Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sustainability op ed.

Great opinion piece by David Boyd in yesterday's Vancouver Sun. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to make to the site. You can however read his policy document, Sustainability within a Generation, at the David Suzuki Foundation website. Great Christmas reading!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My first month in Vancouver

I've been in Vancouver for about a month now -- excluding a nine day road trip up and down the east coast. It's been a wild ride; first there were torrential rains and a boil water advisory; then a blizzard (in November!); and finally hurricane force winds.

For me, the wind storm last Friday was by far the most frightening. Our apartment is on the 18th floor facing English Bay. When the winds gusted it was as if someone were throwing their body against the windows and the entire building swayed. Scary. The greatest tragedy is the damage that was done to Stanley Park. I visited a couple of times last summer and was looking forward to spending time in the park next spring and summer. Sadly, it appears that the park won't be the same for a long time.

The one thing that has really struck me in my short time here, is the visible pervasiveness of homelessness. The homeless are everywhere -- in doorways, behind bushes, on the sidewalk, in parking lots. It's a tragedy that is at least as great a problem here as it is in Toronto, and one that needs to be addressed. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to be without a home; not being able to have a hot shower or sleep in a warm bed. No one deserves a fate like that. A couple of bad breaks and maybe it could be me.

One of the reason's certainly must be the lack of affordable housing. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation just released its latest Rental Market Reports and Vancouver's vacancy rates are among the lowest in the country. Even if you look at availability rates rather than vacancy rates and include condo rentals it still looks pretty bleak. So, while the federal Conservatives decision to renew a homelessness initiative started by the previous Liberal government, it's unlikely that the $526 million is going to make a significant difference.

The other area that really needs to be addressed in Vancouver is the cost of purchasing a home or condominium. The average resale home price is over $500,000 and the average price for condominiums is over $340,000. These prices make it difficult for many people to get into the market (and relieve pressure on the rental market). It's definitely an overheated market and most of the demand is being driven from investors from outside of Canada. My banker has told be that most of the demand is from buyers in China and the Middle East. This was confirmed on my flight from Toronto last week. I got into a conversation about my move here with the guy sitting next to me and eventually the conversation turned to whether I was going to buy a property here. Long story short, a friend of his is a real estate agent in Vancouver and recently sold multiple properties to someone from Hong Kong.

While this may or may not be true -- at the very least it indicates that there are likely investors from outside the country who are fueling the frenzied market here. And while I'm all for capitalism, it seems that some form of regulation needs to be put in place to ensure that there is still a reasonable stock of affordable housing. Maybe it's limiting foreign investment in the residential market. Maybe it's requiring that foreign buyers are resident here. I'm not sure.

As it stands right now middle income and even upper middle income earners are being priced out of the market. Which will in turn lead to other problems like labor migration to more affordable markets and an inability to attract skilled workers from other markets.

Maybe it's a bubble. Or maybe Vancouver will be like San Francisco and you'll need two (or more) incomes, and a willingness to forgo other savings to get into the market. As a new Vancouverite, here's hoping that local, provincial and federal governments make housing one of there top priorities. Before the problem gets worse.