Building For Whom?


Elizabeth Murphy, an experienced observer of the Vancouver housing scene for many years, has written a well-argued piece in the latest Business in Vancouver delving into the recently-published census figures.

The pro-developer supplyists in this town keep on and on about our rising population providing, they claim, an urgent need to keep building more and more housing. However, as Murphy points out, the census shows Vancouver’s population continues to grow only at a modest 1% per year, just as it has done for more than a generation.

It is this kind of real data that infuriates the pro-developer crowd. They do their best to ignore it, as do their buddies in City Planning and City Council who have forced through building growth more than 20% greater than actual population growth in the last five years.

This extraordinary rush to build is at least partly responsible for the incredible rise we see in land prices as developers vie for lots to build on, leading us to a situation where the average household can no longer even dream of owing a home (absent a lottery win or a rich parent) nor even, indeed, of renting a place big enough to accommodate a family.

And still the developers and their shills want more even though as Murphy notes: “Development in the approval pipeline is already decades ahead of population growth, contrary to the supply deficit narrative.” This is far from a new problem here. I wrote a similar story back in 2016.

Not only is this frenzied building creating vast numbers of empty homes (about 23,000 according to the latest figures) and destroying all hope of affordability, the City has been unable to keep up with the basic infrastructure required to service these properties. As Murphy writes:

“The city has not kept up with promised amenities for rezoned areas such as Norquay, Fraser Lands, and Marpole. The Cambie Corridor doesn’t have enough servicing , such as sewers, for the rezoned capacity. There are billions of dollars of infrastructure and amenities required for even what has already been rezoned, plus what is proposed … Development only covers a small percentage of the actual costs of related infrastructure. And in the case of rental housing, most development fees are reduced or exempted. So most of these costs must be carried by property taxes and capital debt financing.”

She also comments on a possible solution:

“While growth is inevitable, there is a choice as to how this is done. The challenge is to do it in a way that provides the needed housing, without overwhelming  existing infrastructure. This requires incremental growth at a scale that new needed infrastructure can be affordably provided without inflating land values. These are the fundamentals of planning for a livable, affordable and sustainable city, not just unlimited growth promotion.”

As my Twitter handles states: we need to build for need not for greed.

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