NEWS: Who Can Afford to Live Here?

By Think City Staff

By any standard, the City of Vancouver is not a very affordable place to live for the middle class. According to the 2006 census, the average family in Metro Vancouver earns $64,332. Using generally accepted guidelines of affordability, this means that the average family, given an average down payment, could afford to buy a $258,142 home.

Considering that the average price of a house on the east side of Vancouver is now $610,000 and $1.2 million on the west side, while condos currently average $286,000 on the east and $422,500 on the west, it's clear we have an affordability crisis.

The same imbalance between housing costs and income extends to rental units in the city as well, although not to the same extent. Affordable rental units are increasingly difficult to find, especially larger units that are suitable for families.

While the city and province have recently increased their funding and support for developing new social housing for the poorest residents of Vancouver, there has been little concrete effort to address the issue of affordability for the majority of Vancouverites.

Right now, there's a flurry of ideas and discussion about finding a solution to this problem. A recent series in the Tyee outlined a few of them. The city could offer density bonuses to developers for including affordable units in their projects. Regulations could be amended allowing more diverse types of housing in city, including coach-houses in back alleys, fee-simple rowhouses and secondary suites in condominiums. Lastly, the city could provide innovative financing for low-cost homes.

One idea that was floated at Think City's Dream Vancouver conference in 2007 was the creation of an independent housing authority, perhaps similar to Whistler's, that would build and manage homes throughout Vancouver with the goal of making them affordable to middle-income residents.

Some advocate using a home-ownership model, with sold homes maintained at a given percentage below market - often 20 per cent - by restrictive covenant. Others think the city should provide a large supply of stable, affordable rental housing that tenants would know would be affordable over the long term. This approach has worked in other cities, most notably in Zurich, Switzerland, to keep the overall rental market from being overly influenced by speculative bubbles.

Even though the housing market is in the middle of a much-needed correction, it's important we keep focusing on this key issue, as it's a long-term problem for Vancouver. It's also much easier to work on during a down market, when opportunities to build and buy are much more affordable.

The government sold out the

The government sold out the False Creek lands to big business developers. That was a mistake. Affordable housing should include houses that are affordable to buy, not just to rent. Only the wealthy and elite can afford to live in our beautiful city anymore. That is not right. Housing should not be dictated by profits of the developers. It should be dictated by the needs of the people.

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