News / Vancouver

Densifying Vancouver housing for the young generation

Code Red: Single-family housing is out of reach for young Vancouverites, so re-zone for other types of housing, say experts

Daniel Oleksiuk, 32, is a lawyer who wants Vancouver to densify so he can remain in the city because single-family houses are out of his (and almost everyone else in his generation’s) reach.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro Order this photo

Daniel Oleksiuk, 32, is a lawyer who wants Vancouver to densify so he can remain in the city because single-family houses are out of his (and almost everyone else in his generation’s) reach.

When 32-year-old Vancouverite Daniel Oleksiuk contemplates his future in the city, he sees a housing landscape that doesn’t bode well for his generation.

Oleksiuk, a lawyer, works downtown and currently rents a one-bedroom apartment in Mount Pleasant but sees no future in single-family houses. It’s a type of housing that is out of reach for most young people and yet 80 per cent of the city is zoned for exactly that.

“We’re either going to have to leave or we’re going to have to build housing of the type that makes sense for us,” said Oleksiuk, who also sits on the city’s Renters Advisory Committee.

Oleksiuk created the advocacy group Abundant Housing Vancouver in hopes people will realize neighbourhoods have to accept greater density if it hopes to keep its young residents. His search for a rental was evidence enough that there is not enough housing for the number of people who need it, he said.

“When there is 30 people in line to see one place, there’s more people than places.”

Vancouver’s vacancy rate currently sits at 0.6 per cent and many condo developments sell out before the building is even finished.

Generation Squeeze founder Paul Kershaw is an advocate for Canadians 40 years and younger. He says it’s time for policymakers to put young people first.

“We have to start asking ourselves, what are the implications for zoning,” he said.

“Entire neighbourhoods where young people may have grown up are now entirely out of reach for them to purchase into or even rent into.”

Housing experts say it’s a matter of planning for the right type of growth. Zoning for density is the only way to go, says one UBC professor.

“Its difficult to envision any scenario whereby single family houses [in Vancouver] become affordable again,” said Nathanael Lauster, who details that idea in his book, Death and Life of the Single-Family House.  

Oleksiuk agrees. He grew up in a detached house in East Vancouver but has accepted the fact that he will probably never live in one again – not if he wants to stay in Vancouver.

“I hope to see some of those two and three bedroom apartments, townhomes, in what are currently single family neighbourhoods. Those look like opportunities for me to stay in Vancouver.”

Daniel Oleksiuk lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood and says the city needs more development to increase housing supply.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Daniel Oleksiuk lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood and says the city needs more development to increase housing supply.

But developments – even low or midrise developments – often face intense backlash from neighbourhoods made up of detached houses. This is where the generational inequality becomes clear, said Kershaw.

Young people can’t live in neighbourhoods where houses cost $1 million and over – houses that were bought decades ago by people who are now seniors.

Lauster says the city needs to plan for the future and not for people who already live there.

“We can’t really base planning entirely about what neighbours who are already living there want because for the most part it’s going to be exclusive,” he said.

“We need to think more broadly about what the city as a whole needs, including people who are not here yet – both immigrants and people who are not born yet.”

Over the coming weeks, Metro will highlight some of Generation Squeeze’s recommendations and invite readers to share their thoughts directly with experts shaping housing policy on the civic, provincial and federal levels.

Zoning battles

Many experts acknowledge the city is in a tough spot when it comes to zoning. On the one hand, some people don’t want to see new developments in their neighbourhood, and on the other hand, there are people who can’t find housing in the city.

From the air, the divide between Vancouver’s tower-filled city centre and its sprawling single-family residential neighbourhoods is evident.

“Single family housing zoning has erected a wall around the city in terms of what people think is urban,” said UBC professor Nathanael Lauster.

“As soon as you loose that wall, people are concerned you’re going to let the city in.”

About 80 per cent of Vancouver is zoned for single-family houses, which are too expensive for most young people.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

About 80 per cent of Vancouver is zoned for single-family houses, which are too expensive for most young people.

The head of UBC’s urban planning school, Penny Gurstein, says the city can mitigate the tension by creating a citywide plan that both residents and developers can agree on.

“[The city] is reacting to development proposals. They’re not showing, this is where we want growth emphasized. This is why there has been so much pushback.”

Kershaw says the city should stand their ground even if there is backlash from residents about increasing density.

“They could become more and more stern in their commitment to increasing density,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be these tall huge high rises but we need to get low rises, something three or four stories in there.”

A call to action

What do you think? Read more at gensqueeze.ca and let us know what you think by emailing Vancouver@metronews.ca, commenting on this article on our Facebook page, facebook.com/vancouvermetro, or tweet us with the hashtag: #CodeRed. You can also text JOIN to 604-337-0945 to get involved with the Code Red campaign.

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