Good Density

There are groups of people  who camp out on Twitter and other social media outlets demanding more and more density as the solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis. I absolutely agree we need to densify. But I have noticed two things about these twitterers:

  • their primary solution is to build new buildings;
  • affordability is of no account;

They are wrong on both counts.

It is clear from Stats Can’s numbers and all the analysis people like Andy Yan have conducted that supply is not the issue here. Even Gregor Robertson in a deathbed conversion has agreed that supply is not the primary problem and our General Manager of Planning says we have spent a decade building the wrong things.  With 25,000+ empty housing units in the City, and tens of thousands of more units in the pipeline, any attempt to blame lack of supply is simply ludicrous.

I will make one exception to that statement:  housing for very low- or no-income  people has been sorely lacking for a decade, probably because it makes so little profit for the developers.  The City and Province are slowly beginning, albeit with some problems, to deal with that with their modular housing schemes. We need to do a lot more, but at least a start has been made.

The crisis is primarily for the regular working Janes and Joes of Vancouver; the folks who are hard-working productive employees but only make at or below the median wage in Vancouver (which is a notoriously low paid City).  These build-build-build types don’t seem to give a damn about these people. They are quite happy to build condos and townhouses and even apartment blocks that the majority of people cannot afford.

The only people who benefit from such buildings are the developers themselves, speculators, and those who already have houses to sell to finance the purchase.

We need to look at ways that can provide decent housing for the median folks, and we need to do it fast or they will simply move out of the city and take their vitality and talents with them. We can do this by encouraging owners of single detached houses to provide at least two and hopefully three households on each lot. This encouragement could come by relaxing the extraordinarily onerous, expensive, and time-consuming regulations the City imposes today on both in-house suites and laneway houses. We need to legalize all the “illegal” suites and encourage their refurbishment and expansion.

Such increases could easily double the density in Grandview, for example (as opposed to the 30% increase envisioned in the Community Plan). And this will be many times less expensive than new building as land costs will be irrelevant.

Finally, while this crisis lasts, it is incumbent on the City to ensure that City-owned land is sold/used only for genuinely affordable housing and not sold or handed over to developers for unaffordable condo towers and the like.

Density is a good thing, but only if regular local people can afford to buy what is built.

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7 Responses to Good Density

  1. Dorothy D. Barkley says:

    There is a new building going up at Main & 20th, called Main & 20th not too ironically, that the developer held a promotional introduction for yesterday. My friend who attended said that it was being promoted as an up & coming neighbourhood with construction costs of $1450/sq’. Tell me about its affordability….. This is what is being built despite the lip service to supply and this is where AH is so very profoundly wrong.

  2. artitectus says:

    … as you’re painting with a pretty broad brush here … have you ever had a discussion with any AH’ers?

    I have yet to meet a single one who would even remotely agree with either of these points: their only solution is to build new buildings;
    affordability is of no account.

    To the contrary, I’d think that you would find agreement with essentially every single one of your points above (except for those I just mentioned, which were your strawman arguments) … and because I think you would find much more agreement than disagreement, I’d suggest you might want to chat with them further, such that you might find you’re on the same side.

    There are plenty of ‘enemies’ to go around … chat with them and find that the enemy of your enemy might very likely be your friend.

    • jakking says:

      Yes, I seem to engage endlessly with them on twitter; also talked with them when they had a table at last year’s Car Free Day on the Drive. Whenever I mention affordability they claim it just a cover, an excuse, for what they wrongly and insultingly call NIMBYism.

  3. H. Song says:

    There are two types of “Vancouverites”: Those who own the city and those who don’t.

    What incentives do those who own Vancouver have to provide affordable housing? Do you honestly think they feel they owe anything to you, to your neighbourhood, and to the people who struggle to live in it, or can’t afford to?

    Sorry to say that you’re deeply mistaken, Jak. (But you knew that.)

    These types of “who will fight for the local little people?” essays are no more than liberal dick-waving, or as an earlier commenter accurately characterized: virtue signaling.

    Put some real action to your lip service. Devise a plan to fix that which you signal about, fund it, and get it done.

    Or, please for the love of all things Grandview, go back to taking photos of crows and leave the problem-solving to people who are actually on the ground getting things done.

    • jakking says:

      I’ll happily stand my work in this community against yours (another phoney name, I suspect, as your email address doesn’t exist). The only people who use “virtue signalling” as a pejorative are Scheer-like Tories and neo-Nazis, so at least we know where you come from.

    • David Carman says:

      If we want to talk ” who will fight for the little people virtue signalling” we need look no further than the development industry lobbyists who claim they are so very concerned about the lack of affordable housing in Vancouver. And of course it is their moral and civic duty to help their fellow citizens by simply being allowed to increase supply.

      Right.

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