- Who are you?
- Why are you only addressing the number of homes?
- Aren’t you concerned about gentrification and displacement?
- New housing is really expensive in Vancouver. How is new housing going to help if it’s priced out of my reach?
- OK, I get what you believe in but what are you doing?
- What if I'm for some housing types but I don't support everything?
- I heard there was enough "zoned capacity." Why do we need to change zoning?
- But there are 25,000 empty homes in Vancouver! What do you mean you want more?
- What are you, some kind of shills for real estate developers?
We’re a group of Vancouverites, most of whom met in June 2016 at rezoning hearings. We are a group with diverse policy ideas, but one thing we agree on is that Vancouver needs more housing for everyone.
Aren't other issues even more important?
There are many organizations addressing other aspects of Vancouver’s housing crisis, but few of them touch on the need for more housing of all types. We’d like to fill that gap!
We are not saying that a housing shortage is the only cause of Vancouver’s housing crisis, we are saying that it’s a significant cause. We see our work as complementary to the work of others, not competing.
We are very concerned about it. We understand that in some cases there is a tradeoff between making the region more affordable by adding more housing, and making an individual neighbourhood less affordable by replacing older, more affordable housing stock.
Whenever we are given the choice, we strongly prefer allowing more market-rate housing in wealthy neighbourhoods before underprivileged ones. Sadly, our municipal policy often does the exact opposite – for example, Burnaby has chosen to focus on densifying existing affordable rental housing stock in Metrotown while sheltering the surrounding wealthier single-family neighbourhoods from change. Likewise most of Vancouver’s tony West Side is off-limits to development, accelerating the pace of change in neighbourhoods where new housing is allowed.
New housing is really expensive in Vancouver. How is new housing going to help if it’s priced out of my reach?
This is a fair question. Different housing types affect affordability in different ways, and some of our members strongly prefer non-market homes to market ones. If you That said, there are 3 main things to keep in mind for new market housing:
1. Newer-than-average housing is more expensive than average, almost by definition. This is unavoidable as long as people prefer newer buildings to older buildings. The good news: it doesn't stay new forever!
2. Much has been made of housing developers targeting ‘luxury’ buyers instead of average income earners. Scarcity makes it easier for them to do this – in markets where production is not capped, suppliers tend to move on to other customers after luxury demand is sated.
Take cars for example: Toyota sells both mid-range Toyota vehicles and a higher-end Lexus marque. Margins are far higher for Lexus, and they'd no doubt prefer to sell more of those. What's striking is that Lexus sales only make up about 1/10 of Toyota Canada's annual sales! They've sold all the luxury goods they can, and have moved on to more affordable products in a big way.
If we permitted significantly more homes in our desirable neighbourhoods, we'd eventually see more "Toyota" homes.
3. The benefits of new housing go far beyond the initial buyer (and are often hard to see because they are so diffuse). Wealthy households don't disappear when housing is not built for them. A household buying a new condo is not renovating an older, more affordable unit. A household accommodated on the West Side is no longer bidding up prices on the East Side.
We've criticized the zoning rules in West Point Grey for banning housing forms other than $20M+ mansions, and this is why – we're under no illusion that new townhouses and apartments in WPG would be cheap, but not building them is even worse. That pushes demand toward existing housing stock and other neighbourhoods instead.
So far, we've:
- Rallied support for more housing at rezoning hearings in the City of Vancouver
- Held walking tours discussing Vancouver's zoning policies
- Urged the City of Vancouver to reconsider their plans to further downzone many single-family neighbourhoods with an open letter
If you’re interested in joining us or would just like to learn more, we’d love to keep you informed about upcoming chances to advocate for more housing. In the future we’d love to expand our work to other forms of advocacy, your ideas are very welcome.
Not a problem – many of our members have strong opinions about which housing types are best. We have members who prefer non-profit housing, members who prefer rentals, and members who just want it all. If you’re only willing to support some types of housing, we welcome your perspective and would love your help with whatever housing type you prefer!
Just because it's zoned doesn't mean it gets built. For example, some years ago the city increased the zoned capacity of all the single family zones by permitting laneway houses, affecting some 60,000 lots. At present rates of construction, only 1/8 of zoned capacity will actually be built upon over the next 20 years. This makes sense, since not everyone wants a laneway house, just as not every apartment owner is going to want to tear down and rebuild to the maximum permitted. All of this adds up to mean that the actual capacity that people will want to develop is less than the legally permitted amount.
Further, is the zoning in question the zoning we want to see? To retain exclusionary single family zones un-touched, maxing-out zoned capacity would involve the teardown of many of the city's most affordable rental buildings in order to build to the zoning maximum. Some would find it rather perverse to direct growth towards tearing down the homes of lower income renters when homeowners could be striking mutually advantageous deals with builders instead.
Lastly, the number of people who will move here is not some fixed constant. It's affected by the availability of housing, and (all else being equal) if housing is more expensive fewer people will move here.
The claim that there is enough zoned capacity usually refers back to a report by Coriolus Consulting produced for the City in 2014. To start, the report itself acknowledges that roughly half of the 'zoned capacity' is projected to come from rezonings, which, ironically, means that there is not enough zoned capacity to meet twenty year projections at the present time.
A detailed examination of the topic can be found here
First: the widely cited number of 25,502 empty homes in 2016 is not correct. That's the number of private dwellings not occupied by usual residents in the City of Vancouver. Some of those are occupied by people who make their usual homes elsewhere (either in Canada or abroad). Whatever problems you might have with that, they're not all empty. 20,000 might be a better estimate for empty units if we extrapolate from 2011 census data, and it's worth noting that there will always be some empty units due to turnover etc.
To put this number into perspective, 20,000 homes is less than a year's worth of housing starts in the region, or a few years of development in Vancouver. It's a good start, but it's nowhere near enough to solve our housing crisis, so putting building homes on hold while we fill those houses would be counterproductive.
In the long term, a more permissive housing policy would mean that we have enough homes for long-term residents and people who are willing to pay property taxes without consuming the usual amount of services.
Sometimes, estimates of the number unoccupied units are conflated with the purpose built rental vacancy rate, a statistic published by the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation that measures the amount of slack in the rental housing market specifically. This number is very small (less than 1%), meaning that prospective tenants have few choices while landlords have many choices, which puts upward pressure on rents that should be alleviated by increasing the pace of rental housing construction.
In a word: no. None of the founding members of AHV work in the real estate industry. Most real estate developers aren’t lobbying for the policy reforms we want – many established developers benefit from complex, arcane rezoning processes that discourage competition from smaller builders with less political expertise. A Vancouver where it’s easy to build more housing is also a Vancouver where developers face far more competition.