אף על פי שהמחירים והמכירות ירדו ברוב הערים אשתקד, המחירים עדיין עלו בכשישים וארבעה אחוזים בוונקובר – בחמש השנים האחרונות.
החל מחודש ספטמבר הקרוב תופעל לראשונה תוכנית מימון לרוכשי נדל”ן בפעם הראשונה, שהכנסותיהם מגיעות מקסימום למאה ועשרים אלף דולר בשנה. סכום המשכנתא המובטחת יגיע למקסימום של ארבע מאות ושמונים אלף דולר.
סוכנות הדיור של קנדה תשקיע כמיליארד ורבע מיליארד דולר קנדי, במשך שלוש שנים, כדי לקנות בתים שמיועדים לרוכשי דירות בפעם הראשונה. וזאת כחלק מתוכניתה של ממשלה הליברלית בראשות, ג’סטין טרודו, להפוך את הדיור לזול יותר עבור הבוחרים הצעירים יותר במדינה.
על פי מסמכי התקציב הפדרלי שפורסמו בשבוע שעבר, רשות המשכנתאות והדיור הקנדית תעניק עד עשרה אחוז למימון בתים חדשים, ועד חמישה עשר אחוזים עבור בתים קיימים, כדי להפחית את עלויות המשכנתאות עבור רוכשים, בעלי הכנסה נמוכה עד בינונית. המימון יחול על המשכנתאות המבוטחות, אשר נדרשות אם הקונה מסוגל לשלם מקדמה על הנכס בשיעור של לפחות עשרים, שהוא מעוניין לרכוש.
במהלך זה שר האוצר ביל מורנאו, מבקש בעצם להרגיע את החששות בשוק הדיור הקנדי, לאחר עליית המחירים והשינויים בשנים האחרונות, שדחף את האופציה של בעלות על נדל”ן אל מחוץ להישג ידם של קנדים רבים, במיוחד הצעירים אשר עושים את צעדיהם הראשונים בשוק העבודה. אף על פי שהמחירים והמכירות ירדו ברוב הערים אשתקד, המחירים עדיין עלו בכשישים וארבעה אחוזים בוונקובר – בחמש השנים האחרונות (והגיעו אל מעל מיליון דולר בממוצע לבית), ואילו בטורונטו הם עלו בכחמישים ושישה אחוז באותה תקופה. כך עולה מנתוני אגודת הנדל”ן של קנדה.
תוכנית חדשה זו של הממשלה שמעריכה כי כמאה אלף רוכשים נדל”ן חדשים ינצלו אותה, במשך שלוש שנים, עשויה לשמש נתון חיובי לשוק הנדל”ן, דבר הנחוץ כך כך צמיחה, כיוון שמורגשים סימנים ברורים שהכלכלה הקנדית נמצאת בתקופה של האטה.
תוכנית ההלוואות מבוססת למעשה על הרעיון של קבוצות קטנות שלא מטרות רווח בקנדה, שכבר היום מציעות הלוואות דומות עבור אנשים בעלי הכנסה נמוכה. התוכנית החדשה, שתקרא “תמריץ לקונה הבית בפעם הראשונה”, תושפעל בחודש ספטמבר ותהיה זמינה לקונים בפעם הראשונה, בעלי הכנסות שנתיות של עד מאה ועשרים אלף דולרי. סכום המשכנתא המבוטחת יגיע עד לארבע מאות שמונים אלף דולר.
כך למעשה רוכש בית חדש בסכום של ארבע מאות אלף דולרי שיעביר תשלום של עשרים אלף דולר כמקדמה (המהווה חמישה אחוז מסכום הרכישה), עשוי לקבל ארבעים אלף דולר (עשרה אחוז), כתרומה מסוכנות הדיור. לפיכך התשלום החודשי שלו עבור המשכתנא, יקטן מכאלפים דולר בחודש, לכאלף שבוע מאות וחמישים דולר לחודש, בהתבסס על משכנתא לעשרים וחמש שנים, כשאר הריבית של המשכנתא עומדת על שלושה וחצי אחוזים, לפי הדוגמה בתקציב.
“המהלך מטורף ויגרום לביקוש גדול יותר בשוק הנדל”ן שגם כך הוא תחרותי ביותר”, אומר אחד מבעלי חברות הנדל”ן המקומיות. הוא מוסיף: “מדוע הממשלה משחקת את תפקיד של אמאו ואבא ורוכשת בתים לכולם? זה לא הפתרון למחירי הבתים הגבוהים, אלה ניסיון לטפל בסימפטום פשוט על ידי זריקת כסף למשלמי המיסים כדי שירכשו בתים”.
