Jordan Milne, President and CEO of GMC Projects
|For our February 2020 Newsletter, we asked Jordan about his company, his views of Victoria’s Development Industry, and a bit about him outside of work.
Browse all our Member Spotlights here.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and GMC Projects?
I was born in Winnipeg but spent the majority of my youth in Vancouver where my love of real estate originated. I began my career with GMC Projects in 2007 while studying Urban Land Economics at the University of British Columbia, and my family and I currently live in Victoria where I serve as President and Chief Executive Officer of the GMC Group of Companies. I’m dedicated to leading the GMC team through thoughtful design, innovative thinking and attention to detail. I also serve as Chair of the Board for the Urban Development Institute Capital Region.
Founded in 1999, GMC Projects has gained recognition for creating high quality, award winning communities, lead by an incredible team with properties and developments in Greater Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and Winnipeg. It all starts with identifying the right opportunity and then becomes about successful collaboration with amazing designers, architects, engineers and community members. We create projects that are clever, creative, and aim to serve the community. We view what we do as a platform to inspire others to be their best selves, and to empower individuality and self-expression. We are humbled to be able to do what we love and we aspire to create environments that allow others to do so too. Put simply, we want you to love where you live, and we work hard to make it so.
What sets GMC Projects apart from other developers in the community?
There are a number of factors that set GMC apart from other developers but where it starts is what we do and how we do it. We have never built anything strata for sale. We believe in creating rental homes for those who live and work in the community. We focus on high quality mixed-use rental housing as well as commercial projects that help to serve the needs of the community in a holistic way. You can’t support a community without multiple elements in our built environment. Housing is a major part of that but so is retail, office space, distribution centres and so on. We do this by restoring, rehabilitating, converting and building new. We also manage all of our properties which gives us a unique opportunity to engage with residents and tenants to help create a sense of community within our properties.
How do you define success for your projects, and what project are you most proud of?
Our goal is to create homes that people will love and that will inspire them to live their best life. If we can create spaces and places that allow people to live healthier lives while pursuing what brings them joy, we have succeeded. Portage West is a great example of this. Our team successfully transformed a former 3 star motel into an amenity-rich waterfront community complete with a waterfront pool, outdoor kitchen, on-site gym, dock with communal access to kayaks and paddle boards as well as a laundry lounge. It’s also pet friendly with two outdoor pet spaces on the property.
What are the largest challenges and opportunities that you see ahead for the region’s development industry?
I think the largest challenge is the municipalities themselves. The current system of rezoning is broken. Municipalities expend significant time and resources to establish Official Community Plans which involve extensive community engagement to help inform how and where growth should happen in our cities. We do this only to then have each interested property owner undertake an individual rezoning process which requires more municipal time and resources, adds additional time, cost and uncertainty to the creation of that housing, all at a time when we can no longer afford these luxuries in today’s housing landscape. The opportunities in most urban centres exists within what a friend of mine calls the “Single Family Land Reserve”. For example, in the City of Victoria, 68% of the land is zoned for single family housing. This is in a city where the majority of the population are renters and we have a 1.0% vacancy rate. To put this into another perspective, as I know with the topic of housing one can’t miss “affordable housing”, this means 68% of Victoria’s land is off limits to “affordable housing” or apartments of any kind. This is where opportunity lies for the future well-being of Victoria residents. We must look toward upzoning single family neighbourhoods significantly, and increasing our densities across the board if we are ever to build the supply that is needed.
We are in a housing crisis, not just locally but nationally. We have come through a period over the last few decades where governments at all levels have used the creation of new housing as a tool to receive massive fees and taxes. I believe people are starting to wake up to the fact that in a great number of jurisdictions the various levels of government are collecting more in fees and taxes per housing unit created than the developer will make in profit. There is a notion that developers are greedy and it’s because of that greed that housing has increased in cost like it has. This simply isn’t true.
How do you see the local development community changing, and what are your hopes for the future?
I think we have started to see and will continue to see a shift in demographics as to who are the developers in our city. A new wave of developers appears to be taking a more front and centre role in the local development scene – whether that be as a senior staff member of a local firm, a generational change within a family organization or someone stepping out on their own. I am excited by this shift as I feel there is much innovation and constructive change that this new wave can help make happen. One hope I have for the future is to shed the notion – even if just locally – that developers are greedy and that they only care about maximizing profit. Profit is a necessity of business but I know many developers, including myself, that are driven by the desire to contribute positively to our community and help fill well-recognized needs in our built environment.
What is the most difficult part of your job, and what do you love most about it?
The most challenging aspect is dealing with the uncertainty of the municipal process. In the past, if your project met the goals of the OCP or any area plan, you would go to your public hearing with confidence…but the tide has turned. Even with rental projects there is considerable angst about receiving approvals or whether or not a council member will request a commitment to something at the eleventh hour despite having limited working knowledge of the potential implications of such a request. I should be more worried about competition from others building housing, but because the process is so cumbersome we don’t create sufficient supply and therefor it’s this process that is most concerning. The thing I love most is collaborating with the amazing team at GMC, as well as our consultants, to see our vision come to fruition and make positive impacts on people’s lives. Last year someone in my office noted how we had 3 tenants move from one property within a short period as they had each purchased a condo in a new project in View Royal. To me, that’s awesome. We became a jumping off point for people to get into home ownership for the first time and I am proud that we played a small part in that.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? What advice would you give to someone looking to become a developer in Victoria?
I have been fortunate to receive sage advice from many folks I admire but the principle of the Golden Rule has always stuck with me from a young age. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. It’s simple but we forget so often. This notion has become part of what makes us who we are at GMC and we have even developed multiple art installations to encourage a more conscientious way of living among residents in our buildings.
If I could offer any advice to someone looking to become a developer in Victoria it would be to do it because you love where you live and you want to add constructively to your community. If it’s only about money, don’t bother. You have to be driven by a passion for people, places and community to succeed in development.
What do you love most about living in Victoria?
I love that I can go in any direction and find water. I have loved being in and by the water since a young age and feel fortunate to have worked on some waterfront projects that have provided folks with direct access to the best natural asset we have in Victoria.
When you’re not working, what are your favourite activities?
Being with my wife and kids is what I enjoy most no matter what we are doing. Last year we bought our son Oliver a scooter while on holidays in California and we developed a daily routine called a “scoot and skate” with him riding his scooter and me cruising on a skateboard left behind at the airBnB we rented. Needless to say the routine came home with us and I purchased a board when we got home. We are regulars of the skateboard area at Tulista Park in Sidney.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
To earn money in the summers before I was legally able to work, a friend and I would sneak onto golf courses at sunset and scavenge the courses (including swimming in water hazards) for balls. We then sold the balls to golfers or the proshop to fund summer shenanigans. Looking back on it I don’t know why my parents let me do this, but it sure taught me how to work for your money.