News / Vancouver

Some of Vancouver’s priciest neighbourhoods lost hundreds of residents between 2011 and 2016

Few new homes being added, an aging population and an increase in unoccupied homes may all be contributing to the decline, say researchers

A home in Shaughessy, one of a cluster of Westside neighbourhood that lost residents, compared to 4.6 per cent population growth throughout Vancouver

Jen St. Denis

A home in Shaughessy, one of a cluster of Westside neighbourhood that lost residents, compared to 4.6 per cent population growth throughout Vancouver

Are some of Vancouver’s quiet, tree-lined single-family neighbourhoods a little too quiet?

In contrast to Vancouver’s overall population growth of 4.6 per cent between 2011 and 2016, a cluster of neighbourhoods on the city’s pricy Westside lost hundreds of people in the same period. Arbutus Ridge, Kerrisdale, Shaughnessy and Dunbar/Southlands all lost population, a phenomenon researchers say is worthy of more study.

“Population drop is always kind of jarring,” said Jens von Bergmann, a data analyst who has been mapping Canadian census data (the latest population numbers came out on Feb. 8). “We know that overall population went up quite a bit.”

Click on the image to go to the map. Population change between 2011 and 2016, Statistics Canada 2016 Census.

Jens von Bergmann/CensusMapper.ca

Click on the image to go to the map. Population change between 2011 and 2016, Statistics Canada 2016 Census.

Von Bergmann’s mapping tool CensusMapper.ca also shows that during the same period, the number of unoccupied homes in the same Westside neighbourhoods went up, as well as in other various pockets across the city.

There are three factors at play, and it’s unclear which ones are most driving population decline in these neighbourhoods, said Nathanael Lauster, a sociologist at the University of British Columbia.

Population may be declining because very few new homes are being added to a neighbourhood — that’s certainly the case in the Westside neighbourhoods, von Bergmann said.

While laneway homes and additional basement suites have been popular in East Vancouver’s single family neighbourhoods, they’ve been much rarer on the Westside, in part because the very high price of Westside homes means the “mortgage-helper” economics of adding a suite don’t really work.

“The people that need a mortgage helper, they don’t buy there,” von Bergmann said; homes in these neighbourhoods are valued in the $2-$5 million range.

Canadian households have been getting smaller over the past 30 years as couples have fewer children and are less likely to live with extended family. As the boomers age, their children may leave home or their spouse may pass away, leaving fewer people living in a house.

An increase in the number of unoccupied homes can also cause population to decline, said von Bergmann and Lauster.

Click on the image to go to the map. Dwellings unoccupied by usual residents, according to the 2016 Census. The highest concentration of unoccupied dwellings tend to be newly-built condos.

Jens von Bergmann/CensusMapper.ca

Click on the image to go to the map. Dwellings unoccupied by usual residents, according to the 2016 Census. The highest concentration of unoccupied dwellings tend to be newly-built condos.

Click on the image to go to the map. Unoccupied dwellings, 2011 Census. At that time, the percentage of unoccupied units in the just-completed Olympic Village was higher than in 2016. But Westside neighbourhoods show a lower percentage of unoccupied dwellings than in 2016.

Jens von Bergmann/CensusMapper.ca

Click on the image to go to the map. Unoccupied dwellings, 2011 Census. At that time, the percentage of unoccupied units in the just-completed Olympic Village was higher than in 2016. But Westside neighbourhoods show a lower percentage of unoccupied dwellings than in 2016.

“Any place that is seeing an uptick in second homes will have a downtick in population in terms of people living in those areas,” Lauster said.

The population decline isn’t necessarily a concern, especially if it’s just a matter of elderly people “aging in place,” Lauster said.

“I do think a lot of these neighbourhoods where we haven’t seen new building are heavily protected by (single family) zoning legislation, which prevents lower income and moderate income households moving in to these neighbourhoods.”

The story won’t really be complete until Statistics Canada makes more data from the 2016 Census available, von Bergmann said. For instance, the next release in May will include information about age, sex and type of dwelling.

“Between 2006 and 2011 we saw a drop in children in the City of Vancouver, across all age groups, which I don’t think has been appreciated enough,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see whether that’s continued.”

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