בשלב זה זה ידוע כי אגודת הדיור הקנדית תיהנה מכל רווח במחיר הבית, או לחלופין פוטנציאלית תספוג חלק של מכל הפסד. נכון לעכשיו, לא ברור אם על בעל הדירה להחזיר את סכום ההלוואה במולאה, או את נתח ההון על בסיס הערך של הבית כאשר הנכס נמכר. פרטים אלה יפורסמו בחודשים הקרובים, אומרים גורמים במשרד האוצר הקנדי.
Storeys, the Diamond Residences, is among the affordable housing sites where the new TCL will be working. (photo from jfsvancouver.ca)
Jewish Family Services has launched a new tenant community liaison (TCL) position to provide stability and support for JFS clients receiving a Tikva Housing subsidy or who are housed in one of Tikva’s rental buildings for low- and moderate-income Jewish adults and families.
The purpose of the TCL position, which is funded by the Ben and Esther Dayson Foundation and a grant from the federal government, is to increase the long-term success of housing vulnerable and at-risk Jewish community members.
“Once JFS clients are settled in as new tenants, they often struggle to adjust to living in a permanent housing situation,” said Tanja Demajo, director of family and adult resources at JFS. “Many of our clients have a history of addiction, mental illness, a physical disability, and/or family abuse, so adapting to life in a new community is a challenge for them.”
The new TCL will act as a link between JFS and Tikva Housing to ensure that tenants who need support are settled in successfully and to help them understand their roles, rights and responsibilities. In addition, the TCL will provide workshops and counseling, as well as community-building activities, such as holiday celebrations and networking events. Tenants will also learn about appropriate services or resources.
Alice Sundberg, director of operations and housing development at Tikva Housing, said, “We value the collaborative relationship we have with JFS to make sure that those most in need in our community get access to affordable housing. The tenant community liaison will help to ensure that the people we serve have more than just a roof over their heads. We plan to work closely with the TCL to connect our more vulnerable tenants to support services, job and educational resources, as well as enhanced links to the Jewish community and culture.”
Affordable and social housing has become a critical issue in the Lower Mainland for almost all income levels. Following the trend in the general population, the part-time JFS housing coordinator has seen more than a 20% increase in the number of people asking for assistance, with an average of 55 new calls a week.
In the city of Vancouver, monthly rent of $1,730 for a one-bedroom unit is considered affordable. When a person on disability makes a yearly income below $18,000 per year and the minimum wage is $12.65 an hour, it is not surprising that the percentage of homelessness has increased by 30% since 2014. The 2017 Homelessness Count in Metro Vancouver confirmed that some of the main barriers to finding housing are the high cost of rent and the lack of income and shortage of units that suit clients’ needs.
As the Jewish community responds to the issue of affordable housing, the tenant community liaison is a step forward. “Lack of support for affordable and social housing damages clients lives and affects all of us directly or indirectly,” said Demajo. “Having a home is not a luxury, it is a basic need.”
Left to right: Anat Gogo, Tikva Housing administrator; Philip Dayson, donor; Shirley Barnett, donor; Heather Kenny, Tikva board member; Alice Sundberg, Tikva director of operations; Eric Fefer, Tikva development committee member; Shelley Karrel, Tikva board chair; and Kasimir Kish, Tikva board member. (photo from Tikva Housing)
There is so much in the news about Vancouver’s housing crisis – unaffordable rents, no vacancies and reno-viction notices. Having a safe, secure and affordable home is one of the most basic needs, which helps people to feel a sense of belonging and well-being. Many in our community lack this basic right.
On a daily basis, Tikva administrator Anat Gogo hears about people looking for affordable housing.
“It might be because they are in an abusive situation and need to make a change, or they are paying almost 50% of their monthly income on housing,” she said. “Whatever the reason, we do what we can.”
Thanks to the generosity of donors, Tikva has two residences that are fully occupied – Dany Guincher House and the Diamond Residences – and soon to open is the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in the Fraserview district. These 32 new townhomes include two-, three- and four-bedroom units and, in adjacent towers, there is a common room where tenants will be able to gather for special events like Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations.
In addition, more than 35 individuals and families are supported through the Esther Dayson Rent Subsidy Program.
Alice Sundberg, director of operations and housing development at Tikva, said the need to continue to increase “inventory” is constant.
