Think Big? Create A New Vancouver
The B.C. government has earmarked $350 million for affordable housing, which may create a few hundred highly subsidized apartments in Vancouver (it cost nearly twice as much to deliver a social housing unit in the city as a condo apartment, since the subsidized projects require support staff and must all be built to LEED standards). The City of Vancouver also has an affordable housing plan, as do the federal Liberals. We have all heard this tune before.
Since 2011, governments have rolled out all kinds of schemes to reduce the cost of housing, including tightening mortgage requirements to slow demand and bringing in super high-density to increase supply. (Shaping our Future, Metro Vancouver’s latest growth strategy forecasts we’ll need 200,000 new homes over the next 10 years.) So, what happened during the last five years of government help? The cost of a Vancouver house has risen 50% to $1.8 million, the rental vacancy is still in the 1% range and Vancouver is losing so many young families that 19 city schools will or should be closed because they have so few students. At the same time the Port of Metro Vancouver, the biggest private employer in the region, is running out of land.
It is time for some big thinking. It is time to create another Vancouver, a second major coastal city that offers affordable homes and enough land to meet demand of economic and global trade in Canada’s biggest port. If Alberta and Saskatchewan can support two anchor cities, B.C. can as well. (We are not counting Victoria because it is already facing the same land and cost pressures as Vancouver.)
A couple of suggestions: Nanaimo. The Island Harbour City metro area covers 1,280 square kilometers (the city of Nanaimo, pop 80,000 is 91 sq. km, compared to 115 sq. km. for the City of Vancouver, which has 640,000 people). Nanaimo also has an excellent deep water port, an expanding airport and this year will offer private passenger service to Vancouver. Average house prices are less than half that of Metro Vancouver. With business tax incentives combined with lower land costs, Nanaimo could lure Vancouver high-tech firms and other employers, who have warned that high house prices are stunting job recruitment and growth.
The other option for a mega-city is the Sunshine Coast. Don’t knock it ... push a highway into the area (which the province is already studying) and suddenly there is access to 3,780 square km of land available, much of it flat enough to accommodate development. The port activity could be concentrated along Howe Sound, which has a number of deep water locations and is already touted as a potential LNG export site. Major Point: It would take rare visionary planning, sweeping land reforms and tough leadership, but building a second mega-city on the B.C. coast would finally and fully address the issue of affordability. The current band-aid option is that Vancouver will get some heavily subsidized social housing for a handful of people, higher and more expensive density and continue acceleration into an enclave for the rich, foreigners and the aging.
Taken from Ozzie Jurrocks latest newsletter