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Can Vancouver build its way to affordability?

Last Updated Oct 17, 2017 at 7:25 am PST

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Summary

Many cities have been keeping housing prices flat or rising slowly by building lots of housing, says report

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While Vancouver City Council looks at ways to put a roof over the head of more locals, a recent report out of Seattle shines a spotlight on how other major centres have been able to build their way to affordability.

“While housing prices in Vancouver, as in my home city of Seattle, have been going through the roof, cities around the world have been keeping housing prices flat or rising very slowly by building lots and lots of housing,” says Alan Durning, executive director of Sightline Institute.

“In the United States, Houston has housing that is no more expensive than it was in the 1980s, even though the population has been growing extraordinarily quickly and incomes have been rising,” he tells NEWS 1130.


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“In Canada, Montreal housing prices are less than half as much as in Greater Vancouver, largely because they have been building plenty of housing. And Tokyo, a very dense city like Vancouver, has kept housing prices flat even as the population and incomes have been rising in the city.”

Durning says that goes counter to the conventional wisdom that you can’t build your way out of a housing affordability problem.

“I hear it all the time: Prosperous, growing, tech-rich cities from Seattle to the Bay Area and from Austin to Boston are all gripped by soaring rents and home prices,” he recently posted in a Sightline blog.

“But what if you can build your way to affordable housing? What if, in fact, building is the only path to affordable housing? What if cities around the world have been building their way to affordability for decades? You can. It is. And they have.”

Sprawling Houston and dense Tokyo have done it by keeping red tape for construction at a minimum; Montreal’s zoning is largely for efficient and affordable low- and mid-rises.

“Vienna is a really interesting case where most of the housing is public or non-profit. It still has housing prices less than half as high as in Seattle or Vancouver,” he adds.

Durning says while regional or governmental differences may prevent every model from being successful in the Pacific Northwest, all have lessons for Vancouver.

“To have affordable housing, you have to build homes in great abundance, and without that, other affordability strategies … can be fruitless or counterproductive,” he concludes in his blog.

“Building plenty of housing is not just one way to affordability, it is the only way—the foundation on which other affordability solutions, measures against displacement, and programs for inclusion rest.”