Vancouver's ultimately unsuccessful bid to get Amazon's second headquarters included an entire page dedicated to reassuring the company that governments are tackling the region's housing crisis.
While the 26-page document sold the region as a place that is green, rich in well-educated potential workers and with tech salaries 25 per cent less than in the United States in addition to having cheaper overall costs, lots of immigrants and already being an existing tech hub, it also addressed the issue of Vancouver's high housing costs.
"We feel the impacts of global attention and a growing tech sector," says the document, which was just released by the Vancouver Economic Commission.
"But we know we're not alone. The region is committed to learning from others (e.g., Seattle and San Francisco), and is pro-actively working to ensure housing availability and affordability."
The document then details 14 different measures being undertaken by the civic, provincial and federal governments and makes the case there is a lot of new supply of housing being built in Vancouver that is more accessible than housing in Seattle.
Those measures include federal changes to tighten mortgage rules, as well as the province's 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers – which does not apply to foreign workers. It also notes the city has introduced a tax on vacant homes and recently hired a new planning director who previously worked for San Francisco.
"The combination of major rapid transit investments (valued at $7.5-billion), federal, provincial and municipal policies, as well as the influx of supply in the market, has resulted in a greater diversity of affordable housing options across the region," it argues. "In fact, Vancouver currently has three times the number of homes for sale under USD $500,000, compared to Seattle."
Amazon announced last September it was looking for a second headquarters and invited cities to bid, noting that it was likely to invest US$5-billion in the new site and hire 50,000 people.
The Seattle-based online retailer released a short list of 20 cities last month that left Toronto as the only Canadian bid still in the running. The list also included places such as Newark, N.J., and Columbus, Ohio, as well as Boston, Los Angeles and Miami.
The Vancouver Economic Commission spent $156,000 on the bid, which many said at the outset was unlikely to put Vancouver in the running. The commission is now using its 50-page proposal as a blueprint for how it could attract other expansions to the region.
One rating agency, Sperling's Best Places, ranked Vancouver last as a possibility among 64 top candidates, citing its problems with high cost of living, lack of commercial space and close proximity to Seattle.
A University of British Columbia professor who specializes in the dynamics of Vancouver's economy said that wasn't surprising.
"I said last year it was a non-starter," Tom Hutton said.
He said he didn't think it was the city's expensive reputation that was the problem.
"Almost anywhere you'd want to be is expensive," he said. But it was unlikely because Vancouver is so close to Seattle geographically.
However, Prof. Hutton said Vancouver officials likely felt they had to make an effort to participate anyways for straight marketing reasons.
"To appear to be not in the game" would be a negative, he said. "They had to go along with the narrative that we were a player."
The bid document made a point of noting that Vancouver already has more U.S. citizens living in it than any other city outside the United States.
The bid also identified four potential sites in the Lower Mainland where the company could go: two in Vancouver, one in Surrey and one in Richmond.