buyers were thrilled with the rooftop patios among the 230 homes in SOHO and SOHO 2, she said, “older buyers wondered to sales staff, ‘How am I going to walk all my barbecue stuff up there?’”

Christopherson noted that there is a give and take with the Fairways design. While the homes in four buildings at Fairways don’t have rooftop patios, they have more space on the upper level because no space is sacrificed to stairs needed to reach the roof. That allowed the architects to dedicate more space to elements such as walk-in closets, which SOHO homes don’t have, she said.

Also appealing to the downsizers is the more intimate boutique size of the development and the privacy created by a determined effort to retain as many old-growth trees as possible and locating it adjacent to a golf course, she said.

Having a back yard that looks on to the golf course will prove very popular with the older buyers, she said. “People are willing to pay for that because they want the privacy they had coming from a single-family home.

“Many just can’t give up what they are used to, but Fairways makes it easier for a lot of people who are taking that step of downsizing by having so much privacy.”

Fairways is located a little more distant from Morgan Crossing shopping compared with earlier Zenterra projects, making it a drive rather than a walk for residents. Fairways is situated about 12 minutes drive from Morgan Crossing, eight minutes from White Rock’s beach and restaurants and two minutes from the Peace Arch border crossing.

Inside the SOHO and SOHO 2 show homes, similar to what Zenterra is building at the Fairways, the level of finishings in everything from the mouldings and flooring to the premium appliances speaks to Zenterra’s lengthy record of industry awards over the last few years. SOHO, for instance, has been nominated for Best Multi-Family Home Development of the Year and Residential Community of the Year at next month’s Georgie Awards, the development industry’s version of the Oscars.

Architect Bernard Decosse, whose firm designed Fairways, described the project as somewhat more traditional with its use of brick, shingle sidewalls, pitched roofs and brackets and Craftsman pillars, making it attractive to the older demographic.

“It’s a much more traditional expression (than SOHO), but still I think a reasonably crisp looking product,” he said. “The units are very generous in size. And fortunately we were able to save a good number of trees and that creates a situation where it looks like the project has been there for a while.”

Eight of the 10 models available have double garages, while two smaller designs have tandem garages. Some models come with the kitchen at one end of the living space with adjacent dining and living spaces, while others have the kitchen located in the centre with dining and living on each side.

Four-bedroom models all have a bedroom on the ground entry level adjacent to the garage with the remaining three bedrooms on the third level. In the three-bedroom model, all three bedrooms are located on the top level. All homes have two balconies situated off each end of the second level.

All homes feature durable wide-plank laminate flooring with ultra plush carpeting on upper floors, stairs, hallways, bedrooms and flex rooms.

Kitchens come in either a galley style or L-shape and have premium Jenn-Air appliances including 36-inch counter-depth refrigerators, 30-inch five-burner gas cooktops and dishwashers.

Tandem-garage homes come with a 30-inch Jenn-Air wall oven, while double-garage homes have a five-burner gas range with convection oven. All homes have AEG pull-out range hoods and KitchenAid microwaves.

Another feature that particularly appeals to older, more affluent buyers is the provision of forced air natural gas heating, with the built-in ductwork allowing for optional air conditioning, said Christopherson.

The master ensuite bathroom has double porcelain under-mount sinks, floor-to-ceiling Italian style porcelain tiles and a frameless glass shower. Kohler plumbing fixtures and Navien on-demand hot water heaters are standard.

Interior designer Gene Guindon said he tried two different styles for the Fairways’ show homes.

“For our larger unit, we went with a more executive refined look with a colour palette of khaki neutrals and navy blues. It’s exciting to have velvets back in fashion, so we have sprinkled luxurious velvet touches throughout. In the expansive kitchen island, we used navy blue velvet Etta stools to set off our whole look.

 “In our second, inside unit townhome, we decided to showcase a younger more urban theme. I had in mind a cool Gastown artist loft.  I really wanted to show how flexible a space Zenterra has created.

“Zenterra is a cool and creative developer, so I wanted to make sure this place was cool. The space really feels full of light, and the volume of space really felt loft-like to me, therefore we rolled with it.”
Guindon said space is a luxury in the region, and a real pleasure for designers to work with.