For more information and to find out how you can help, contact Tikva Housing at 778-998-4582 or visit tikvahousing.org.
On Sept. 5, Vancouver City Council will hold a public hearing to help determine the next steps of the planned redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC).
Serving more than 40,000 community members each year, the JCC has been bursting at the seams for years and needs a significant upgrade. “Our community centre, which is Jewish at heart and, therefore, open to and used by everyone, is aging,” said JCC executive director Eldad Goldfarb. “We’re a not-for-profit that’s been serving the Oakridge area and beyond for 60 years and we are determined to continue this tradition.”
The new facility, planned to be built over two phases, will feature expanded aquatic, gymnasium, fitness and studio space, new cultural arts facilities, a theatre, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, office space for more than 15 other nonprofit community organizations, expanded licensed early childhood education facilities and significantly enhanced outdoor spaces.
“We just don’t have enough room for all of our activities, so I would love to see the JCC expand and continue to be inclusive for everyone,” said JCC Seniors committee member Cori Friedman.
The City of Vancouver anticipates the population of the Cambie Corridor will double by 2041.
“With all the growth and changes occurring to the community around our centre, it is important for the JCC to grow and change as well – to be prepared for the future and all that it is bringing to our surroundings,” said JCC board president Salomon Casseres.
When the project is complete, the JCC site will also include 299 family-oriented rental homes. “We are going to put the land into a community land trust, so we can create long-term affordable housing and community amenities,” Goldfarb explained.
The proposal has undergone an extensive rezoning process, including a number of different designs, three community open houses and outreach to partner organizations within the Jewish community. For more information on the project, contact Susan Tonn ([email protected]). For details on how to share your thoughts directly with city council, visit rezoning.vancouver.ca/applications/950w41stave/feedback.htm.
Jordan Billinkoff, left, and Josh Glow started the company Gryd, winner of the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations’ New Product or Service of the Year Award. (photo from Gryd)
The Toronto-based start-up Gryd is reinventing the look and feel of finding a place to rent.
Created by Winnipeg Jewish community members Jordan Billinkoff and Josh Glow – who started their careers as b’nai mitzvah photographers/videographers – Gryd provides property management companies with a virtual reality (VR) video of the place they want to rent out.
The idea is sometimes a hard sell to management companies, Billinkoff told the Independent, but renters are lining up to use it. The Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations has recognized Gryd as the best new product on the market.
“I’ve always been very interested in technology and digital media,” said Billinkoff. “And, when I was younger, I was making a lot of videos for fun, and people started saying I could make money shooting videos. So, I started shooting bar mitzvah videos.”
At 24, he started doing more commercial work, mainly in real estate, which led him to start a company called Property Reel, which produced photos and videos for real estate properties.
“And then,” he said, “I realized there are a lot more opportunities for new technologies and enhancing the user experience … the way people search for properties online. So, I decided to change the name to Gryd and we got involved with VR [virtual reality], augmented reality (AR), technologies.”
Billinkoff went to Gray Academy of Jewish Education until Grade 7 before transferring to Grant Park High School and then finishing high school at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.
“I was always curious about what was coming up next and I wanted to experiment with new technologies that I thought would be promising,” said Billinkoff. “I saw a lot of promise and potential in 3-D technology.
“When I say 3-D technology, I think of VR and AR. Both of these technologies are built on video game engines. The same tools that developers use to make video games are what our developers use to create 3-D models for VR and AR apps.”
So, they bought a 3-D camera and started filming some properties and some 3-D models of properties to gauge public interest. It was a hit with some of their already existing clients.
The product takes a couple of different forms.
“There are the 3-D tours,” said Billinkoff. “With the 3-D tours, you can view them with the headset on. So, the 3-D tours you can put online and you can use them on a desktop, tablet or phone.
“Taking it to the next level, you have a virtual reality headset and can view it in VR. So, you’re immersed in the property, which creates a dimensionally accurate 3-D model.”
To achieve this, Gryd uses a 3-D scanning camera that creates a wire frame of the environment it’s in. It places each VR photograph on top of the wire frame to make a 3-D model of the property. It is not a mere rendering, but a 3-D model that is dimensionally accurate.
On top of this, there is the floor plan, which users can view by clicking that option. “You can move it around in 3-D, so you can see different vantage points of the floor plan,” said Billinkoff. “The traditional virtual tours were 360-degree panoramic photos, where you click on one, wait for it to load, then click on another. But, with these 3-D models, you can actually walk around with a full range of motion … and, there are no loading wait times.”
