Condo pusher Rob Rennie is throwing protons at the negativity that's invaded the conversation of Vancouver's real estate market

Rennie: Vancouver needs density, millennials need hope and a solution

The era of single-family home ownership is gone, says Bob Rennie, and it's time to build condos and townhomes to solve our supply problem

Kiss your parents’ dreams goodbye.

They’re not your dreams. They can’t be, because they’re not there for you anymore. The world Mum and Dad grew up in has grown up, too. But that’s not a bad thing – it’s time to embrace it, according to the man nicknamed Vancouver’s ‘condo king’.

“The problem with baby boomers is, they think millennials have the same aspirations – they don’t,” said Bob Rennie, over a Friday morning phone call, hours before he was scheduled to speak to the city’s Urban Development Institute.

“Our baby boomer is looking back and realizes all the things they could have done, should have done, would have done,” he said. “Millennials are looking forward for hope.”

Rennie – head of the Rennie Group’s marketing, sales, and development companies – is pushing buyers and selling Metro Vancouver on density. He wants more supply, and he wants it to come from condos and townhomes, even lane way homes, built around transportation and a 21st century approach to urban planning.

This is the era of the ‘arrival city‘ after all, and we just happen to live in Canada’s Monaco.

“We’re trying to solve affordability on the most expensive land in Canada,” he says. “We’ll never create another single-family home in Vancouver, so we need supply.”

Rennie says his group – Rennie Marketing Systems – has focused on putting density in the downtown core, and now it’s looking into other, “very sensitive” neighbourhoods. There’s resistance, perhaps due to the yearn for yesterday and its environment – perhaps either hoping or banking that some sort of market crash will send us home again, literally.

“I feel that the anti-density group, it’s time they went to dinner,” Rennie said. “If we’re gonna keep families, first-time buyers, and seniors in Vancouver, we need some real drastic moves.”

Read: ‘Metro Vancouver housing market to price out lawyers, doctors‘ by Jeff Nagel, Black Press (May 21, 2015)

In a press release issued earlier this week, the Rennie Group’s polling found that 89 per cent of baby boomers would recommend home ownership – that includes single detached, condos, townhomes, etc. And 48 per cent of them say they have helped their children into a mortgage.

But in that same poll, only 49 per cent of baby boomer respondents (who earn over $100,000 a year) said they were hopeful for their childrens’ future in Vancouver.

Compare that to 81 per cent of millennials surveyed, who say they feel hopeful for their own future. This despite reports (link above) that say even the traditional elite like doctors and lawyers will be priced out of the market, despite the general feeling of angst and cynicism that has seemingly invaded under-30s in British Columbia, which has led to pessimistic or even bitter chatter, culminating in things like the #DontHave1Million campaign.

The slogan and hashtag has been adopted by tons on Twitter, triggering responses from influencers and policy makers, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who’s now urging taxation to stall or soften property price hikes.

“It’s clear that rampant speculation on real estate is driving up prices in Vancouver,” said Robertson. “Vancouver needs the BC Government to take action on creating a speculation tax and recognize that we need a fair and level playing field to make housing more affordable for residents in Vancouver, and throughout the province.”

The trend started with Eveline Xia, 29, who pushed out the now-domino #DontHave1Million hashtag after a Vancity report in March predicted that Vancouver’s average detached house price would top $2.1 million in 15 years.

“It’s ludicrous to think that average hard-working folks are expected to have that $1 million in hand to own a home,” she told the Huff Post B.C. “I felt I could no longer stand idly by, as the city we love sees an exodus of our youngest and brightest.”

But for Rennie, these are complaints without a solution. It’s barking and biting.

“Twitter’s not a party game,” he said. “It does carry a lot of impact… all these economists keep saying we’re going to collapse, so you have to weed through all the shit that says we’re going to collapse.

“I think economists over the last five years are pushing people to the sidelines.”

Bob Rennie - Condo King Vancouver

The answer he says – and it shouldn’t surprise since Rennie sells condos, making him as much an advocate or lobbyer for density, instead of an activist – is to move on from the dream of owning a single-family detached home.

Instead, think smaller. Think ahead of the past, even the present.

(Although yesterday, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart accused Rennie of being “a decade behind the real problem,” in an interview with the Observer. “I don’t think these people are dreaming about single-family homes on giant lots. They’re just dreaming about getting into any kind of properties at the moment.”)

“I’ve taken it upon myself to say, let’s get all this stuff out so we’re dealing with fact,” said Rennie. “We need supply, so we need to rezone for multi-family… We should have a lot of density at our transit stations, and maybe without parking so we’re less reliant on a car.”

So what should someone like myself – at 27, working and living in Greater Vancouver – or younger do?

“My answer is, get your name on the title of anything, so that you get into the race,” he said. “Get your name on the title so you don’t have to pay rent all your life.

“Today, it’s work your way out. And we can’t start at the top… I don’t think the Rockefeller children can buy a house in Manhattan where their grandparents had one.

“People are just kicking their feet saying, I grew up here so I deserve to live here.”

The dreams of baby boomers shouldn’t be the dreams of their children or grand children, he said. Accept, perhaps, that Vancouver will never be the wide-open West Coast again. It’s evolution.

“The baby boomer with $100,000 a year becomes jaded and they lost that optimism and they’re just concentrating on, ‘Nothing’s ever enough and they were taught they could have everything,'” he said. “They’re looking through dirty glasses where the millennial’s looking through very clear glasses.”

Rennie’s speech yesterday – an annual appointment for him – was of course another official pitch for densification, offered at the Hyatt Regency downtown, in the same neighbourhood as his signature towers and projects, the Shangri-La, Woodwards, and Olympic Village.

His speech – in which he also pushed for a ‘speculation tax’, like Robertson – echoed what he pitched to me the morning of, again echoing the plight or paradise awaiting millennials.

“They don’t aspire to what their parents want,” Rennie said. “We’re all running around, trying to hang onto yesterday with an iPhone in our hand, and I find it very ironic.

“You can’t have them both.”

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