“Well-designed and laid out floor plans are so much easier to decorate, you don’t have size constraints to hamper the design process.  Also, leaving some breathing room around furniture really adds the volume of luxury that has been lost almost everywhere else.”

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Metro Vancouver directors torn on controversial Hazelmere development in south Surrey

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Metro directors are torn on controversial plan for south Surrey housing

Larry Pynn
The Vancouver Sun

A planned residential development in rural Hazelmere in south Surrey was described Friday as both a dangerous land-use precedent and a boost to young farmers and the local environment.

The Metro Vancouver regional board ultimately decided that residents should have a say at a public hearing before a final decision is made on the project.

Regional staff had recommended against the City of Surrey’s request to amend the Metro 2040: Shaping our Future land-use designation map in order to accommodate the development proposal.

The amendment would create a “23.7-hectare non-contiguous extension” of the Metro 2040 Urban Containment Boundary, and redesignate lands from Metro 2040 Rural to General Urban.

The plan for a 145-lot single-family residential subdivision, housing about 450 residents, would require extending regional sewer lines to the site, which is part of the Hazelmere golf course development. 

“The proposed amendment challenges the most fundamental elements of Metro 2040 – containing urban sprawl, focusing urban growth to support complete communities, and efficient transportation and infrastructure investments,” the staff report read.

“In addition, approval would set a clear precedent regarding the permeability of the urban containment boundary, and likely trigger additional land development speculation in the rural areas of southeastern Surrey and other similar areas of the region.”

But the majority of regional directors felt the public should have a say in the project through a public hearing and believed the project had some merit, because it also puts about 1.5 hectares back into the agricultural land reserve, provides opportunities for young farmers on otherwise fallow lands, improves irrigation and drainage, and offers a superior alternative to septic fields. 

The Semiahmoo First Nation, which stands to gain financially from the development, recommended approval.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner noted that her council had dealt with development applications for the property three times in as many years and that “on balance” supported the latest proposal.

Sarah Rush of Friends of Hazelmere-Campbell Valley spoke against the development, warning “this fits the definition of urban sprawl” and “there is no public (transit) … and unlikely there ever will be.”

Richmond councillor and long-time farming advocate Harold Steves feared the development would only fuel further speculation on farmland in the surrounding area.

Nathan Hildebrand, representing the land owner, Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club, insisted the residential development “will complete the ultimate vision for this golf-course community” and noted that the land is not within the agricultural land reserve.

Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said she is torn on the issue and voted against the development at the committee level, but ultimately decided to support putting the matter to the public. “It’s a very challenging issue that would benefit from a full public hearing … before coming to a decision.”

An amendment bylaw will come back to the regional board before a public hearing being held.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Undeclared homes clustered downtown

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Heat map shows most of 4,000 properties in Yaletown, Coal Harbour and West End

NICK EAGLAND
The Province

The City of Vancouver released a heat map Thursday showing the distribution of residential properties where owners haven’t yet made a declaration to avoid its new empty-homes tax, and the highest concentration is in condo-rich Yaletown.

The city says about 182,000 residential property owners — roughly 98 per cent — have submitted their declarations but another 4,000 still haven’t. Most of the undeclared properties are in the downtown core and the highest concentrations are in Yaletown, Coal Harbour and the West End.

Homeowners in the three condo-dense neighbourhoods who have not declared occupancy risk paying a one per cent tax on their properties’ assessed values. Assessed values of residential strata units — such as condos — in Metro Vancouver skyrocketed this year by five to 35 per cent.

Residential property owners had until Feb. 2 to declare occupancy, but the city extended the deadline to March 5 to give the 4,000 who had not declared a chance to avoid penalties and fines.

The empty-homes tax, a first in Canada, was approved by councillors in 2016 as a tool to spur owners to rent out empty homes. Any property owner who fails to declare by March 5 is subject to the tax plus a $250 fee.

Declarations will be subject to an audit process and false declarations could result in fines of up to $10,000 per day, according to the city.

