Vancouver’s huge income-to-home-price gap will continue to challenge city: planner

Rising home prices; incomes below those in other Canadian cities; falling voter rates: just a few of the challenges Vancouver faces heading into the 21st century

Meteorically rising home prices; an aging population; the rising cost of industrial land; incomes that fall below those in other Canadian cities; falling voter rates: these are some of the major challenges Vancouver is facing in the 21st century.

Bing Thom Architects planner Andy Yan presented a snapshot of Vancouver’s economy, demographics and social challenges in a September 24 presentation. 

Yan has become known for his work on condo occupancy rates in Vancouver, foreign ownership and fun stuff like his independent coffee shopbookstore and trick or treating maps. Local and international media have come to rely on Yan for insight into Vancouver’s sky-high real estate prices.

For this talk, Yan turned his lens to the future of Vancouver. Reminding the audience that, “behind every number is a family, a dream and an aspiration,” Yan highlighted the contrast between Vancouver home prices and income levels.

Vancouver’s residential real estate price growth has been “led from the top,” Yan said: prices have risen higher and faster for multi-million dollar homes priced, and that has in turn affected the prices of less valuable properties.

When it comes to the gap between incomes and property prices, cities like Ottawa or Halifax have a relatively balanced income-to-home price ratio.

On the other end of the scale, Vancouver is more similar to cities like Honolulu and San Francisco. 

Audience gasps as Yan reveals bachelor degree holders in Vancouver earn lowest income in country at $41,981 #van21

— Jen St. Denis (@JenStDen) September 25, 2014

Vancouver residents have lower incomes levels when compared to other Canadian cities: the median income for holders of bachelor degrees in Vancouver is $41,981, the lowest of all large Canadian cities.

Vancouverites who hold a masters or doctorate degree also come in at the bottom in the same comparison, at $49,088.

Vancouver workers with trades certifications do much better, however, sitting in the middle of the pack when compared with residents of other Canadian cities with the same level of education.

When you do the math, it's clear that even Vancouver's "1%" — a person making $210,000, for instance — wouldn't be approved for a mortgage to buy a house priced at more than $1 million, Yan told Business in Vancouver. Many houses on Vancouver's west side are now priced at between $2 million and above.

Aside from the gap between housing costs and incomes, Vancouver faces several other demographic challenges: young adults are still moving here (the number of children is declining slightly), but the fastest-growing age groups in the city are people between the ages of 60 and 64, followed by 80-84 year olds. Those people are likely going to face housing challenges in the near future.

Another challenge, Yan said, is the decline in civic participation: between 1999 and 2011, voter rates fell in many Vancouver neighbourhoods, especially in the southwest corner of the city. The city’s voting rate for 2011 was 35%, contrasting sharply with cities like Calgary and Toronto where upwards of 50% of the population showed up to vote.

Civic participation comes in many forms: Yan has found that the same neighbourhoods that have high levels of trick-or-treat participation at Hallowe'en are also keeners when it comes to filling out their census forms. 

The 2013 trick-or-treating map Yan developed with Vancouver Sun reporter Chad Skelton shows a crescent-shaped trick-or-treating hot spot through the middle of Vancouver, crossing neighbourhoods like Grandview-Woodland, Mount Pleasant and Kitsilano.