A city program created in 2010 to entice investors to build on contaminated old industrial sites has been blazingly successful in the last 18 months.
A city program created in 2010 to entice investors to build on contaminated old industrial sites has been blazingly successful in the last 18 months.
In its first six years, uptake on the Brownfield Redevelopment Community Improvement Plan was tepid — just four approvals for grants to help investigate possible contamination and tax breaks to compensate for the considerable costs of cleanup. Things sped up in the next four years with 23 approvals. And since January 2020, interest has kicked into high gear with 15 approvals. The increased interest has been driven by the attractiveness of the incentives and the red-hot demand for housing, says Greg Atkinson, a senior City of Windsor planner who has administered the program since its inception.
“When I put the numbers together I was quite impressed,” he said Wednesday, referring to a recent report on the program’s success and suggested tweaks. Normally, such a review happens after five years but there wasn’t enough data available due to the low initial uptake.
“We’ve got that now,” said Atkinson, referring to the 42 total approvals — most of which happened in the last few years — to spur new projects on these usually vacant properties contaminated by years of use as factories, dry cleaners, fuel depots, landfills and gas stations.
City council has so far approved $13.2 million in incentives to drive redevelopment of derelict old properties. The result is private sector investment to the tune of $182.7 million and a rise in the assessed value of the properties totaling $216.2 million.
“Just doing quick math, it’s close to $14 in private investment for every public dollar in incentives,” Atkinson said. “So value for money, this community improvement plan (one of several created by the city in recent years) is really performing well.”
A study conducted in 2009 identified 137 brownfield properties on 559 acres that had sat unused for many years. “Historically, there has been little interest in redeveloping brownfield sites due to the uncertainty surrounding the extent of contamination and the potential cost of cleanup,” Atkinson’s report said.
Mayor Drew Dilkens said the CIP was designed to change that.
“With the combination of the program and a hot real estate market, we’re seeing a lot of action,” he said, explaining that developers are looking everywhere — including these brownfields — for places to build.
“Having this program … is really instrumental in seeing some of the more difficult land activated in an improved way.”
The first application was approved back in 2012, for redevelopment of a long-abandoned gas station at Dougall Avenue and West Grand Boulevard. Andre and Hoda Abouasli used the grants available to help clean up contamination before building an attractive commercial building. The project served as a visible example of what the CIP can do to transform eyesores throughout the city, Atkinson said.
The projects since have ranged from modest to major. The biggest by far was for up to $12.5 million in incentives to help with the cleanup of the former GM Trim plant on Lauzon Road so that Farhi Holdings could proceed with a massive $250-million residential development that’s one of the biggest in the city’s history. A cleanup costing $6.5 million to remove contaminated soil and remove the footings and concrete from the former building cleared the way for the project, which is well underway.
Other big projects approved recently approved include: $3 million in incentives for the 123-unit Graffiti residential/commercial project at 1200 University Avenue West; $457,700 for an 81-unit apartment project on Argyle Road, formerly the site of a pharmaceutical plant destroyed in a 2018 fire; and $579,185 for a project to build a 24-unit residential building at 840 Wyandotte St. E., formerly a commercial building destroyed in a 2016 fire.
And in June, a committee of council endorsed a CIP application to help with the $81,600 cleanup of an 11-acre former industrial site bounded by Walker Road, Edna Street, St. Luke Road and Richmond Street. The owner, the Sood family, has a plan to build three five-storey towers with 62 units each, plus 90 two-storey townhouses. It’s a development that Atkinson believes will help link up Walkerville and Ford City, which for decades have been separated by industrial wasteland.
The CIP provides grants for 50 per cent of the cost of studies to see how feasible it is to redevelop a brownfield and study what it would cost to clean it up. Those are cheques the city writes in the range of $7,500 to $25,000. The CIP can also reduce development charges by 60 per cent. But the biggest incentives by far are the Brownfields Property Tax Assistance and Brownfield Rehabilitation Grant
programs, which provide annual grants to offset either 70 or 100 per cent of the tax increases that occur after a brownfield site is redeveloped into something more valuable, like an apartment building. The grants are paid out for 10 or 13 years and can end up saving developers many thousands of dollars — after the projects are built.
“The whole premise is the city is not collecting a lot of tax revenue, in some cases almost nothing, from these properties that are negatively impacting their neighbourhoods,” said Atkinson. “So forgoing some of that tax revenue, over a 10-year grant period, is a low price to pay for a redevelopment where you might get 50 dwelling units where you had vacant land before.”
If all 42 of the approvals proceed, the result will be 962 new dwelling units on 119.2 acres of brownfields. Based on a metric from a 2003 national round table, that would prevent 512 acres of greenfield from being developed, according to Atkinson’s report. In addition, the spinoff effect of $182.7 million in private investment is $694 million invested into the economy.
