The hunt for affordable housing

Regardless of which survey you read, the issue of affordable housing tops the list of concerns for most Metro Vancouverites. Is it any wonder when a tear-down house on Vancouver’s west side can easily fetch $2 million, while the cost of rental accommodation continues to soar? But what options do our civic politicians really have at their disposal to make cities in our region affordable once again?

One option could be to introduce policies that result in a massive drop in the value of existing single-family homes. While this might sound appealing to prospective purchasers, it simply isn’t practical. That’s because it could send our economy into a serious nosedive.

Just imagine thousands of existing homeowners now suddenly owing more on their house than it is worth. If you want a lesson on how that works, simply check out what’s happening right now in countless cities across America.

We all know Detroit, Michigan is one of the most affordable places to live, but I don’t hear many Vancouverites clamouring to become anything like Motor City. Their housing affordability is a direct result of their economy falling into the tank. Therefore, if we’re going to open up our housing market to lower-income earners, we’ll need to be much more creative.

Mayor Gregor Robertson announced in his inaugural speech earlier this week that he is going to establish a new blue ribbon panel on housing affordability. While I applaud him for his efforts, he will have a tough road ahead of him. But the good news is there are a number of different ways cities can introduce affordability into the market without having to necessarily depress the price of existing homes.

Step one for Vancouver should be to introduce a number of new housing options for first time buyers that essentially don’t exist. That means thinking outside the wood frame box and following Toronto’s lead by pre-zoning parcels of land for such things as stacked townhouses and row housing.

Not only is this form of housing easier to bring to market at a lower price point, it has broad appeal with young couples and families who simply can’t afford to purchase a more costly single family home.

In next week’s column I’ll explore several other options our civic politicians could immediately implement if they truly want to introduce more affordability into our red-hot real estate market.


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