VR goggles are a new technology and most companies are just starting to use them in their leasing centres or corporate offices. The technology allows a potential lessee or buyer to be immersed in a place that is not yet built.
Because the technology is so new, Billinkoff has been holding off on releasing his 3-D videos for the past few years in order to build up a content library of tours before they launch.
While the 3-D headsets cost close to $300, Gryd is selling ones that are only $15 and allow anyone to use their own smartphone as the 3-D screen.
The biggest challenge has been convincing property managers to invest $250 on a property that typically rents in a couple of weeks during a slow period.
“So, we’re kind of fighting for the renters, to create a better user experience even in these markets where everything is leasing anyways,” said Billinkoff.
While most property managers are open to the idea of shooting 3-D tours, he said, “They just have such low vacancies that, a lot of times, they won’t even have a vacancy available, to be able to shoot the unit, for another half a year. So, there are a lot of logistical issues with that, because of the low vacancy.
“Also, property management isn’t known for being the most innovative industry. So, a lot of property managers are comfortable with their old-school routines and processes. This is something very new and high-tech.”
When Gryd first started shooting VR in 2015-2016, they would not mention it in the sales pitch, knowing it would likely cause resistance. Instead, they shot as many 3-D tours as they could over two to three years. Then, they launched a VR app, which has a library of 3-D tours, and property managers receive this bonus.
“We sold them the 3-D tours,” said Billinkoff. “Then, one day, which was a couple months ago, we put the switch on, and all the tours turned VR. And we informed all our clients that they now have this new and awesome bonus.”
At first, Billinkoff did all the shooting, but now Gryd has a network of trained photographers all over the country. Both Billinkoff and Glow have relocated from Winnipeg to Toronto to expand their business.
If someone visits gryd.com now, they will not yet be able to search for a place in Vancouver. But, that addition is currently in the works. Billinkoff anticipates that it will come into effect as of spring 2019.
“The number one thing we hear from all the property managers is that having the 3-D tours pre-qualifies the renters,” said Billinkoff. “So, if a renter is coming in to see the unit in person, they’re already very well-informed. They’ve already seen everything they need to know online. So, if they are coming in, they are already ready to put down a deposit on the property. They are just confirming everything is what it looks like online.
“It just makes the process more efficient, as they [the property managers] are weeding out tire kickers from coming in and taking a look at the apartment. Then, on the opposite end, it works great for renters, as they don’t need to waste time going to apartments they aren’t interested in. When they go to an apartment, they already know they like it, as they’ve seen everything online.”
Avie Estrin at Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society’s new laneway house. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Fred Dexall used to live in a group home in Kerrisdale. “I didn’t like it there,” he recalls. “The problem is they were very unfriendly. Everybody [kept] to themselves.”
When the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society opened the first home for members of the Jewish community with mental health issues, in 2001, Dexall was the first resident. He remains there today.
“I’m happy here,” he said. There is more freedom to do one’s own thing than in the “dictatorial” group home he left, he said. Plus, the residents enjoy a Jewish lifestyle, celebrate the holidays, have Shabbat dinners on Fridays, attend the Bagel Club on Mondays and participate in other aspects of Jewish communal life. Every day, volunteers shuttle kosher meals from the kitchen at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital for Yaffa residents.
“Some of us have other disabilities besides mental illness,” said Drexall. “I have epilepsy and it’s all looked after.”
The organization is in the midst of a significant expansion. The house where Dexall has lived for 17 years is operated by Yaffa under a lease from the Vancouver Resource Society, a nonprofit providing accessible housing to people with disabilities, which owns the home in a quiet south Vancouver residential neighbourhood.
In 2010, Yaffa bought the house next door, welcoming more residents. Now, a sparkling new two-storey laneway house has just been completed behind the second home and renovations are taking place on the two houses to further increase capacity. Yaffa also has five units in a 51-unit building in Dunbar, which offers more intensive 24/7 care for residents. In an agreement with the Coast Foundation, B.C. Housing and the City of Vancouver, Yaffa has perpetual lease of these five spaces in return for funding a kosher kitchen in the facility.
Avie Estrin, the president of the society, is carrying on a family tradition. His parents, Aaron and Tzvia Estrin, were among the founding members of the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society and Aaron was pivotal in raising the capital to launch the residential facility and purchase the second home. Their collective passion comes from firsthand recognition of the need. Avie Estrin’s brother, Marc, is a resident.
