Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Affordable housing in Vancouver? Why bother?

with 4 comments

Pete McMartin had been going up in my estimation. His latest opinion piece in the Sun puts him right back where he started, as far as I am concerned. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion and he gets paid to publish it. He does not have to worry too much about facts – which are supposed to be sacred – nor does he seem to do much research. He usually relies on the old “when I were a lad” formula. One of the comments on his piece calls him on it and cites data to show he is wrong.  He dismisses current concerns about affordability in Vancouver on the basis of “’twas always thus” citing nothing more than his own experience of moving to the suburbs to buy a house.

Short commutes and easy access to an Ethiopian restaurant are not the natural order of things.

Actually short commutes were very much the order of things for nearly all of human history. Most people lived near to the fields where they worked, or over the shop. Most miners were housed a short walk from the pit head. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that zoning ordinances (here) and the Town & Country planning movement (in the UK) were successful in separating out residential areas from industrial areas. And most of that was driven by concerns about the environmental impact of factories, and the ability to move lots of people around cheaply by the new electric trains and tram(street)cars. Sprawl was already under way fifty years before cars were even beginning to appear on the roads, and they did not become widespread for another fifty years after that. But the suburbs were promising a healthier, safer place to live long before the subsidies to home ownership and car use caused the explosion of post war growth.

There will, of course, be much more on location efficiency here tomorrow – as that is the subject of tonight’s SFU lecture.

But there is also a whole raft of reasons why people would like to be able to bring up their families in Vancouver than Delta. Not the least of these is simple walkability. Where I live at the edge of the built up area in Richmond, there is now nowhere that I can buy basic daily necessities in less than a mile’s walk. Bus scheduling is such that there at least a fifteen minute gap if I miss one of two buses that are meant to run together. There is no bike lane on Steveston Highway – and no-one who drives on it observes the 50 km/hr limit – so riding on it is simply not something I am prepared to do any more. And mapping of the region shows that this is common outside of the City of Vancouver.

There are also other considerations beyond restaurant variety. One of them is family: many people would like to stay in their neighbourhood. For many young people, the only way they can do that is to live in their parent’s house – or in the granny flat. It is not simply that people with families insist on a ground oriented house, on its own lot, with a yard. There are many takers for apartments – and growing demand for schools in newly rezoned residential areas downtown. And how are day care workers, for instance (always among the lowest paid) to find somewhere to live where they can be at work before the commuters arrive to drop off their kids? Many residents of Vancouver commute to the suburbs to their jobs, which tend to be in office parks in the suburbs near the freeway exits.

Much of what happens in Vancouver is driven by the political system of “at large” councillors – which up until recently had tended to favour conservative councils. A lot more is resistance to change in established neighbourhoods, but initiatives like lane way housing are showing that increased density can be accommodated without too much angst.

Laneway house

Laneway house – my photo on flickr

But affordability is still the number one issue, and it is not a minority concern, nor one that can be quite so readily – and airily – dismissed.

I would have a to more to say about this but I have to go to SFU downtown this evening, which means I must have an early supper, before the hour long commute downtown. It would be nice if I could afford somewhere smaller, and more convenient and closer to the things I like to do. But selling a three bedroom strata titled town house in Richmond does not buy anything in the downtown core.

UPDATE November 26, 2017
More data on Laneway Houses in Vancouver from Brent Toderian via Twitter

Laneway homes from Brent Toderian

“We’ve added thousands of new homes in existing walkable neighborhoods, & we’ve given families lots of options for multi-generational living. The initial complaints have died away & now #lanewayhomes are an accepted & ubiquitous part of the urban landscape.”

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Posted in housing, Urban Planning

Tagged with ,

4 Responses

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  1. Pete is wrong about it always being thus. The cost of housing in Vancouver is skyrocketing out of control When my parents moved to Vancouver a 2BR bungalow in Point Grey cost $15,000 and a new car around $3000. That’s a ratio of 5:1.

    Today a 2BR bungalow in Point Grey is a tear-down with a $1.6 million price tag. A similarly positioned new car is around $30,000. That’s a ratio of more than 53:1

    So over a roughly 50 year span house prices have risen more than 10 times as fast as new car prices.

    I’ve only been a home owner since January 2001, but I’ve seen the same thing. I owned a condo that doubled in value in 6 years and then an east side house that went up 60% in a little over 5 years.

    So if we combine those increases, although they’re for different housing types in different parts of the city, we see an increase of 220% in the last 11 years. I consider myself lucky to be in a high growth field where salaries have increased by about 22% in the same 11 year period.

    So if you’re lucky housing costs are going up only 10 times as quickly as your income.


    March 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm

  2. David – whenever I see these historic comparisons, I wish people would correct for inflation. Otherwise it is like using an elastic band as a yard stick.

    The comparison needs to be combined housing and transportation cost versus income – see the next post!

    Incomes have not kept pace with inflation, let alone seen the real increases in value that rising GDP leads people to expect. From seeing a steady increase standard of living in the post war years, we have seen in the last twenty years an inability to cope with rising costs, and the need to increase working hours just to meet basic living costs. At the same time, of course, the top 1% have done exceedingly well. Their taxes shrank. The rest of us saw more fees and charges for the services we depend on, and static – or declining – personal incomes. The old aim was a full time job with security and a pension. Not many new graduates have that luxury these days.

    Stephen Rees

    March 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm

  3. Inflation is irrelevant to my comparison. The point I was trying to make was that the price of a single commodity is growing 10 times as quickly as others. There is a single data point that is so far out of whack with everything else that it not only isn’t in the same ballpark, it’s not even in the same county.

    Oh I know what’s been happening to incomes and for retired folks its even worse. Several times my father accepted improved benefits in lieu of wage increases. Those benefits were part of his pension when he retired, but he’s seen a steady erosion of those benefits over the years and those that remain come with user fees that didn’t exist when he was working.

    I work in the private sector and will never have a pension to live off. I hope my children’s generation is compassionate because the way things are going there will be millions of destitute seniors by the time I get there.


    March 23, 2012 at 4:52 pm

  4. […] Metro Vancouver learn from Seattle?. Oh sorry, this was not about beer. #beerMcMartin gets PWNED: Affordable housing in Vancouver? Why bother? It’s this attitude that says, “If you don’t like it here then leave”, as […]

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