High housing costs felt across age groups, Metro municipalities

No grey area

Beedie Development Group’s bid to rezone 105 Keefer Street, the subject of four days of public hearings at the end of May, promises to put an underused city lot to use. There are few people who argue with that.

What form the use takes is another question. Those urging Vancouver mayor and council to keep “China” in Chinatown when it votes on the rezoning on June 13 made impassioned pleas for developing units that rent solely to seniors at pension rates: $375 a month.

Right now, 25 units in the project are for independent seniors while 110 are designated market residential. (The seniors’ units – 18% of the total unit count – are on the second floor, highlighting their compact dimensions.)

The units would deliver a minor boost to the region’s housing stock for seniors. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) recently reported that just 1,854 independent-living units for seniors exist in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority region at market rents, and even fewer – 1,130 – at non-market rents. Overall vacancies in Vancouver have dropped over the past year and now stand at 4.6%. The majority of vacant units list for $2,900 a month and up. Anything less than $1,900 a month is virtually non-existent.

While discussions of housing affordability focus on working-age people, the CMHC report, coupled with the demands of the Chinatown activists, underscores the fact that seniors housing is not a grey area. Seniors who rent face challenges like the rest of us, and more homes tailored to their needs are needed to meet the needs of an aging population.

Spillover effects

Credit union Vancity reported last week that Chilliwack and Sooke have the most affordable housing for Vancouverites, putting some numbers behind the much-discussed flight from the core.

The numbers also bear out last month’s CMHC report on the so-called spillover effect by which high house prices in the core lead to higher values in adjacent municipalities.

Working with 30 years of data that lessened the influence short-term surges can have on data, CMHC senior market analyst Braden Batch said that spillover effects take at least five years to play out and often linger for up to 10 years.

“Price has a memory,” he said. “It takes a long time for this to fully work its way through. You have changes in Vancouver that are still affecting the prices you see 10 years down the line in places like Surrey.”

This would suggest that the dramatic run-up in Vancouver house prices prior to 2007 is still being felt in Surrey, and that the impact of the market’s current strength will be felt into the late 2020s. Chilliwack, if Vancity is correct, could be the Surrey of the future if people flock to it in search of cheaper housing.

Yet many municipalities posting significant population growth have seen little change in housing prices. Batch said this is because people move there for cheaper housing.

“The population is drawn to the lower prices rather than normal assumptions, [that] population drives the price up or down,” Batch said.

According to the Vancity report, affordability in the past year dropped least in Langley city and Surrey, while North Vancouver district, Delta, Langley township, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford took the most significant hits.

Compact infrastructure

Those who say the province doesn’t need more blacktop fuelling urban growth will find the latest Colliers International report interesting.

Metro Vancouver ranks fourth in North America for traffic congestion, but 15th and 16th, respectively, when it comes to the amount of highway per land area and population. While there’s 36 inches (91.44 centimetres) of blacktop for every Calgary resident, there’s just 13 inches (34 centimetres) for each of us here in Vancouver.

When it comes to industrial properties, which depend on quick access to roads and rail to ship goods to market, Vancouver offers just 3.5 kilometres for every million feet of industrial space.

Vancouver ranks behind every major Canadian city, underscoring – depending on your perspective – its compact highway infrastructure or need for more blacktop.