“I think it was front and centre for us because we had the awareness that many people – most people – simply aren’t privy to,” said Avie Estrin. “You see what people go through and the reality is, there was no other option. Remarkably, even though mental illness has been around forever, there was simply nothing in the Vancouver Jewish community to address it. Montreal had Jewish mental health housing facilities, Toronto had facilities. Vancouver had nothing.”
An ad hoc group of families came together to form the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society, with no organizational support at the outset.
“We had to do something and it was meeting after meeting after meeting in somebody’s private home and, ultimately, they did make it happen,” said Estrin. “Once it got a little bit of momentum, then there was a little bit more attention. It got the ball rolling, but those first few years were very much uphill.”
Now, the facilities house 13 people. With the completed laneway house and upcoming renovations to the unfinished basement in the second house, the organization will welcome five more residents.
With 13 people in the south Vancouver homes, plus five in Dunbar, that makes 18, Estrin noted, “which is chai, which, again, is quite significant to us.”
Estrin said that, even with this expansion, the organization is only making a dent in the demand. With a rule of thumb that 10% of the population has a mental illness and half of those are acute, the Vancouver Jewish community, he estimates, probably has about 1,200 people who would meet Yaffa’s criteria for residency, which is based on DSM-IV Axis 1: “Schizophrenia, manic-depressive, things like that,” Estrin said.
He acknowledges the organization’s limits.
“We are doing what little we can,” he said, “and you might say, ‘well, it’s a little,’ but I would respond by saying something is better than nothing.” With the increase in capacity to 18, he reframed his response: “At this point, I would suggest to you that more is better than something.”
One of the other things the renovation project will ameliorate, Estrin hopes, is the gender imbalance. Because the nature of Yaffa House is a collective living model, there have been logistical challenges in mixing genders.
“By happenstance, we’ve become kind of an all-guys facility as things stand right now and it’s not because there are less women out there who are affected. There is an equal number of them,” he said. As the redevelopment continues, plans will incorporate accommodations for women, adjacent to the men’s accommodations, but with added privacy.
To complete the development and to support daily operations, Estrin is making a call for support, not only financial – though he stresses that is most welcome – but also for volunteers who can fill various capacities either as members of the board or in helping out at the homes.
Travis Hanks of Haeccity Studio Architecture. He and his colleague Shirley Shen made a presentation at the launch of CoHo on May 12. (photo by Noam Dolgin)
A diverse group of people a couple of dozen strong, all looking for solutions to Vancouver’s housing crisis, met on May 12 to brainstorm and learn. The meeting was organized by CoHo BC, an organization founded by Jewish community member Noam Dolgin, which describes itself as “an initiative to support, encourage and simplify collaborative ownership of property in B.C.”
The gathering took place at the home of Celia Brauer, another Jewish Vancouverite who herself is looking at co-housing options. “I have been loving this house and surrounding green space for 18 years now,” she said in the press release about the meeting. “I would very much enjoy sharing this corner of paradise with someone, especially since it would allow me to remain here.”
After getting to know one another a bit, smaller groups were formed to share ideas of their ideal dwellings and produce a collaborative vision for a home that included them all.
It was clear that everyone present had already given the idea some thought. One team envisioned a shared home with a combination of private areas and shared spaces – such as a library, places where people could work and places kids could play, plus a carport for a shared vehicle – as well as a backyard. (All three mini-groups dropped the idea of a front yard as an unneeded encumbrance.) The other two teams came up with different visions: one imagined private houses sharing courtyards and outdoor spaces on the same lot; another saw a shared structure with self-contained living spaces within it.
Following this exercise, architects Travis Hanks and Shirley Shen of Haeccity Studio Architecture made a presentation on the firm’s Micro-op concept, which won the Urbanarium Missing Middle Competition. (Urbanarium is a registered nonprofit founded by a group of architects, planners and others committed to re-imagining the city.)
Haeccity’s “missing middle” project is about providing alternatives to houses on the one end, and high-rises and condos on the other. Hanks and Shen are exploring ways to increase density on lots that are in the “buffer zones” of major arterials, between single-family neighbourhoods and commercial areas.
Hanks and Shen described the concept: a three-storey building of six or seven housing units that would fit onto a single-family lot of about 33 feet by 122 feet without impinging on the space or esthetic values of adjacent single-family homes. It could be in two buildings, separated by a common courtyard, with the flexibility of a combination of one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging in size from 525 square feet to 1,350 square feet.
