October 13th, 2010
In this weeks edition of Buzz Talk we chat with the President and CEO of BILD, Stephen Dupuis.
What part of the city do you live in?
Well, I’m a 905-er, I live in Aurora. I’m the classic suburbanite; I live in a 2 storey detached home, I got two cars, two kids and one dog. If I was anymore classic I’d have 2.2 kids.
But I get the best of both worlds because I work in the city and I live in 905.
What aspect of your job excites you the most?
I’ve been in this business for more than 20 years and it’s always been the whole economic impact of the industry for me. It’s such a high risk, big money, high energy business.
Also the scale of the projects – when I look at those condo projects and a big hole in the ground, I think ‘who figured out where to start out on this thing?’. It’s absolutely amazing in terms of scale.
The other thing is, forgetting the money and the economic impact, there’s a happy ending every time in the home building business – somebody gets the keys to their new condo or home and the whole thing begins. They’re starting a family, starting the whole home ownership thing and that’s a happy ending that always feels good.
In what ways does BILD contribute to the community?
We made a conscious decision several years ago to partner with Habitat for Humanity Toronto.
We call it a community partnership but it’s not just BILD. We encourage all of our members to support Habitat, if they’re not tied into an existing charity, and so many members do so many things in terms of giving back to the community, but a lot of them do pick up on the partnership.
What we like about Habitat is that they’re a natural partner – we’re both in the home-ownership, or the “shelter” business, and Habitat is great because it’s not subsidised rental or non profit, it’s home ownership, and in that sense we’re perfect partners for each other.
BILD does amazing low-rise and high-rise tours around the world. What are the top 3 things you have learned from other cities?
I love this question.
I gotta say that almost every time, in particular from my US experience, I learned just how good we are here at home, especially in the high rise marketing and development. I always come back feeling a lot of affirmation for what we do here. Low rise, because of the different climate, they definitely do interior courtyards and indoor/outdoor space really really well, which is hard to emulate here.
But you know you still have to get out of the vacuum and see what you can pick up, and certainly in Sweden, they get sustainability – they live it, they breath it.
One of the things I saw in Stockholm from a company called Hammarby Sjostad was the most cool underground garbage collection system. Frankly I’ve never seen anything cooler and I wish that it would take hold in Toronto.
If you think of any condo building today, there’s single shoots, triple shoots, and real estate on every floor and the underground for that, and a truck has to come to the building once a week.
In this system, every building is connected. There are little ‘periscopes’ outside where everyone drops off their stuff and then underground, all of the material gets sucked through this system into one place where it’s compacted.
So you get one truck coming to one place once a week instead of one truck going to multiple places once a week, and all the real estate in the building that’s given over to that particular issue is gone. Very very cool.
London England – Design. Just because it’s such a historic city and has design controls (I’m not advocating design controls here) but the designers really figured out the optimal designs to take advantage of the River Thames and every building I saw there really jumped out at me.
What do you think of the HST?
Well I’m not going to say that I love it but I am going to say that it could have been so much worse.
When it became clear that our provincial government was going down the road of harmonization, and let’s face it, McGuinty went down that road because there was a global economic crisis on his hands, a manufacturing sector that was deteriorating and he needed a big idea. That big idea was HST. He was enticed by 4.3bn dollars by the federal government and so it was a done deal.
For BILD, instead of fighting harmonization we knew we had to fight for housing WITHIN harmonization. What we achieved was a $24,000 rebate no matter what the selling price of the house and a completely different tax structure than the federal GST.
Every builder that closes a house today has BILD to thank for that $24,000 rebate. Basically up to half a million, the system is revenue neutral.
So HST could have been a lot worse, it took a lot of effort to get the outcome that we did. What we need to see now is the federal government to go after the GST portion the same way the provincial governmentwent at the PST portion. The fed collects a totally different way and what they do is claw back the rebate. So on a $450,000 house you get zero rebate from the feds and $24,000 from the province.
So our next major task is to get the feds on the same wavelength as the province and get the HST properly conceived for all builders and all products.
What did you do before being the President and CEO of BILD?
I worked for an organisation called the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and before that, I’m surprised I’m gonna admit this, but I worked for the provincial government, but it was appropriate! It was in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Right out of the University of Waterloo I’ve always been a housing guy.
Any crazy stories you can tell us from the BILD awards ceremony?!
There were a few hairy shows in the early years; people opening the wrong envelope – we’ve bestowed a few winners on people that didn’t win!
Here’s the hairiest of all the stories – the night of the famous, or infamous, fire in the hall.
We were having a good year, our sponsorship was way ahead of level so I said to our producer ‘let’s really crank this show up, let’s jazz up the Home Builder of the Year’.
So, he said ‘great – we’ll do a big firewall across the front, shoot off some rockets, blow up some balloons, really make it a big thing’.
So sure enough, the host was standing in the position and I told her ‘don’t move when you announce this award – DO NOT move’. So there was a big burst of light across the stage, the rockets went off, the balloons burst and everything was fine.
Mitchell Cohen from Daniels came up to make his acceptance speech for Home Builder of the Year and it was fine until somebody comes on and says ‘there’s a fire in the hall, please leave by the nearest exit’, and damned if I don’t look up but there’s smoke in the ceiling because one of the explosive chords landed on a bulkhead and sat there smoldering, and next thing you know there’s flames!
We had to clear six or seven hundred people out of that place and I was feeling pretty miserable about it all until when I walked outside and saw Mitch Cohen from Daniels up on the fire truck getting his picture taken with the trophy.
Everybody had fun with it, they got the fire out and we got to go back in for another cocktail.
I drove home that night thinking ‘oh man! I should of considered myself lucky’. The next year they insisted on much higher insurance from BILD and I insisted on no more fireworks at future BILD shows!
Are we in a bubble?
Hell no and I’m tired of reading about it.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
Italy, my next trip will be places I didn’t go on my last trip and Spain, where I honeymooned, I go back to the same place – Costa del Sol.
And for some reason I’ve always wanted to roll down the old route 66 in the US…..
What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?
Every time I go to Baskin Robbins I get the same thing – pralines and cream.
You are involved with every aspect of land development in the GTA – why no blog?
It’s a great question, and the answer is……….coming soon! You’re the first to know!
What does the future hold for land development in the GTA?
In one single word – density. In more than one word, I really see full growth plan conformity which means the 905 is moving towards that target of 40% intensification.
If you look backward and then forward, when I started, probably more than 80% of our business was in the 905 and over the years it’s shifted so that less than 60% is there. The city of Toronto is where a lot of the action is but now that’s shifting again, at least in the high rise side of things.
The suburbs are going to look a lot different. When the growth plan was first announced, the minister said the suburbs would never be the same and I think he was right.
You used to sport a mustache. Will you be participating in Movember?
(laughs) I kept my mustache five years too long so I will have to think about that one! For the challenge, I may just do that, just for the novelty (laughs). This much I know – if I do it, it’s going to be much grayer than the last time!
Many thanks for Stephen for taking the time out to talk to us. Check back each and every Wednesday for a new Buzz Talk…..