Can the TOMS Shoes model of buy a pair, gift one to a shoeless person, be applied to houses?
That’s the goal with Vancouver House, a new condo building under construction, in the Canadian coastal city.
Buyers into the “super prime” property, designed by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and developed by the Vancouver developer Westbank, have the opportunity to gift a house to a houseless family in a Filipino or Cambodian slum.
So how does this work? Why not build homes for the homeless in Vancouver? Or, tackle the inequities in the housing market?
DnA reached out to the man behind the program, Peter Dupuis. Dupuis and his business partner Sid Landolt run S&P Real Estate. It invests in high-end property in West Coast cities. Dupuis is also working on a PhD at the University of British Columbia on the intersection between philanthropic transformational capital and informal settlement land planning. Informal settlement is the formal term for “slums.”
He decided to turn theory into practice after a chance meeting on an airplane with Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS Shoes.
“I was so inspired that when Sid and I got off the plane, we said, you know, wouldn't it be interesting to take that model and apply it to real estate,” Dupuis said.
He and Landolt co-founded a nonprofit called World Housing and partnered with Westbank to test a concept like the TOMS shoes model.
“We chose to focus solely on the developing world because everywhere we go people really want these homes,” Dupuis said.
When asked if super prime real estate developments like Vancouver House are exacerbating housing inequality, Dupuis said, “there is an imbalance between wealth and the poor. In the developed world like Vancouver and Los Angeles and other markets, you know, I believe there are solutions out there now that are emerging because of the situation. You know, there's different housing forms that are coming and the government needs to get behind that, and the local community.”
Dupuis says a program like Vancouver’s house gifting program could be applied in Los Angeles.
“I think that you have a condition there where there's enormous amounts of wealth, there's pockets of extreme wealth in LA,” Dupuis said. “Our experience with wealthy people is they want to balance the scales of people's income and their lifestyles.”
DnA learned about the 1:1 gifting campaign, part of the marketing pitch for the building, from Matthew Soules, an associate professor of architecture at the University of British Columbia and a visiting fellow at SCI-Arc in downtown Los Angeles.
Soules was researching global capital and high-end real estate and the global phenomenon that’s been nicknamed “ghost urbanism.” That’s where luxury housing units are constructed, often super prime pieces of architecture, and sold to wealthy investors, and then sit empty.
“My fascination is how architecture -- so buildings, parcels of land, pieces of buildings, so condominium units -- have become more and more treated like a stock, like a currency, like a bond, in this financial capitalism kind of milieu or system,” Soules said.
Soules sees this happening in many different building types, but the tall, slender condominium tower “is a place that is almost tuned to attract capital in this financialized system.”
Soules is currently writing a book about finance capitalism and how it affects the built environment. He’s loosely named it Fi-Fi, as in Finance Fiction, echoing Science Fiction, because he believes there something strange and not yet fully understood about the production of empty costly housing -- and the offshored, gifted house which may become a more commonplace marketing tool.
“So you have this kind of lived-in place on one side of the world. And this unlived-in place on the other side of the world,” he said.