“With a near-zero vacancy rate in Vancouver, our key goal is to shift empty or underused housing into the rental market. The city has done extensive advertising and notifications about the empty homes tax for more than a year — all homeowners should know that they have to file a declaration, or their homes will be considered empty by default,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a news release.

Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s city program, who has been researching the distribution of empty homes in Vancouver, said the city’s heat map matches well with a map he generated from city data identifying private dwellings not occupied by usual residents. It also matches closely with a map of population density he prepared based on 2016 census data.

But Yan questions whether the city will have any luck collecting declarations from the 4,000 property owners represented in its heat map. He believes some owners may not understand the implications of non-filing, may decline to respond as form of protest or simply may not have received notices because the homes are, in fact, unoccupied.

“Are these people even home? Is there even somebody to receive the notice: ‘Are you an empty home?’ ” he said. “This could potentially show where the really, really empty homes are.”

Yan said he hopes the city will release a comprehensive map of empty homes once they have been identified.

The latest census counted more than 25,500 empty homes in Vancouver. That amounts to more than eight per cent of the city’s total housing stock. Meanwhile, the rental vacancy rate rests just above zero.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Popular repurposed shipping containers are ‘potential bombs’

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

New WorkSafeBC campaign warns of ‘significant’ risk when used for storage

GLENDA LUYMES
The Province

A propane tank stored inside a shipping container on a Saanich construction site ?became a bomb,? according to a WorkSafeBC video about a 2013 incident in which the explosion sent one of the container?s heavy metal doors across the street into a public park. ADRIAN LAM/TIMES COLONIST FILES

Designed to transport goods across international waters, shipping containers have become darlings of the DIY world, linked with buzzwords like “pop up” and “upcycling.”

They’ve also attracted the attention of B.C.’s workplace safety authority. A new WorkSafeBC video campaign warns that reusing or repurposing shipping containers can “create unseen risks to workers and the public.”

“The potential for explosion is quite significant,” WorkSafeBC director Dan Strand said Friday.

Portable, strong and easy to secure, shipping containers have become a popular storage solution on construction sites across the province, he explained. Many large sites have one or two steel containers for various uses, including office space, electrical rooms or painting. They’re also popping up on farms and in residential neighbourhoods.

While the containers can be used safely, WorkSafe has found a lack of awareness about the risks. Because they are airtight and watertight, it is unsafe to store anything flammable inside without proper ventilation. Employees should be trained to prevent accidents while proper signage lets firefighters know the container is a “potential bomb,” Strand said.

In 2011, an Enderby firefighter was struck and killed by a door that blew off a shipping container while he was fighting a fire in the next building. Afterward, investigators found the container was being used to house a collection of gas-powered tools. When the fuel vapour was exposed to extreme heat, the container exploded.

In 2013, a propane tank stored in a shipping container on a Saanich construction site “became a bomb,” according to a WorkSafeBC video about the incident. The explosion sent one of the container’s heavy metal doors across the street into a public park. It also destroyed an adjacent shipping container that served as an office, injuring one worker, and blew out the windows of nearby buildings and cars.

A WorkSafeBC investigation attributed the explosion to a barbecue that had been used the previous day by construction workers on a break. The propane tank valve had been left open, while a burner valve may have inadvertently been turned on as the barbecue was being placed in the container for storage. The container filled with propane, and a spark from a soft drink dispenser — also stored in the container — ignited the gas.

The Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. has been working on the issue for several years, said member Don Delcourt.

“Shock went through the whole fire service when we lost a firefighter to a hazard we hadn’t really considered before,” he said.

Attempts to get the fire code changed to recognize that shipping containers are being used as buildings were unsuccessful, leading the association to draft a “model bylaw” that can be adopted by local governments. Bylaw officers can enforce standards around venting and labelling.

WorkSafe is also educating employers on the potential dangers associated with shipping containers, said Strand. If education is unsuccessful and a risky situation persists, the safety authority can order the employer to improve conditions. WorkSafe plans to be in contact with the companies that sell shipping containers, hoping they’ll provide safety material to purchasers.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.