News / Vancouver

Density vs. livability: Experts weigh in on Vancouver housing prices

MLA David Eby warns density alone wont lower home prices during UBC Sauder School of Business panel on housing affordability.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

The only way density will make Vancouver homes more affordable is with government intervention, MLA David Eby warned during a panel discussion on the city’s affordability crisis.

Speaking at a University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business event looking into whether Vancouver could become more affordable without sacrificing livability, Eby warned flooding the market with new homes doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be cheaper.

“Density is critically important but it’s not the only solution,” he said Tuesday evening. “The people that try to sell you density without any other measures to ensure affordability are selling you, in my opinion, more of the same. More luxury condos.”

Eby said some of Vancouver’s most densely developed neighbourhoods, like Coal Harbour downtown, remain unaffordable to average residents.

As do new townhome developments throughout the city that exponentially multiply the number of homes on a former single-family lot but still sell for well over a million dollars.

“My family would love to live in one of those households but at a median family income of $77,000 [for a typical Vancouver family] it is still really hard to afford,” said Eby. “You need to make a deal [with neighbourhoods] … you’re going to lose a lot in this transaction, you’ll lose the character of your neighbourhood and the feeling you had growing up as a kid. The trade off is we give you affordability. That [affordability] needs to be struck first before the wholesale rezoning. In this kind of atmosphere, it’s a really tough sell.”

Vancouver’s chief housing officer, Mukhtar Latif, said the city has been challenged by the lack of federal government funding in affordable housing, especially rental buildings, since the 1990s.

While the city has helped make sure 20 per cent of new buildings are now rental buildings through incentives to developers, vacancy rates remain unsustainably low.

The city is also having difficulty introducing new housing forms in firmly established communities.

“What surprised me coming to Vancouver [from London, England] was you had your single-family home and your condo, and nothing much in between,” said Latif, adding just three per cent of the city’s housing are townhomes.

Cindy Brenneis, a director on the Grandview Woodlands Area Council, said neighbourhoods are open to change but only if it’s done gently and preserving the character of an area is a priority even in the face of housing demand.

“A diverse mix of housing is not unprecedented. We love it because it mixes up the housing types. The question is how much change is too much. Rapid development is scary for people,” she said. “Losing the character of our community is not a commodity we should give up too quickly. There are places in Vancouver that I think should be considered sacred.”

Real estate marketer Cam Good, of Key Marketing, advocated for opening up more neighbourhoods to developers and held out hope that Vancouver’s housing prices will one day recede.

“I think [prices] will come down and they need to come down,” said Good, adding the current market is based on speculation and not economics. “I think [the market] should correct itself, I think that’s natural and I want it to.”

Good recently marketed an 18-unit townhome complex in Vancouver’s west side that used to be on four single-family lots.

He admitted the $1,415,900 selling price of the last townhome – to a local resident – doesn’t sound affordable, but said it was “evidence of a lot of demand but a lack of supply” for such homes.

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