Is it me, or is the tide starting to turn in terms of the conversation about housing supply and demand?
Since I first started my role as editor of REW.ca a couple of years ago, much of what I have heard from the mainstream media, housing campaign groups and general public about the cause of Vancouver’s expensive real estate market have been finger-pointing diatribes laying the “blame” at the feet of overseas investors and the politicians who encouraged them to invest here.
Usually, it’s only when I’ve attended industry conferences, or discussed the topic on my radio show with expert guests (many of whom, like me, don’t benefit financially from increased development), that the conversations have been more about the wide array of factors that have led to our current market, and about the range of possible solutions to unaffordability, including creating enough supply to meet demand. However, those conversations have often felt like we’re just talking to ourselves, shouting into the wind – not actually reaching the ears of those who can actually effect change. That is to say, municipal and provincial leaders, and more importantly, large numbers of regular Metro Vancouver residents.
But recently it has started to feel like that is changing – even if just a little bit. For one thing, I find I’m reading a lot more balanced comment in the media. Some of the more intelligent of the local news outlets, seemingly sick of publishing the same blood-in-the-streets headlines over and over again, have also been publishing well-thought-out opinion pieces that put the situation into context. Like this one in the Vancouver Sun by Vaughn Palmer, another Sun column by Pete McMartin, this analysis by the CBC and then, just last week, this excellent opinion piece by Jessica Barrett in the Vancouver Courier – to cite just a few strong examples.
It’s not just in the media. The messages given out by housing campaign groups and some of the public forums I’ve attended recently have been increasingly measured and solutions-based, too. There was an excellent, and very well-balanced, affordability solutions event held by UBC Sauder School of Business a few weeks ago. This event brought together panellists from all sides of the debate, along with an audience of students and members of the public who, by their comments and questions, seemed largely in favour of calls for increased densification. And even the campaign group Generation Squeeze, a lobby group advocating for more affordable housing and better pay for Millennials (and supporter of the hugely flawed #DontHave1Million campaign), fully acknowledges the housing supply shortage as a key factor in affordability.
In fact, even on social media, the angry, anonymous trolls are now arguing among each other about the topic, with some of them angry about the lack of supply. And while being angry is never helpful, it’s certainly an interesting shift in attitudes.
So perhaps there is cause for cautious optimism – that people are slowly coming around to the idea that addressing supply, while far from a cure-all, is a key factor in easing our affordability problem.
But it is now up to both the City and all its residents to ensure that this conversation translates into action.
I’ve been reading about housing affordability issues in San Francisco – arguably the housing market that is most like our own, and affected by the most similar factors of restricted land, population and employment growth, and its desirability to overseas investors as a Pacific gateway city. The San Francisco Housing Coalition was talking last week in an interesting article about the rise of the YIMBY – and I’m hoping there will be a rise in the YIMBY here in Vancouver, too. Or at the very least, an increase in the volume of the YIMBY voice, when it comes to development and densification.
Because, although we all understand the need for preserving the character of historic and beloved neighbourhoods, there is a much more pressing need to provide housing in larger quantities and at higher densities than the city has previously seen. For too long has the voice of the NIMBY been the loudest at public consultations (take Grandview-Woodlands as a prime example). In a city where the lack of housing affordability is seen as the #1 problem, it is no longer tenable to have the minority of people living in single-family homes on the majority of the land.
So if you are a YIMBY, like me, don’t just sit quietly by. Attend public planning meetings and vote in support of residential development. Write to your MLA, the Mayor’s office, the Premier’s office to say that you believe well-thought-out but extensive rezoning and densification is necessary to help ease our desperate supply shortage.
It’s time to step up and make your voice heard.