Our house is in the middle of the street

If the middle class can’t afford a house, the youth are doomed.

“Ordinary people in BC can no longer afford to buy ordinary homes,” reported The Tyee on February 10. Housing is a problem for any Vancouverite, but housing for a student that is just graduating is nearly impossible. Perhaps surprisingly, it is not a problem that has arisen from the recent economic downtown. Rather, unaffordable housing in BC has been a growing trend for most of the new millennium.

What is particularly worrying for the generation of “college-age” students in BC is the apparently decreasing possibility of ever owning a home with the same relative ease that most of our parents did. For generations, owning a home was the norm. My immigrant grandparents bought a home in Kamloops in 1966 that cost them $12,000. Foreigners who spoke little English, they had relatively low-paying jobs but were able to pay off their mortgage in an astounding four years. Twenty-two years later, my parents purchased a home in Burnaby for $135,000. Today, approximately 20 years after that, the average market value of a similarly ordinary home in Metro Vancouver is $484,211.

Economists at TD Financial Group released a study in 2003, asserting that “one in five households in Canada is still unable to afford acceptable shelter.” This problem is further compounded in the Metro Vancouver area, which boasts the fourth most unaffordable housing market among all those in Canada, the USA, the UK, and Australia.

True, people have a choice of where they want to live. The argument that people should live where they can afford to does have a certain amount of validity. However, that does not mean that we should let Metro Vancouver become a region for only the rich, who can “afford” the insane housing prices. While this has occurred in small municipalities such as West Vancouver, it is not an applicable model for a metropolitan area. The potential for massive problems arises when blue-collar workers that a city relies on cannot afford to live in that city, and instead are forced further and further out in the suburbs.

The downsides to urban sprawl that allows for more affordable housing are numerous, including increased traffic congestion and pollution, as well as loss of farmland. The latter issue is more relevant than ever, as The Province recently reported that Fraser Valley farms are by far the most productive in the country.

The situation is not hopeless. The TD economists, at least, are in agreement that government action is required. While it is widely accepted that the housing market works in cycles, as does the economy, this type of speculations leads to the laissez-faire attitude that nothing needs to be done, since the market will correct itself. While this may be true for the bigger picture, it neglects the needs of British Columbians now.

The gap between what average families can afford and what homes actually cost is growing, despite a recent fall in housing prices due to the recession. So if you don’t currently own a home, you have a while to wait. Ideally, stick it out in your parents’ basement for as long as you’re in school (or as long as you can handle it), since renting a place in Vancouver makes about the same economic sense as living out of a seedy motel. On a personal level, the only solution to this problem is money, so besides living at home until you’re in your 30s, perhaps the second best advice I can give is to go the way of Oliver Twist.

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com