Vancouver is in a state of crisis. While personal income rates have stayed steady over the last few years, the rise in the prices of detachable homes is threatening to topple many Vancouver families into a black hole of mortgage payments and debt.
The median household income for families in Vancouver and Toronto, both Canadian metropoles, is around $72,000 p.a. However, a two-storey single family dwelling in Toronto is valued at about $700,000, while the exact same house in Vancouver will sell for approximately $1,300,000. To put that into perspective, not taking into account mortgage interest rates, it costs about twice as much to buy a house in Vancouver as it does to buy a house in Toronto, and 18 years of a Vancouver family’s household income compared to 10 years of income for a similar family living in Toronto.
Needless to say, Vancouver is in a serious and seemingly incurable housing crisis. The cost of living is soaring higher as we speak. 2015 prices for a single-family dwelling increased 17.5% from 2014, and certain neighborhoods saw pricing rise 20% or more. For a huge metropolitan city like Vancouver, where the numbers of young families are growing quickly and the population is expected to increase by one million by 2040, affordable housing is less of an asset and more of a necessity. Many families now do not even have the privilege to contemplate the luxury of a detached house; with rental prices averaging 40-50% of the household income, some can hardly afford even condominiums. This puts families in a very difficult situation, where they must decide either to leave their Vancouver job behind in search of a more affordable city, or try to manage with a ridiculously high monthly rental or mortgage payment. Both options put huge amounts of stress on a young family.
One young Vancouverite, Cameron Gray, felt that real estate was so exorbitantly priced that he made the choice to forgo housing completely. He lives in a 55-square-foot camper van he bought for $3000 off a friend, trading off favours in return for a connection to other houses’ water and power supplies. When people are willing to live in portable trailers and go to other great extremes in order to evade housing costs, there is no way our government could be blind to the situation. Yet, Vancouver housing prices are only getting higher and higher, with no end in sight.
It has been suggested that Canadian real-estate costs are rising because of foreign investment, specifically from mainland China. News sources, as of this November, are reporting that in the last six months, 70% of homes were sold to mainland Chinese families. This is a controversial accusation in itself, as it raises multiple issues regarding race and other sensitive topics. Has anything been done to see whether or not this statistic is truly accurate, or are Vancouverites happy to blindly follow biased news sources that are keen to place blame on anyone but those who are really responsible for it?
Some have suggested a ban on foreigners investing in the Canadian housing market, thinking that it would be a good idea to bar people from buying houses overseas. In a city known for its racial diversity and welcoming attitude toward immigrants, this seems to me like blatant racism and a thinly-veiled plot to make it more difficult to immigrate. The entire idea of banning such a huge group of people from the housing market seems extremely flawed. What would determine one’s right to buy a house in Vancouver? I, among many others, would put my foot down to living in a city where one’s race or current country of residence determined your eligibility to own a home.
To me, it seems ridiculous that in a city built and shaped by immigration, people still think that everyday racism is justifiable. Although it is difficult to believe that bigotry is still existent in Vancouver in this day and age, I have seen it with my own eyes. My mother’s grandparents immigrated to Vancouver from China almost 100 years ago, while my dad’s family moved to Vancouver in the 50’s from the Netherlands. We recently purchased a new house in a family-friendly, trendy community in Vancouver, believing that it would be a warm and inviting neighbourhood. However, we were proved wrong when my dad was the first to meet the new neighbours, a middle-aged Caucasian couple. Their first comment after shaking his hand was “Oh, thank goodness you aren’t Chinese! They’ve been taking over the neighbourhood!” I am sure you could imagine the awkwardness that ensued when my dad informed them that his wife was, in fact, Chinese.
This is a story that I’ve heard not once, but many times from families and in online communities around Vancouver, and it makes me question the validity of the ‘local’ people’s concerns. Where do we draw the line between concern for one’s neighbourhood and outright racism? In what sort of kind and inviting neighbourhood is it okay to ostracize and call out certain families simply for their race or ethnicity? Whether a family has been in the city for fifty years or three months, each should have an equal value to society and equal right to purchase a house.
In any case, the Vancouver housing crisis is not something to be taken lightly, especially as our population of both local and immigrant families rapidly increases. Everyone should have the choice to live in a home that is safe, affordable, and comfortable, and in the present situation this is not at all the case. Parents in their early 50’s are complaining of boomerang children, a term designating young adults who aren’t moving out of their childhood homes, but what else would they expect? Like university tuition and other living expenses, housing prices have shot up by the thousand since these parents last had to buy their own house, and it is ridiculous to expect their children to do the same on an income that just cannot support the cost of living.
It is imperative that we find ways to support the needs of the young and old families struggling to make a living in this city. Vancouver is a fantastic place to live, but how will people ever be able to discover its beauty when many can hardly afford to eat and sleep comfortably without worrying about their bank accounts?