Friday, January 27, 2012

Another journalist realizes it's time for some changes!

We need to look at a greater variety of housing options

Jon Ferry

Jon Ferry

Photograph by: Graphics, The Province

Why does the Lower Mainland have such high house prices? Well, lots of people want to buy homes here . . . for a grab bag of reasons.

It's easy to blame everyone from wealthy Asian buyers to greedy developers and eco-obsessed urban planners. But there is no single villain.

For years, Vancouver's been ranked by outside rating agencies as one of the world's most livable cities. And we've lived up to the hype. We've become the victim of our own success and are pricing ourselves out of the market.

However, my view is that slapping on foreign-home ownership restrictions, as many have suggested, would simply kill the golden goose. It would put at risk the investment of scores of Lower Mainland homeowners who've battled over the years to build up a real-estate nest egg.

That doesn't mean, though, that government should do nothing to help provide affordable housing, especially for young people with families.

We just need the political will and public interest to do so. And that's been rising fast. Everybody seems to know somebody who's either left or leaving town, driven out by high rents or humongous mortgages.

In fact, sky-high Vancouver housing prices were one of the reasons why my son, a young engineer, and his wife chose to move to Montreal, where they were able to buy a townhouse for half what they'd have to pay here.

They miss Vancouver terribly, and we miss them and our little granddaughter. But we realize the vast distance separating us is the penalty we pay for living in Lotusland, and my son pays for having a real job.

Vancouver is many things, but not a manufacturing hub. It's more tourist town than business city. As former Province paper boy Chris Perry says: "You simply can't make enough money as a working stiff to buy a decent house, without some kind of additional injection of money."

It's little wonder many working people feel priced-out, especially when those who aren't working seem to matter more to our local politicians.

"People from all over the country move here and get a room on the taxpayer," notes salesman Brett Carels. "Meanwhile, the average Joe can't afford to live in this city or to have a family."

Carels, 36, told me Thursday he's considering leaving Vancouver because, down the road, he doesn't see it as an affordable place to raise a family.

As I said, there are no easy solutions. But I have two suggestions:

1. Forget caviar dreams on a Costco budget. Reduce your housing expectations. Think Kia rather than BMW, and Arborite rather than granite.

2. Allow forms of housing other than traditional single-family homes and conventional condo buildings.

As Vancouver architect/planner/developer Michael Geller points out, there is no good reason why municipalities can't zone for cottage-style houses, non-strata row houses, "stacked" townhouses or other attractive and less expensive housing common elsewhere.

Sure, NIMBY-minded residents will worry this will lower their property values. But when they are older and find they can't keep up their hard-to-maintain, single-family houses, where will they go? Will they be forced out of the area, too?

Yes, Lower Mainland housing affordability is a huge problem. But, no, housing restrictions aren't the solution. Housing variety is.

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Jon Petrie said...

Not obvious to me >that slapping on foreign-home ownership restrictions ... put[ting] at [increased] risk the investment of scores of Lower Mainland homeowners< wouldn't be a public benefit overall. In my view, and I suspect the Bank of Canada's view, there should be a bit more apparent risk to holding or buying property in Vancouver.

Curious how little information we get from our media re existing restrictions on foreign buying in other countries and the absence of any real discussion of the pros and cons of such restrictions. One recent exception re Australian restrictions: Courier 12 Jan,

And perhaps of interest to some: >>The so-called “London effect”, whereby residential properties in the nation’s capital defy weakness elsewhere [in the UK], is down to strongly rising prices in a handful of areas ... a handful of areas most attractive to overseas buyers have seen a surge in demand driving up average prices in the capital overall ... of 243 areas in Greater London, 193 have average prices that are lower today than they were at the peak of the market in mid-2007. A further 10 have stabilised and are back where they were at the peak. The remaining 40 have gone beyond it ...[In some districts] demand has been driven by those priced out of superprime areas as well as by the benefits regeneration has delivered, particularly in King’s Cross.<<
Financial Times 27 Jan >Prime areas prop up London prices< The web article may not be available without subscription

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