Haeccity’s proposal imagines new urban policies that would provide both more affordable housing and more community-rich neighbourhoods. The housing would be purchased like in a co-op model, where tenants would buy shares in the community. Although this would make buying in more affordable, as well as potentially foster community, intergenerational connection and other benefits that come from long-term residents, many of those at the May 12 meeting were concerned about the lower return on investment such a community would entail, should residents decide to leave. Hanks and Shen were clear that there was a trade-off involved.
“If we’re going to get serious about affordability,” said Hanks, “we have to get serious about separating from the market.”
In his presentation on the CoHo project, Dolgin explained, “CoHo aims to be a portal for information. It is also a ‘matchmaking service’ for homeowners, buyers and sellers to find others with complementary housing needs.”
Dolgin said he plans to collect information that will make it easier to understand people’s needs and to connect like-minded people together. Citing a 2016 Ipsos Reid poll – which found that 11% of respondents would consider buying real estate with a friend or business partner and three percent would consider buying with a stranger – he said openness to co-housing is steadily growing in Vancouver, especially among millennials. What is missing, he said, is an infrastructure to help make it happen.
Brauer then briefly outlined the housing offer she would like to make and led interested guests on a tour. She is offering to sell 60% of her property to someone willing to share it so that she can stay within her community, in the neighbourhood she’s known for almost two decades. She would like to build her own small house in the back of the lot. The only access to her envisioned laneway house would be from the front street. In a kind of microcosm of the needs of the larger co-housing community in Vancouver, Brauer’s plan will be dependent both on finding the right shidduch (match) and on the city being willing to accommodate the project.
“The next step for CoHo BC involves building the community through a series of events, social media and networking,” said Dolgin. “We need to work together to spread the word about this organization and this housing type. People in B.C. are constantly searching for community and affordability, so I truly believe collaboration and some form of communal living or co-ownership is a viable option that would appeal to more than 10% of the population. Our job is to create the community and infrastructure to facilitate and encourage this type of housing.”
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
With the skyrocketing Vancouver real estate prices the talk of Canadian news media almost daily, less attention has been given to the fate of the many homes whose high property price-tags all but encourage demolition and rebuilds.
One Facebook group has been seeking to draw attention to the disappearing streetscape of Vancouver. With 10,000 followers, Vancouver Vanishes bills itself as “a lament for, and celebration of, the vanishing character homes in Vancouver.” Some houses – like one on West 15th, originally owned by an assistant salesman for the Canadian Pacific Railway – have already met their fate. Others are slated for demolition, with photos posted in the hopes that followers will register their protest with Vancouver City Council.
My late grandfather’s home – on Fremlin Street near West 54th Avenue – was recently torn down to make way for a generous new build. Purchased with my grandmother and their three daughters in the late 1950s, my grandfather lived in his mid-century vernacular bungalow for nearly six decades, until he died three years ago at age 97.
While it was spacious and modern by 1950s standards, my grandfather’s house probably wouldn’t have made it to the pages of Vancouver Vanishes. It was a standard bungalow with four modest bedrooms, generous entertaining spaces, a kitchen large enough to accommodate Passover and everyday dishes, and a spacious rec room with a wet bar for teenage dance parties hosted by my mom and aunts. With more room to spread out, it would have felt excitingly large to the three daughters and, soon, another girl they fostered, compared to the small character home on Quesnel Drive from which they had moved. But theirs wasn’t among the most celebrated Vancouver “heritage home” variety – the Storybook homes, or the Tudor, Georgian or Mission Revival structures.
Still, the Jewish community may want to pause to consider a special type of vanishing as more and more of these homes disappear. That is, the kind of community-building that took place within the four walls of my grandparents’ home, and in the homes of many other community leaders and activists of their generation.
In my grandparents’ home on Fremlin, there was organizing and affiliation with Schara Tzedeck Synagogue, then under the leadership of Rabbi Bernard Goldenberg and Rabbi Marvin Hier. As well, with three growing daughters, there were the activities of many youth groups: NCSY, Young Judea and Habonim. There was the founding and nurturing of Camp Miriam, where my grandmother was the first “camp mother.” There was much work to be done for Pioneer Women, for the Histadrut (Israel’s trade union association) and in the preparation of a weekly radio show my grandparents hosted on Jewish and Israeli themes. In between the many hours devoted to volunteer work, there were their small businesses to run – Clifford’s Jewellers in Kitsilano, and their real estate ventures.
Plus, there were Sunday waffle brunches for the large extended Margolis family – whose members had found their way to Vancouver starting in the 1940s after arriving in Winnipeg from Kiev two decades earlier – and visitors from Russia and Israel.
