Bob Rennie: “The Only Cure for Affordability is Supply”

Joannah Connolly
November 4, 2014

In a speech to a packed CMHC fall housing conference November 4 that was exclusively shared a day early with REW.ca, Vancouver condo marketer Bob Rennie told delegates that “big, bold moves” were needed to solve the region’s housing supply problems in light of the growing population.

Jump down to CKNW radio clip of REW.ca editor Joannah Connolly discussing Vancouver affordability and Rennie's solutions

A staunch supporter of Vision Vancouver, Rennie backed Vision’s municipal election housing policy by suggesting the city rezone neighbourhoods to allow for more storeys, as long as the proportion of family-sized units is increased to more than 30 per cent of the development.

Criticizing Vancouver’s community nimbyism, Rennie asked, “What if Vancouver changed C5 zonings that are currently four storeys to six storeys? More people on less land is green. Yet we have community groups that are outraged over adding a floor. We talk about height as if it’s ebola.”

He added, “We have to change the direction of the community groups that are anti-density. Who is educating them on future populations and real housing demand and that the only cure for affordability is supply? Maybe that’s the CMHC’s job.”

Rennie was bullish in his predictions for the continued pace of Lower Mainland real estate, saying, “There is no silver bullet on the horizon that will put a hard stop to the housing market.” He dismissed fears that rising interest rates or “another 911” could cause a market crash, saying “we will just adjust quicker.”

As in his May speech to the Urban Development Institute, Rennie cited the predicted 77 per cent increase in the over-65 age group by 2028, saying that housing policy changes need to take into account this dramatically growing demographic. He said, “We should be addressing both families and the over-65s because both will require a new housing model.”

He slammed the proportion of Vancouver’s single-family housing zoning at its current 56 per cent, asserting that, “If I owned Vancouver, I would zone it all to townhouses.”

Taking a broader approach, he suggested that the problems of affordability in the Lower Mainland region cannot necessarily be cured by the City of Vancouver, which has the most expensive land in the region.

“Is family housing affordability, or affordable rental, a City of Vancouver issue?” he asked. “Should I be able to own or rent in Vancouver at comparable prices to Burnaby or Mission? Affordability needs real goals – we need a 10-year plan for the region.”

Rennie added that Vancouver’s unaffordability, in terms of house prices versus average incomes, was skewed by the inclusion of the top 20 per cent of home sales, which he said could be attributed to wealthy overseas buyers and therefore “nothing to do with local income analysis.” He suggested that affordability was greater than publicly perceived and much better than cities such as London and New York, “taking us out of the most expensive place race.”

Rennie concluded his speech with a reiteration of his May discussion of how development drives, and is driven by, “energy centres” such as downtown Vancouver, Metrotown and Brentwood in Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey city centres – dense hubs of transit and commerce that attract life across all generations.

He said, “One of my career lows is now one of my career highs: the Olympic Village is now an energy centre. The Village on False Creek, as we now call it, has gone from being a ghost town to a place where I can’t find parking.”

   

Joannah Connolly
Joannah Connolly is editorial director of Glacier Real Estate, Glacier Media's real estate division. Joannah writes and curates real estate news for Glacier Media's local newspaper websites, including the Vancouver Courier, North Shore News, Burnaby Now, Tri-City News and others. She also oversees editorial content in Real Estate Weekly Homes, West Coast Condo, Western Investor and Glacier's special real estate publications. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 22 years of journalism and editing experience in Vancouver and London, with a background in construction, architecture, healthcare and business media. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, has moderated and spoken on various industry panels, and spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio.