Vancouver, BC, Canada

 Daniel Garfinkel, the manager of the Richmond farm school, is a young urban farmer who fell in love with the social and ecological benefits of growing. (JENNIFER GAUTHIER / FOR STARMETRO)

Daniel Garfinkel, the manager of the Richmond farm school, is a young urban farmer who fell in love with the social and ecological benefits of growing. (JENNIFER GAUTHIER / FOR STARMETRO)

THE PROBLEM:

Just under ten miles south of Vancouver sits the municipality of Richmond, British Columbia, home to some of the best agricultural land in Canada. Advocates have been working to preserve this land for farming since 1973, when the threat of residential development spurred the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve. Today, many in Richmond are enraged as they continue to fight against mansions built on farmland. In 2018, British Columbia announced an increase in taxes for foreign buyers of residential properties. This tax was not applied to agricultural land, and consequently it is now being developed for residential use by foreign entities. The homes under construction in Richmond are lavish estates that compromise food security, ruin arable land, and drive up real estate prices. Richmond’s zoning legislation currently limits these houses to an enormous 10,764 square feet, and allows for the construction of second homes that are over 3,000 square feet.
Many of the luxury homes being constructed in Richmond, Vancouver, and the nearby farming town of Delta are never even inhabited. They are built with the assumption that they will be purchased and flipped multiple times in what many believe is a money laundering scheme executed by foreign investors. This practice of real estate racketeering is particularly common in West Vancouver, where whole neighborhoods are comprised of seemingly abandoned multimillion-dollar homes.
Additionally, the Vancouver area suffers from a crippling trades shortage that is only exacerbated by the construction of these mansions. Many typical family homes are dilapidated simply because there are not enough workers to repair them. The few available tradesmen and women are preoccupied building luxury homes.

PROPOSED SOLUTIONS:

The advisory committee for the Agricultural Land Reserve has recommended limiting the size of houses built on agricultural land to 5,382 square feet. Nearly 80% of those surveyed in response to the committee’s report agreed with the regulation recommendations. Support for the regulation is bipartisan and backed by Richmond’s city planners, but some city councillors continue to vote against limiting house size. Many farmers in the community have announced their intentions to run for Richmond Council in the upcoming elections.
In response to the abundance of vacant homes, the City of Vancouver has implemented an Empty Homes Tax. Underutilized or vacant homes will now be subject to a tax equal to 1% of a property’s assessed value. Revenue generated by the tax will be used to expand affordable housing initiatives.

PROGRESS:

In August 2018 British Columbia’s Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, stated she would be stepping in to ensure additional regulations are placed on the development of Richmond’s agricultural land.

— Cassie Dana, One Big Home Researcher


VANCOUVER PROFILES:

Breton Crellin

Stonemason, Vancouver, BC, Canada

“I make my living building homes no one can afford to live in, while I get priced out of the place I was born. In Vancouver, tradespeople are living out of their own cars, while the homes we build are left empty and used to launder money.”
View Breton’s Profile

 
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Michael Wolfe

High School Science Teacher, Richmond, BC, Canada

“I’ve learned how close our city council is with developers of mega-mansions on farmland. This is why I have chosen to run for city council—to replace them and challenge the status quo, for a better future for all.”
View Michael’s Profile

 
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Ina Mitchell

Documentary Filmmaker, Vancouver, BC, Canada

“I mainly see this issue as one of greed, loss of community values, and lack of accountability from people in positions of power who knew what was going on but did nothing to stop it, out of self-interest…that is what I am working toward: preservation of our way of life, the right to shelter, and sustainable living for all ‘equally.’”
View Ina’s Profile



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