With their three daughters spread across Vancouver Talmud Torah, Kitsilano, Churchill and Eric Hamber secondary schools, there was a home library to nurture, classical music records to collect, family photos to display and a garden to tend: irises, tiger lilies, azaleas, rhododendrons, peonies and hydrangeas, and fruit trees – apple, pear and cherry.
By the time I was around, spending one memorable summer in the orange bedroom in the late 1970s, there were memories for me to make – like suffering my first wasp sting on the back patio – and hobbies for me to discover: there was a teach-yourself-to-type book and a learn-to-speak Spanish book to read, all while I took up tennis in the shadow of my grandmother’s formidable court skills. By Grade 8, having moved to Vancouver with my parents from Winnipeg, there were weekly dinners prepared for me by my grandfather between my school day at Eric Hamber and my Judaic studies classes at Congregation Beth Israel and at the home of Rabbi Daniel Siegel.
What is lost when a mid-century Vancouver bungalow is demolished? Wood siding, stucco, a large picture window, a tiled porch and a garden lovingly tended. But for communities, there is so much more: memories forged of childrearing, philanthropy and leadership. Luckily for Vancouver’s Jewish community, while the building materials of these homes may be gone, the scaffolding of a vibrant community – generations later – remains.
Mira Sucharovis an associate professor of political science at Carleton University. She is a columnist for Canadian Jewish News and contributes to Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward, among other publications.
As housing prices in Vancouver continue to rise, people will have to be creative about, and flexible in, their living arrangements. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
Until recently, Naava Smolash was living in a collective house in East Vancouver with five roommates. The combined monthly rent for the 100-year-old character house, with high ceilings, fir floors and stained glass windows, was $2,700 and, though the inhabitants have changed over the past decade, Smolash has been a constant since she moved from Montreal 10 years ago.
What’s a collective house? “It’s people sharing spaces,” she explained. “We cook together, share our food and have a house bank account to which we all contribute money. It’s a small urban commune but the difference is that the members tend to be older, with families and professionals living together.”
Smolash’s fellow roomies, all in their 30s, included a scientist, a lawyer, an artist and a law student, while Smolash herself is a professor of English literature at Douglas College. In her spare time, she manages the Vancouver Collective House Network’s Facebook page. She estimates hers was one of 50 collective houses in the city, and that the residents of at least 10 of them are being evicted. Hers included.
Things changed this past summer when her house on Victoria Drive was sold for more than $2 million. A young family will be moving in and Smolash is stuck for a place to live. “There isn’t anywhere else we can afford,” she said. “This neighborhood is changing so quickly that only wealthy people can afford to live here, and I don’t think that’s what we want.”
She’s been talking with the Waterfront Consumers’ Cooperative, which suggested she and her roommates put in proposals for buying a house. “The problem is the co-op can’t buy a million dollar house and, even if they could, the mortgage would be $5,000 a month, which would make it unaffordable,” she said.
Smolash is feeling the panic. “We’re older, we can’t just keep moving,” she lamented. “And co-op houses tend to be rented to families, while a collective home has changing inhabitants.
“What we need is more cooperatively owned collective houses. We’re hoping that people who bought houses in the 1970s or 1980s will step up and sell it to the co-op for an amount the organization can afford. In so doing, they could create a legacy of affordable collective housing that’s cooperatively owned in East Vancouver.”
Michael Geller, a Vancouver architect, planner and developer, is sympathetic to her plight. “I think there’s a need for collective housing, and there’s a real problem here. But maybe this group should look at that $5,000 per month mortgage payment as a good way to go. While we’d like to think there’s some benevolent person in the community who might be willing to donate or reduce the price of a property, it’s been very difficult to achieve that in the past.”
Susana Cogan, housing development director at Tikva Housing Society, has a budget of $75,000 this year (down from $90,000 last year) to help subsidize the rent of those in the community who need it. “Right now, we’re helping 46 Jewish people,” she said. “Being Jewish is not a condition – we house low-income people, giving preference to Jews, so if there are two families with the same need and one is Jewish, we’d subsidize the Jewish family first.”
In February 2014, Adam M (not his real name), 57, and his wife moved to Vancouver from Montreal and the two, both shomer Shabbat, struggled to find jobs and affordable rental accommodation near the Jewish centre. Eventually, they found a one-bedroom apartment near Oak and 17th for $1,200. Tikva Housing is helping subsidize 38% of the monthly rent.
