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Condo towers are pictured in downtown Vancouver in this file photo. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Condo towers are pictured in downtown Vancouver in this file photo. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Lower Mainland’s lack of affordable housing widespread, report finds Add to ...

Only 15 per cent of all the condos, townhouses and single-family homes in B.C.’s Lower Mainland are valued at less than $500,000 and have enough room for a family with two children – and almost none are within the boundaries of the City of Vancouver.

That’s the grim reality that the region’s younger generations are facing – and a reason for the province and the country to make some significant changes to its housing policies, says the leader of a group that hopes to put the spotlight on housing in next year’s British Columbia election.

The group, Generation Squeeze, has issued a report examining the housing and transportation costs faced by young families. It analyzes data from the B.C. Assessment Authority to show that housing problems in the region are widespread.

“There is a dominant sense in the public dialogue that housing is only unaffordable in a select few neighbourhoods,” said University of British Columbia professor Paul Kershaw, the group’s founder. “But housing affordability has [been] stretched everywhere.”

The group focuses on how the country’s 20- to 40-year-olds are being hit by soaring housing, daycare, transportation and education costs at the same time that their average wages are stagnating.

New data that his group has compiled show that the Lower Mainland’s housing problems are about more than just wealthy buyers fighting it out for $4-million houses in a few hot spots, Prof. Kershaw said. Looking at all types of homes assessed at $500,000 or less and with three bedrooms, the report’s authors concluded that the only areas where that kind of family-suitable housing is broadly available are in places such as Maple Ridge, Langley, Pitt Meadows and Port Coquitlam.

Even in Surrey and Delta, once the go-to suburbs for young families, 30 per cent or less of housing stock meets that criteria, says the report, titled Code Red: Why We Need to Rethink Canada’s Housing Policy for Generations.

The analysts chose $500,000 because it is about double what an average house in Metro Vancouver cost between 1976 and 1980, using 2014 constant dollars for prices and wages.

The average assessed value for all types of homes, including detached houses, townhouses and condos, in Metro Vancouver in 2014 was about $813,000, the report says. Since then, assessed values have increased – considerably in some areas. As well, sale prices are typically above assessed values.

The report suggests 10 remedies, many of which focus on taking back some of the massive gains that earlier generations of home buyers have made on the housing market.

Prof. Kershaw said although foreign investment is playing some kind of role in the region’s housing market, the lack of affordability for younger generations is about much more than that. It’s a Canada-wide problem, he said, so it can’t be solved just by leaving Vancouver. Instead, it needs to be alleviated by new tax policies for all of the groups that have benefited from the enormous increase in housing values in the past 50 years, he said.

“This is a broader issue,” Prof. Kershaw said. “Many are doing well from the higher housing prices.”

The Code Red report is the latest in a wave of recommendations, reports and petitions in the past six months – with academics, citizens and social-action groups looking for solutions to the region’s startling rise in house prices the past two years.

The report suggests that anyone making a large gain needs to pay a capital-gains tax (with particularly high rates for those who buy and sell houses in a short period of time) and that tax benefits should be shifted away from house-rich seniors.

Those seniors could be allowed to defer taxes, as they do now, he said, but not at the giveaway interest rate of less than 1 per cent that they currently get in British Columbia.

The report also proposes that the government set increasingly higher property tax rates, the more expensive a property is, and that cities look at how to introduce different housing types into what are now uniformly zones for single-family homes. It also asks for more market-rate and subsidized rental housing.

The Generation Squeeze group is launching a campaign this month to make housing issues a top priority in the provincial election. About 20 people last week attended the first public planning meeting of the Code Red campaign, which will be using red light bulbs on homes, red banners and other strategies to boost public awareness of the province’s critical housing problems.

Some at the meeting worried that the issue is going to be ignored outside Vancouver.

“I’m often dismissed because this is not seen as a province-wide problem, it’s a Lower Mainland problem,” said Jennifer Lloyd, a west-side condo owner with two children.

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