Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why are we doing this again?

Rather than starting with a number speech I thought it might be fun to play a little multiple choice. Jot down you answers and I'll tell you how close you were later in the post.

What is the median income of a household in Vancouver?
A. $45,000
B. $58,000
C. $72,000

What percentage of their income do Vancouverites spend on housing?
A. 32%
B. 44%
C. 68%

How much does the average single family home sell for in Vancouver?
A. $750,000
B. $900,000
C. over $1,000,000

Many of you know that I've been chipping away at a Masters in Urban Studies for the last few years. I just finished a fascinating class on urban housing policy. I had the great pleasure of being taught by Frances Bula - a prolific blogger covering the Vancouver beat. You might also know her name from the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun where she is often called to write articles about our cities.

One of the topics that kept coming up in a variety of ways was affordable housing. This probably has something to do with the fact that Vancouver really struggles to provide affordable housing options to its residents. Most of the interventions to date have been geared towards low and very low income households and the best type of assistance you can offer these folks are cheap rental options. Helping the poor is always a good thing for a city to do, but lately a whole other group of folks have emerged that are suddenly struggling when it comes to housing...which leads me to the answers of the multiple choice above...

The City of Vancouver is the least affordable housing market in Canada and one of the worst in the world as well. Ou Salaries have become divorced from the housing market putting homeownership out of reach for most of the individuals that live and work here. Our median income is $58K. We spend about 68% of our income on housing (anything above 30% is considered unaffordable) and the average single family home sells for over $1 million.

As young couples attempt to transition from renters to owners, the vast majority find themselves priced out of the market. Instead, folks like Brendon and I explore a limited number of options – keep renting, move to the suburbs and commute to the city for work or leave the province entirely.

Other cities like London, Santa Barbara and Hong Kong that struggle with similar problems have begun to pioneer a whole suite of options to support home ownership for their middle class workers. And low and behold one of the ways they are doing this is by separating the land from the building. (If you remember, this is what we are attempting to do.) This is one way to develop a shared equity agreement where the full 'value' of a property isn't carried entirely by one household but rather is shared by a combination of private owners, municipalities and non-profits.

Is it messy? Yes - totally! But increasingly, especially in cities where property prices are completely out of touch from local salaries, these kind of creative solutions are becoming a necessity. Not just for economic reasons but also for social and environmental grounds. If there are no opportunities for ownership for your mid-level professionals then you end up with a city that is dominated by seniors (folks that got in before the prices skyrocketed), the wealthy and foreign investors interested in turning a profit. For all your young households that move to the suburbs, the city is faced with the environmental implications of a growing community that will commute long distances daily.

I'd like to think that the Shared Equity Agreement that we've developed with Barb and Roger might be something that can inform a new way of sharing ownership and addressing affordability in Vancouver. God knows we need new ways of keeping the next generation of homeowners in the city.

1 comment:

  1. I have a theory! Housing prices in Canada are exactly proportionate to the temperature in the city you live. So if Vancouver has the highest year-around average temperatures, it has a factor of 100%, as the most expensive place to live. Everywhere else is cheaper based on difference in temperature. So, Ottawa today, would freeze the balls off a brass monkey: -25 degrees. Vancouver? A balmy 5 degrees...Brendon's probably out biking, and Akua will be enjoying a morning coffee on a patio and a leisurely stroll to work... Difference = 30 degrees. Today, I shoveled a foot of snow off the driveway...and had to run my hands under a hot tap for 10 minutes afterwards just so I could scratch my bum with any degree of accuracy.... I bet, if I was prepared to live in Innuvik, savings would be even better....! :-)
    BTW...the same formula works in NZ....as Corinne is really quick to point out whenever I complain about the icicles hanging from my nose....Now CUBA...there's a warm, affordable option!