Toronto real estate broker John Pasalis laughed at Greg when asked about campaign housing pledges and whether any of them make sense for addressing affordability. Check out that refreshingly candid reaction, and why Pasalis (like many other guests we’ve spoken with) fears the Liberals’ strategy will backfire and actually drive up prices. Mattamy Homes Founder Peter Gilgan was even more blunt, telling us “we need to declare that we’re at war with affordability.” We’ll have plenty more insight in the days ahead about what to expect in Justin Trudeau’s third mandate, including this afternoon when CAPREIT CEO Mark Kenney joins Greg to discuss the Liberals’ targeting of real estate investment trusts. We’ll note here that the Prime Minister’s Office released a readout yesterday evening from Trudeau’s call with U.S. President Joe Biden; the two “committed to getting together in person soon.”
Markets will find out this afternoon if the U.S. Federal Reserve is prepared to fine-tune its language about taper timing. Last we heard from Chair Jerome Powell in his Jackson Hole speech, he confirmed that the central bank thinks it will be in a position to scale back asset purchases before the end of this year, but signaled “considerable” progress was still needed to attain maximum employment. Since then, we saw August non-farm payrolls that fell way short of expectations. The policy statement and updated forecasts land at 2 p.m.; followed by Powell’s news conference a half hour later.
The debt-laden Chinese property developer that’s captured the financial world’s attention amid concern (seemingly misplaced, at least for now) that it could be heading toward a Lehman moment has managed to assuage some immediate fear, while simultaneously stirring confusion. China Evergrande Group said in a regulatory filing that it “resolved” an interest payment coming due tomorrow, without providing many details. Meanwhile, less than 24 hours ago, Bloomberg Intelligence Analyst Damian Sassower told us the big question surrounding Evergrande was what the People’s Bank of China was prepared to do about it. Overnight, it pumped additional liquidity into the financial system in a reverse repo operation. That all added up to a steady session in Asia, where the Shanghai Composite closed flat after a two-day holiday.
OTHER NOTABLE STORIES
Artis Real Estate Investment Trust is selling the remainder of its Calgary office portfolio which includes six buildings comprising close to 700,000 square feet.
It is part of the REIT’s overall strategy of divesting Calgary office property, which began in late 2016, to concentrate on other real estate assets.
At its peak in mid to late 2016, just prior to its shift in its strategy, Artis (AX-UN-T) owned in excess of 2.5 million square feet of office property in Calgary across approximately 20 properties.
“Artis pursued a significant portfolio shift away from Calgary office to prioritize capital allocation to higher-growth strategies, particularly emphasizing the U.S.A. industrial development program,” said Corey Colville, head of strategy, real estate, at Artis.
The Calgary portfolio for sale includes:
– Canadian Centre, 156,772 square feet;
– 417 14th Street building, 17,517 square feet;
– Alex Building, 61,847 square feet;
– Campana Place, 49,123 square feet;
– Heritage Square, 315,152 square feet;
– and Hillhurst Building, 63,394 square feet.
Colville said the present occupancy of the Calgary office portfolio is about 70 per cent.
“We still have a very robust portfolio of retail and industrial properties in Calgary, but we’ve made this strategic decision to market our remaining Calgary office buildings,” said Colville.
Artis has five retail properties in Calgary of over 343,000 square feet and six industrial properties with over 362,000 square feet.
“Over the past trailing few years, Artis has marketed and successfully transacted on much of their Calgary office portfolio. These remaining six assets, we’re of the view that there’s a terrific opportunity for the market to capitalize on a substantial discount (to) replacement cost and create significant value,” said Colville.
“We’ve had interest from owner/user investors, from repositioning and converter investors as well as office investors.
“With these properties, we think with the amount of potential there’s just fundamentally an opportunity in the market for local investors to capitalize on.”
Colville said Artis has held some of the Calgary office assets for more than a decade. On balance, they’ve been longer-tenured assets for Artis.
“At the peak, (Calgary office) was a really significant component of Artis’ total valuation. At this point of time, the remaining assets in relation to our gross book value is actually quite immaterial and the contributory cash flows from them,” he said.
“We’re looking to focus our efforts in a more strategic way. We think that we’ll be very dominant long-term and competitive landlords and we don’t feel that this is going to be the case now that we’ve reduced our position so much in the Calgary office market.”
Calgary’s office market has struggled for the past seven years since the collapse of oil prices in late 2014. That led to massive layoffs, particularly in the city core where many energy companies had their corporate head offices. Obviously, fewer people has meant less need for office space throughout the city.
The downtown Calgary office vacancy rate has hovered around the 30 per cent mark for some time.
“You know, we’re not quite as pessimistic as some of the news headlines would indicate. Naturally, and quite obviously, there’s been a struggle in the market, but we are confident that Calgary is one of the most important cities in Canada and that Canada is a phenomenal country to invest in,” said Colville.
“In time, we believe that Calgary will make a strong resurgence and comeback and we believe that Calgary will benefit from the wave of immigration to come and the rejuvenation to the energy markets over time.”
In Q2 2016, Artis had 260 properties of about 26.6 million square feet overall; 191 properties in Canada with about 17.1 million square feet and 69 properties in the U.S.A. with about 9.5 million square feet.
At that time, it owned 73 properties in Alberta with about 6.7 million square feet. By the end of Q2 2021, that number had decreased to 40 properties with about 2.7 million square feet.
