Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Elizabeth Seaton is pictured outside of her home that has a separate infilled home on the property in Vancouver, on March 1, 2017. The city is talking about a new approach in single-family neighbourhoods that would encourage more of the kind of infill housing that exists on Seaton’s property.

The mayor of this wildly expensive city says he is setting his team on a path to create affordable housing by going into single-family neighbourhoods, developing city land and maximizing every site available around transit and arterial roads.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, in an unusually activist speech Wednesday to a group of planners, architects and developers, said the city's high-end, empty neighbourhoods are a sign of a "failing city."

"The warning bells are ringing about the emptying out of our single-family neighbourhoods," he said.

Story continues below advertisement

He emphasized Vancouver is going to take a new approach with a revamped housing plan this year, in part because he has been hearing from so many young people demanding that city council find a way for them to continue living in the city.

The message from those young, frustrated Vancouverites has started to change the tone of the usual argument in the city about development, which has been marked for decades by virulent resident opposition and NIMBYs, said the mayor.

"There are people that don't want to see change. Historically, the NIMBY voice is loud … and then everyone else is quiet," said Mr. Robertson, stressing he wants to preserve the essence of those old neighbourhoods.

But, he said, he's less worried now about backlash from that group than about backlash from young people demanding that he find them room in the city.

Mr. Robertson, who has four children, said he has two living outside the city now and isn't sure they will be able to move back when they want to.

He acknowledged that people are "feeling betrayed and let down by every level of government, including ours."

The city's new approach will mean planners will have to look at ways to create new housing everywhere, including the single-family neighbourhoods where a lot of effort has been focused recently on how to preserve the older houses that are being torn down and redeveloped into new mansions.

Story continues below advertisement

"A neighbourhood that's made up of perfect, character $5-million homes is not healthy if there's no kids there," Mr. Robertson said at a keynote address to the Urban Land Institute. To make his case, he cited statistics from the recent census indicating that the population of Kerrisdale dropped by 800 people between 2011 and 2016, of Arbutus Ridge by 700 and of Dunbar by 300.

Besides looking at ways to introduce new, less expensive housing into those pricey west-side neighbourhoods and others, he also said the city would maximize the considerable amount of land it owns to create affordable housing.

Mr. Robertson said 3,000 homes could be created on just six important city sites. And he said planners will look at how to maximize housing around transit stations, along arterials, and in the city's apartment zones, which have been frozen almost unchanged for more than a decade after council put in a moratorium on demolition and redevelopment.

Vancouver has undergone a phenomenal building boom since the early 1990s, with the downtown population more than doubling in size to 110,000 by last year.

But many people have worried that far too much of what's being built is either luxury condos – the Westbank Vancouver House next to the Granville Bridge being just the latest example – or tiny studios and one-bedrooms that investors buy to rent out. And people have particularly worried that investors from mainland China, who are flooding the world with real estate purchases, are a big part of what's driving real estate development.

That, in turn, has led to many criticisms that the Vision council let itself be too guided by developers, its major contributors, who built what was the easiest and most profitable to sell.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Robertson emphasized that planners will focus on getting the private market to build the kind of housing that people living in the city actually need.

"We don't want more supply that's just going to sit empty. In past years, the market was more focused on commodification than accommodation."

In recent years, Mr. Robertson's Vision council has moved to try to shape supply more by encouraging rental or, just last year, by insisting that developers had to build a certain number of two- and three-bedroom units in projects. However, the city has struggled to make those affordable even though developers are getting significant incentives to build them.

Mr. Robertson's speech largely focused on housing for middle-income earners, though he did say that it's possible that non-profit groups can create some deeply subsidized apartments if the city helps with free land. And he reiterated a frequent message that the city can only provide really low-cost housing with the help of the federal and provincial governments.

As is his custom, he shied away from blaming foreign investors for Vancouver's huge housing-cost increases the past five years.

Instead, he said Vancouver, like other attractive global cities, is seeing the effects of "the biggest migration in the world" of people into urban areas.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies