News / Vancouver

Emptying neighbourhoods sign of 'failing city:' Vancouver mayor

Gregor Robertson gave a preview of new directions the city is planning to take to produce housing for people, not investments

Houses in Vancouver

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Houses in Vancouver

“A neighbourhood made up of perfect $5 million heritage homes with no children in them” is “the sign of a failing city,” Vancouver’s mayor Wednesday said in a speech that gave some hints new policy as the city grapples with extreme housing unaffordability.

In the speech hosted by the Urban Land Institute, Robertson indicated the city will attempt to add supply while discouraging rampant speculation. Rapidly rising land prices have affected both residential and commercial real estate in the past few years, raising fears the city is sliding towards becoming a “resort” for the rich while young families and businesses avoid Vancouver.

Some of the policies the city is looking at include allowing low-rise apartment building owners to add an extra storey; encouraging duplexes to multiply into four-plexes; and focusing on rental, not condos buildings, at high-density transit hubs, Robertson said. The city would also like to make more of the land it owns available for development, and “issue a challenge to the private sector: who can build the most affordable housing?”

When it comes to single family houses, which are all now over the $1 million mark in Vancouver after an extraordinary run-up in prices between 2015 and 2016, Robertson said the city would like to find ways to increase density on the lots without land assembly. Land assembly is the practice of buying several lots on a street in order to build a higher-density condo or rowhouse building.

“There are design solutions out there that allow density without assembly,” Robertson said. “Simple things like how we allow duplexes, more infill, townhouses, rowhouses. We’ve been lagging in that area for decades.”

Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census showed that several of Vancouver’s priciest Westside neighbourhoods have lost hundreds of residents between 2011 and 2016. Dunbar lost 300 residents; Arbutus Ridge 700; and Kerrisdale 800.

“The warning bells are ringing,” Robertson said.

Instead of “fixating” on density, Robertson said the city would attempt to encourage new housing that people will live in — not hold as under-occupied investments. The vision, he said, is to see “schools filled with students, neighbourhood high streets filled with shoppers, parks filled with kids.”

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