These are notes from Cameron Gray’s presentation to GWAC on November 2, 2015.
Metro Region, Vancouver City, and Grandview Woodland Neighbourhood Snapshot
The metro area is currently comprised of 2.5 million people living in 900,000 homes with 1/3 of those renting and 2/3 owning, and a median income of $78,000 for owners and $41,000 for renters. In the city of Vancouver, 630,000 people live in 270,000 homes with about a 50/50 split of owners and renters and median incomes of $77,000 for owners and $43,000 for renters. Other than the ratio of renters to owners, affordability is a similar issue across the metro area, with about 30% of renters spending more than 30% of their pre-tax income on rent, and low rental vacancy rates across the region.
Grandview Woodland is considered one of the inner ring of neighbourhoods close to the downtown core (Kits, Fairview, Mt Pleasant, and Strathcona are the others) and along with Marpole and the West End, these neighbourhoods provide most of the city’s rental housing. GW has 5% of the city’s population. About 65% of GW residents rent and 35% own. Median incomes are 2/3 of the city’s average at $56,000 for owners and $28,000 for renters. Rents are slightly more affordable in GW at 87% of the city’s average or $923 per month. City records show that 47% of renters pay more than 30% of their pre-tax income on rent.
Change is projected for the region, the city, and the neighbourhood over the next 30 years with an influx of 900,000 people and 500,000 homes to the metro area. Annually, that looks like 30,000 people and 18,000 new homes per year in the metro area. Vancouver is projected to get 15% of the region’s growth. What this means for Grandview Woodland has yet to be seen.
What we do know is that the cost of housing is projected to rise and vacancy rates are projected to remain low. Currently, it seems that 47% of renters in Grandview Woodland are at core need, meaning their household has to pay more than 30% of its pretax income for a unit of appropriate size and in a reasonable state of repair. Though, Cameron thought maybe the 47% number was inflated somehow, he did think it was likely that Grandview Woodland has more residents in core need than the city average. Grandview Woodland faces two significant housing issues:
- Retention and upgrade of the older rental housing
- Preservation of affordability for low and modest income renters
While affordability may be a relative term, housing policy of the past recognized that many people will never be able to afford to buy their own home. There are two housing types that must be built to ensure affordability across the income spectrum: purpose built rental and social housing.
Purpose built rental (a building that can only be rented, never converted to condos) was last built in significant numbers in the 1970s and is now aging. Unconventional rental (rented condo units, houses, secondary suites, etc) take up a greater share of the rental market than in the past, but are less secure because they can be removed readily from the rental stock. The city has implemented some incentive programs wherein developers can get added density for an agreement to build rental only buildings. 1200 rental units have been started in the last 5 years in the city under these programs (STIR and Rental 100).
Social housing comprises only 6% of Canada’s housing stock. Meaning that 94% of the housing stock is provided by the market, a relatively high percentage compared with many European countries and with Singapore. Social housing comprises a range of housing types, including public housing, supportive housing, non-profit rental, and non-profit co-ops. They can be operated by government, non-profits, and non-profit co-op societies. Vancouver has 23,000 purpose built social housing units and GW has 9% of the city’s total, or 2100 units. Grandview Woodland has most of the city’s First Nations’ social housing. Social housing makes up 14% of the neighbourhood’s total housing stock. Most of our social housing was built in the 1970s and 1980s.
Social housing in the neighbourhood faces two primary challenges: expiry of operating agreements and therefore subsidies and renovation and repair of older buildings. There are currently no long term Federal or Provincial funding programs to build new social housing.
In addition, there is a severe shortage of 3 and 4 bedroom units for rent, both on the market and in social housing across Vancouver. Grandview Woodland has 330 3 and 4 bedroom units of social housing. Across the city, only 2% of the purpose built rental stock is 3 or more bedrooms in size. We both need to preserve existing rental and social family housing and build more of it.
Role of Market, Role of Government
Both the market and government (mostly government) have a role in addressing Vancouver’s affordability problems. We probably cannot stop the increasing cost of single family homes, as their supply is diminishing relative to condos. We can increase the supply of condos and townhouses, but ultimately market housing will not solve the affordability crisis. Supply is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for housing affordability because housing is expensive to build, and there are constraints on land, labour, equipment and construction materials supply. Additionally, lenders tend to become more conservative in a hot market and housing demand can drop suddenly, as in the recession of 1982. Supply, by contrast, is a slow process. Therefore, government is essential to providing social housing for households of low and modest income, especially in high growth areas like Vancouver. The Federal and Provincial governments must take the lead as they have the resources. The city can take some role in securing land, but the city does not have the power to address the need.
There remains a question as to where to build additional social housing density. Cameron asks: “Should older dense neighbourhoods like GW be densified and redeveloped, or should new market housing be built in low density, single family areas or low density suburbs?” And, “Do we need a growth plan for the whole city that identifies where densification should take place? Is neighbourhood by neighbourhood planning the best or right way?” Cameron argued that cities should not use the need for funds as the reason to rezone to higher densities. Rezoning should instead be a response to the need to accommodate growth. He argues, we need to plan as a region. He also argues that senior governments should assist to provide at least 1000 units of purpose built social housing in the region each year for the next 10 years, while 2000 such units per year for the next 20 years would be much closer to the real need. Half of all social housing units built should be 3 plus bedroom and should be for families.