Vancouverites unhappy about housing? Bob Rennie isn’t so sure

Vancouver’s famous condo booster says things are good—and could be even better with a little rezoning

People in the Lower Mainland aren’t happy about the cost of home ownership, offshore buyers and the rest of our well-aired real estate grievances? Well, Bob Rennie isn’t buying it.
B.C.’s premier condo marketer and data fiend made his annual Be-Happy pitch to a record crowd of over 1,000 developers, politicians and real estate observers at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Vancouver Friday. Entering the stage to Pharrell Williams’s feel-good “Happy” anthem, Rennie spent just over an hour making the case that we are a happy lot—and that if civic leaders would ignore the nattering nabobs of negativism and allow for some change in single-family neighbourhoods, we could be a whole lot happier.
Rennie’s magic solution, not surprisingly, comes from density—which he said is what millennials, the fastest-growing force in the real estate market, are asking for. “My takeaway is that baby boomers tend to look in the rear view mirror. Millennials look ahead with hope—they’re not jaded about what could have been. These millennials are happy, they’re a force—and we better start to understand them.”
The man behind projects such as the Shangri-La, Woodwards and the Olympic Village said that there’s been an overwhelming shift in recent years to want to live “where everybody else lives”—and that pretending we can accomplish this with more single-family homes is foolhardy. “Every year, detached housing numbers are going down in the City of Vancouver,” he noted. “Between 2006 and 2009, we lost 900 single-family homes. As we create badly needed density, single-family homes will disappear. It’s not just that we won’t make another. It’s that we’re losing them.”
He argued that the City of Vancouver needs to be bolder about rezoning, highlighting the mistake made in the Cambie corridor where only arterial roads were rezoned, driving up prices on the surrounding quiet streets and making it harder to develop there in the future. He lamented the powerful voices of the anti-density crowd and the “nameless, faceless blogosphere” for stirring up trouble.
And, not surprisingly, he said a tax on foreign ownership was not the answer to our affordable housing problem. “It’s not about foreigners. It is speculation that we should be concerned about.” By way of a solution, he proposed some sort of declining tax on profits from short-term real estate sales to discourage that sort of speculation.
But really, as a global city with international appeal, will we ever not be attractive to the foreign buyer looking for a safe investment? Rennie admitted no, mentioning a recent Bloomberg story where famed U.S. investor Laurence Fink of BlackRock Investments cited the end of gold as a store of value, to be replaced by two things: contemporary art and condos in Manhattan, London—and Vancouver.
Rennie, of course, is the top condo marketer this city has ever known. And one of the country’s leading contemporary art collectors. Happy times indeed.