“Vancouver – Is homeownership becoming a far-fetched dream?”

That is the question at the heading of a new housing affordability report by RBC Economics Research. And the answer is “yes.” The report claims that to purchase a bungalow, the average Vancouver household has to dedicate 92.5% of its income to housing costs. The second most unaffordable Canadian city is Toronto, where the average household would have to dedicate 51.9%. CMHC defines “affordable” as having to pay no more than 30% of household income on housing.

For a ‘standard two-storey’ the average Vancouver household would have to dedicate 95.5% of their income. Again Toronto is second worse, at 61.4%. Even a ‘standard condo’ in Vancouver is severely unaffordable at 47.1%, also the worst rate in the country.

This is of course not the first report showing how housing prices are out of reach for Vancouver residents. Demographia’s annual housing affordability survey has ranked Vancouver in the bottom three out of about 300 global cities for several years in a row. According to Demographia, the average housing price has been 9 to 10 times the average family income. A report by BMO in June of 2011 calculated that ratio at an even higher 11. For our review of these reports, see here.

Realter Bob Rennie has been trying to argue that these numbers are skewed by high-end sales. But this is simply not the case, because Demographia uses medians (which exclude both low and high end sales for the analysis), and RBC uses ‘standard’ dwelling, to distinguish from the ‘average’.


This week the City released its three-year plan for addressing housing affordability in Vancouver. The plan has been received with wide appeal as an ambitious attempt to solve street homeless in Vancouver by 2015. In fact, the plan calls for drastic reductions in the city’s own housing goals, while introducing major reporting fabrications that give the appearance of a new direction for housing.

The three-year action plan announces 3,650 new units of non-market housing. Immediately, observers will recognize that almost half of these 3,650 new units are not new at all: they are part of the 14 sites, which were promised for completion by 2010 at the latest, not 2014. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for these sites was signed in 2007 and construction was supposed to start in 2008. The units were part of the 3,200 units promised by all three levels of government under the Inner City Inclusivity agreement (ICI) as a condition of hosting the Olympic Games. Zero of these units were built by time of the Olympics.

Once the 14 sites are subtracted from the 3-year total, the City is committed to building only 1,950 new housing units. However, a further significant portion of these 1,950 units are also falsely included. 319 of them are not planned for actual construction, since, as the report says, they “currently have no identified funding source.” In addition to this, 276 further units cannot be genuinely counted since they are drawn from the Little Mountain housing development. Little Mountain does not represent new units for the housing stock, since the 224 units of public housing at Little Mountain, built in 1954, were destroyed and all residents were promised to be re-housed by 2010. Since that illegal demolition, residents have been told that only half of them will be re-housed by 2014 at the earliest.

There is a renewed grassroots effort to stop condo development on the site of the historic Pantages Theatre at 138 East Hastings. Worthington properties currently has plans to build 79 condo units on the site. The project may be approved by the Director of Planning, Brent Toderian later this summer unless there is a public outcry. In order to force a hearing, the public has until August 12 2011 to address concerns to:

Alice Kwan: 604.871.6283, alice.kwan@vancouver.ca and
Scott Barker: 604.873.7166, scott.barker@vancouver.ca

A coalition of community groups has launched a website called The DTES is not for condo developers, which includes a petition and outlines the coalition’s concerns about condo development in the “heart” of the Downtown Eastside. The 100 block of East Hastings includes many community assets that could be negatively affected by gentrification, including the Carnegie Community Centre, Insite, and 400 low-income housing units.

The coalition is calling on the City to reject the developer’s proposal, and asks “the Pantages owner to sell the property at its 2010 assessed value of $3.7 million to the City of Vancouver.” Worthington Properties bought the Pantages Theatre in 2004 for only $440,000. Worthington also purchased the adjacent lots, spending just over $1M to assemble the block for redevelopment. By 2010, the City assessed the value of the lots at $3.7M. But when Worthington Properties tried to sell the block to the City in the spring of 2010, the corporation asked for a price well above market value, and City Council turned down the offer at an in camera meeting on March 22, 2010.

The developer has made millions simply by speculating on an affordable block. Beyond that, they are now insisting on even more profits instead of working with the City to restore one of Vancouver’s three historic theaters, and to build desperately needed social housing. When the City makes every reasonable attempt to purchase a property to meet the ‘public interest’, but the owner won’t sell at a fair price, the City’s next legal step is expropriation. Under the provincial Expropriation Act, the City has the authority to expropriate properties to meet its policy goals in the public interest.

The above picture depicts City Engineers tossing the complete belongings of two homeless residents of the Downtown Eastside – shopping carts inclusive – into a garbage truck for destruction.

This event occurred Saturday, June 25th at 10:30pm, on East Hastings near Main Street. The Vancouver Police had called on the City Engineering Department to carry out these micro-house-demolitions.

In a seemingly similar incident in Feb 2009, the VPD and City Engineers destroyed a homeless man’s belongings. Legal advocate David Eby was passing by and videotaped the incident, which can be found here. Eby notes that these are likely not isolated events.