By almost all measures, the Greater Vancouver region is experiencing a housing affordability crisis. It is impacting the quality of life and the availability of human capital in the region, which risks compromising economic growth and our ability to hire and retain top talent. In our Greater Vancouver Economic Scorecard 2018, analysis by the Conference Board of Canada revealed that the region is "severely unaffordable," with a median housing cost to median income ratio of 12.6. Any value above 5 is considered unaffordable.
All levels of government must play a role in addressing housing affordability. However, the Local Government Act and the Vancouver Charter grant direct authority over land-use planning and approval for housing developments to local governments, putting them on the front lines of the housing crisis.
Scorecard 2018 has four indicators that highlight Greater Vancouver's affordability issues:
|Housing affordability||Housing affordability is a particularly important factor when deciding where to live. However, high income levels may compensate for high house prices. Regions with affordable housing receive the best grades.||C 13/15
Ratio of 12.6
Ratio of 10.6
|Housing affordability change (2012-2016)||Metro areas showing an improvement in affordability are more attractive to people than those showing a deterioration in affordability.||D 12/15||N/A|
|Population aged 25-34||This age cohort is highly mobile and tends to be well educated. A metro area with a large proportion of this age grouping will be attractive to other young adults and will be better positioned for the future.||B 9/19
15.1% of population
18.7% of population
|Disposable income/capita||Metro regions with high average income are likely to draw in more people.||D 12/20
|Income Inequality||The higher the income inequality, the lower the ranking a metro area receives. A score of 0 represents perfect income equality (every person in the society has the same income). A score of 1 represents perfect inequality (one person has all the income and the rest of the society has none).||B 8/20
SURVEY: What is the most important issue facing your municipality that city hall should give to the highest priority?
SURVEY: Has your business' ability to recruit or retain employees been affected by the cost of housing?
SURVEY: Have you recently considered relocating away from the Metro Vancouver region due to affordability concerns?
Greater Vancouver's unique geography requires creative housing solutions that balance density with liveability. Despite our constrained geography, inefficient land use continues to exacerbate the region's housing affordability challenges. 63% of residential zoned land is occupied by detached single-family homes, housing a small minority of our total population. This state is unsustainable over the longer term.
The Greater Vancouver Economic Scorecard 2016 noted the inextricable linkage between housing affordability and public transit. Policies that allow for higher density in conjunction with transit development would serve to link transit and development in a way that would increase housing supply, improve affordability, and ensure ridership for transit.
Density bonus zoning is another mechanism to increase housing density, as it can allow developers, where appropriate, to increase density beyond what is listed in a zoning bylaw. In exchange for defined tiers of increased density zoning, developers would agree to contribute certain amenities, affordable housing, or other specified conditions.
SURVEY: Should local governments prioritize supply side policies (creation of additional housing supply, etc.) or demand side policies (empty homes tax, speculation tax, foreign buyers tax, etc.) to combat the region's housing affordability crisis?
- Pre-zone for transit-oriented development during the planning process for new rapid transit investments and increase density around existing regional transit systems where possible and appropriate; and
- Use density bonus zoning wherever possible and appropriate.
The lack of availability of housing types that can support families is of significant concern. Greater Vancouver struggles to attract people between the ages of 25 and 34, a highly desirable and productive demographic, that is also the demographic that tends to start families. Increasing the number of housing units that can support families should be a high priority for local governments.
In order to make more efficient use of our land, the region should construct housing that may be defined as "The Missing Middle". The Missing Middle can include, but isn't limited to, laneway housing and secondary suites in single-family home zones, townhouses, and apartment multiplexes.
Diversity in housing tenure (ownership, rental, co-op housing, co-housing, etc.) is also essential to ensure that suitable, stable, and affordable housing options are available for younger demographics and lower income earners. The Greater Vancouver region's low grade in income inequality (8th out of 20 comparator cities) and proportion of population aged 25-34 (9th out of 19) in Scorecard 2018 are indicative of certain demographics that may need to look to affordable rental accommodation.
- Prioritize diversity in housing supply when considering applications, with a focus on the Missing Middle, such as: laneway housing and secondary suites in single-family home zones, townhouses, and apartment multiplexes;
- Increase the number of housing units that can support families while also contributing to density; and
- Use tools at the disposal of local governments to create a smart regulatory environment that encourages the addition of more supply and greater diversity in housing form and tenure.
Permitting and Community Amenity Contributions
Greater Vancouver's housing market is experiencing what economists label a market failure. In simple terms, while demand for housing has been rapidly growing, the overall supply of housing has not kept pace, leading to a rapid rise in prices. One important step to alleviate pressure in the market is to allow more supply.
Development timelines become much shorter when the development process is simplified and streamlined according to a set of clearly defined desirable outcomes. Developers can invest quickly and with certainty when the timelines are shorter and the expectations are clearly laid out. This allows greater diversity and supply to be added to the market at a rate which keeps better pace with the region's growing demand. Concurrent permitting and approval processes can reduce development timelines and improve efficiency and predictability for both developers and local governments.
The requirement to provide Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) is a significant factor in extending project timelines and can therefore present a barrier to the introduction of new housing supply, particularly when municipalities use "project-by-project" negotiation as the preferred method of securing CACs. While these contributions provide important amenities that support quality of life in neighbourhoods, they often unnecessarily create project uncertainty and elevate costs. While amenities still need to be provided for communities, the CAC process should be clear, fair and transparent.
SURVEY: In terms of municipal government spending, what do you believe is the TOP priority for investment?
- Work to meaningfully reduce development timelines through concurrent reviews of different stages (e.g. rezoning and permitting) of the development application;
- Set predictable fees and levies, including standardized community access charges;
- Increase the certainty and transparency in Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) negotiations. End the practice of negotiating CACs on a project-by-project basis or waive or give credits towards CACs for developments that include purpose-built rental and other diverse forms of housing;
- Empower municipal staff to solve site-specific challenges and shepherd specific projects through the municipal permitting process and interpret policy along the way; and
- Improve websites of local jurisdictions, which should include complete, accurate and up-to-date information.