At the end of Q2 2021, Artis had 133 Canadian properties with about 10.4 million square feet and 70 U.S. properties with about 11.6 million square feet for an overall total of 203 properties and 22 million square feet.
The REIT’s portfolio at the end of the second quarter was 42.7 per cent office, 38.2 per cent industrial and 19.1 per cent retail.
Its overall occupancy was 92.3 per cent in Canada; 97.7 per cent for industrial, 83.3 per cent in office and 90.8 per cent in retail. In the U.S., its overall occupancy was 91.8 per cent comprising 94.3 per cent for industrial and 87.4 per cent for office.
Colville said the third quarter will feature a further and material shift of the portfolio following the sale of 27 of 28 of its Greater Toronto Area industrial properties. The 28th property is also for sale.
– Acquired a parcel of industrial development land in Minnesota’s Twin Cities Area, for US$1.5 million.
– Disposed of an office property in Calgary, three retail properties in Regina and a portion of a retail property in Fort McMurray, Alta., for an aggregate price of $62 million.
– On June 30, Artis entered into an agreement to sell the GTA Industrial Portfolio, comprising 28 industrial properties located in the Greater Toronto Area. On July 15, the REIT closed on 26 of the 28 properties for $696.7 million. One of the remaining properties is expected to close in Q3 2021 and generate gross proceeds of $26.7 million. The remaining property will be actively marketed for sale.
– Subsequent to June 30, it also disposed of the King Edward industrial portfolio, comprised of two properties in Winnipeg, for $3.2 million.
Just when you thought you could catch a break from pandemic-fuelled housing madness, experts are predicting the reopening of the U.S.-Canada border, and Canada’s commitment to boost immigration, could fuel even higher levels of demand. All those new arrivals, students and family members rejoining loved ones will need places to live. And Canada’s housing supply is tight.
“If you think it’s expensive now, just wait,” says Tom Storey, a real estate agent with Royal LePage in Toronto. “The numbers tell us that prices should go up because there’s a lot of people coming here and we’re not building enough new properties.”
Exactly when new arrivals will impact housing markets is vague. Border entry is limited to those who can show they’re fully vaccinated.
But, once the pandemic’s threat has largely passed, the U.S. and Canadian governments have both expressed hopes that border traffic will return to normal.
Likewise, while Canada’s immigration goals call for 401,000 new permanent residents this year (reaching 1.2 million by 2023), dates aren’t specific and COVID-19 will continue to delay things in the short term.
Canada’s borders have been closed to most immigrants for much of the pandemic. But as the country’s population ages, economic immigration from workers and employers who ultimately become permanent residents has become more important.
“The key to both short-term economic recovery and long-term prosperity is immigration,” Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said at a news conference where he revealed the country’s goals through 2023.
The newcomers will put pressure on housing — either as homebuyers or renters.
In addition to new permanent residents, the number of international students in Canada is also rebounding. Those numbers were rising sharply before the pandemic, growing to 402,500 in 2019 — a 15 per cent increase from 2018, according government data.
Those with temporary work permits will also grow the population. Almost 70,000 more people were issued work permits in 2019 (a total of 404,000) and 63,020 people with temporary work permits were granted permanent residency.
Home prices were rising pre-COVID-19, due to a lack of housing supply combined with low mortgage rates and strong consumer demand.
Amid the new immigration policies, a growing student population and a proposed childcare system that’s expected to give families room to save more of their income, demand for housing will only grow, according to a recent report from Scotiabank.
Yet, home construction hasn’t kept up with demand for several years.
This year, as fewer newcomers have entered the country, the ratio of home completions to population has improved slightly. That’s likely to worsen as the government meets its immigration targets, the report says.
To avoid a continued rapid acceleration in home prices, experts argue immigration targets should align with housing policies that help meet the demand.
“Our federal government’s decision to raise immigration targets today without making the corresponding supply-side housing policy changes needed to increase supply is a decision to inflate home prices out of reach of most Canadians tomorrow — including many of our newest fellow citizens,” John Pasalis, the president of Toronto-based Realosophy Realty, says in a recent market report.
While Canada’s major cities have seen double-digit home price growth in recent years, the market overall appears to be calming.
July sales slipped 3.5 per cent on a month-over-month basis, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association, and sales are down a cumulative 28 per cent from a March 2021 peak.
Home sales in Canada fell a significant 14 per cent year over year in August, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) said Sept. 15. Still, the association says, home sales in this country remain historically strong. And a lack of supply of homes for sale is pushing prices to record levels in Canada’s most populous cities.
The rental market, too, has been down from its high — in part due to restrictions on Airbnb units, which released bundles of short-term rentals into the traditional leasing market.
“When the borders open and [people] go back to university, you’re going to see an increase in the rental market,” Storey says. “Then it will flood into the sale market.”
But analysts say the property market is facing headwinds — namely inflation and the specter of rising interest rates.
And many of the Canadians who wanted to buy a home in order to get more space amid the pandemic, or even downsize, have already done so, says Adil Dinani of the Dinani Group for Royal LePage West in Vancouver. That may help cool off prices in the months to come.
Building more housing also will help.
“Supply is the common denominator in most of these major markets,” Dinani says. “There’s a shortage of quality inventory.”
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.
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