No Housing Affordability Without Vastly Improved Transit: Bob Rennie

Joannah Connolly
June 2, 2016

With Metro Vancouver’s housing market on a “scary” trajectory, there can be no housing affordability without massively improving the region’s transit, condo marketer Bob Rennie told a sold-out audience at the last of his annual Urban Development Institute (UDI) addresses June 2.

In “Time to Change the Narrative,” which he announced would be his final annual UDI speech, Rennie said that it was important for a cultural shift to take place so that housing demand is spread more evenly through the Metro Vancouver region, becoming less Vancouver-centric.

"The conversation has always been that people think if you work in the city you should be able to afford to live in the city. That doesn't recognize today's working environment where many are working remotely or on the road. Let's talk about making it more livable for people in the suburbs. Where does the entitlement that people have to be able to live in the centre of a city come from? We have to change the narrative. People are already starting to choose these regions and I think this will increase at an exponential rate."

And with that comes the need for much more efficient rapid transit to get people around the region, he added.

Rennie said, “There is no housing affordability without transit. Today's young buyers are buying into transit-oriented developments, and are not reliant on cars. Unlike their parents, today's young people don't need a car to get laid."

He suggested that, rather than have the taxpayer foot the bill, that developers effectively pay for new transit lines and stations by being allowed much higher densities around transit hubs such as SkyTrain stations.

Rennie told the day before his address, “That density can be used to pay for the transit. And one nice thing about that is that when developers pay for transit, it takes away the political risk that mayors and councils have to go through. Everybody is anti-development but pro-affordability, and we can’t do that any more. We have to have supply. And I know everybody says, oh Bob just wants to sell condos. But that’s the least of my worries in life. And just because I benefit from some of the solutions should not stop people like me coming up with solutions. We [at Rennie Marketing Systems] spend over a million dollars last year on data gathering and management, and we want to share that.”

He urged the provincial and municipal governments to get together and create an Affordable Housing Task Force to sit down and find solutions to accommodate Metro Vancouver's growing population.

Rennie told that generational wealth transfer is massively underestimated as fuelling the housing market in the region, a topic that he also raised in his address.

He said, “The scary part is that now one in three homes in Greater Vancouver is owned clear title. That’s $197 billion of clear-title equity in 193,000 homes, out of 657,000 homes in Greater Vancouver. And what’s also scary is that $60 billion of this clear-title equity is owned by over-75-year-olds.

“Even if $10 billion of this is transferred to their children, those children can buy $40 billion worth of housing.”

“And the unique thing about Greater Vancouver is that you can’t build more single-family houses, so these people are so highly liquid. And they’re downsizing, and releasing equity for retirement and giving it to their children. Some 80 per cent of first-time buyers are getting help from family – and this is where the money is coming from.”

Rennie said, “We [at Rennie Marketing Systems] are tracking all this closely. The reason my last talk is called ‘Changing the Narrative’ is because we all keep looking at the statistics for Vancouver, but what happens in Vancouver does not represent all of Greater Vancouver. Average prices in Vancouver proper are vastly higher than Greater Vancouver, not including Vancouver itself. All the affordability is out in the region.

“We’re so addicted to reporting the idea that this is one of the most expensive places to live that it becomes treasonous, and in fact we’re hurting the region. There is affordability, in the region. But to have that affordability, you need good transit. We have to get people into the city, and we have to get them out of the city, and into and out of Surrey. To me, transit is the number one factor in making this region livable and affordable.”

Rennie told that instead of delivering his annual UDI address, his company Rennie Marketing Systems would be publishing quarterly updates with its housing market findings.

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.