“People don’t like to ask for help,” Cogan said. “But, due to circumstances, they sometimes end up having to take it. Most of the needs arise because of unforeseen things – an illness, a divorce.”
In Adam’s case, the couple had arrived in Vancouver with some resources but depleted them before they were able to find affordable accommodation.
“Our rent subsidy program is supposed to help people for the short term, while they bridge their problems,” Cogan said, adding that each case is different, but one to one-and-a-half years is the average period of assistance.
Adam is grateful for help from the Jewish community in Vancouver but said more resources from donors are necessary. “I know a lot of religious people that would want to come and live in Vancouver with their families because of the lifestyle out west. The problem is, living close to the Jewish community is too expensive.”
Cogan said we definitely should not be encouraging people to come and live in Vancouver if they cannot afford it. Subsidies are scarce, she stressed. “We can’t assist everyone who comes here and we turn a lot of people away, only assisting those who have the most need.”
Right now, there are at least 50 people waiting for Tikva Housing’s help.
“Maybe next year we’ll have even less resources,” Cogan speculated. “But our goal is that if people come here and run out of resources, we don’t want them to be living on the street. We’ll help them find affordable accommodation.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Gil Gan-Mor of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel will be one of the speakers at Gimme Shelter on Nov. 20. (photo from Gil Gan-Mor)
A condominium used to be a potentially affordable alternative to a home for buyers in Vancouver, but condo prices are now so high that the vast majority of Vancouverites cannot afford them.
The most recent Strategics’ Vancouver Condo Report, released last week, noted that, in Vancouver, “The average low-rise project … asking price is $632,000, which eliminates many of the young couples and single buyers in this market.” Other reports using other factors have come to similar conclusions. And housing affordability is not just a problem facing this city.
On Nov. 20, New Israel Fund of Canada is hosting the event Gimme Shelter: Closing the Middle Class Housing Gap in Israel and Canada, co-sponsored by Temple Sholom, Generation Squeeze and Tikva Housing Society. It will feature speakers Gil Gan-Mor of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Dr. Penelope Gurstein of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Paul Kershaw, founder of Generation Squeeze.
Gan-Mor, an attorney, will talk about the situation in Israel and provide an update on the government’s actions there since the social protests that took place in 2011. He spoke with the Independent in anticipation of his visit.
According to Gan-Mor, ACRI is the only human rights organization in Israel “that engages with the full spectrum of human rights and civil liberties.” A nonprofit, it is funded through donations and grants, but receives no financial support from the government. Its goals, Gan-Mor said, “are to protect and promote human rights in Israel through a combination of litigation, policy advocacy and public outreach. Specifically, in the Right to Housing Project, our goals are to ensure equal access to housing, fight housing discrimination, protect the right to affordable housing, promote inclusionary policies in housing and reduce segregation, combat homelessness and protect the rights of homeless people.”
Gan-Mor began working with ACRI during his second year of an NIF fellowship for graduates of its Civil Liberties Law program. He was “given the opportunity to develop a new project in ACRI,” he said, “the Right to Housing Project, which fit in with ACRI’s efforts to increase its involvement in social and economic rights.” He “didn’t expect at that time that, four years later, the right to affordable housing would be at the centre of the social protests that drew hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets.”
About the current situation, he explained, “In Israel, housing affordability is a big issue, because of two processes. First, in the last two decades, the governments in Israel dramatically withdrew from their past involvement in the housing market, leaving the role of providing housing to private market forces…. The second process is the dramatic increase in housing prices, which were already expensive…. These two processes led to a growing inequality in Israel,” as “more and more families must spend an increasing share of their income to ensure decent housing at the expense of other basic needs,” as well as “a growing polarization of residential neighborhoods, which are becoming increasingly separated on a socioeconomic level.”
Gan-Mor added, “We in ACRI view those aspects with great concern and are acting to force the government to become more active in realizing the right to housing, a right which cannot be ensured only through private market forces.”
The Gimme Shelter event will give attendees an opportunity “to question how Israel expresses the values of human rights in its domestic policy, and how they as international supporters of Israel can participate in this dialogue on building a more just society inside Israel,” said Gan-Mor. And it will offer a similar opportunity for Vancouverites to participate in the dialogue about how to build a more just society here, too, at least as far as housing is concerned.
Gimme Shelter will take place at Temple Sholom on Nov. 20, 7 p.m. For more information about the speakers and to register for the event, visit nifcan.org/our-events/upcoming.