The City of Vancouver invited Resonance Consultancy to present at a housing affordability workshop with newly hired General Manager of Planning Gil Kelley. Here’s what participants ranging from UBC to the Vancouver Board of Trade discussed.

A key issue arising from the City of Vancouver’s recent community engagement process has been the housing affordability challenges facing young people and families. At a workshop composed of stakeholders fighting to figure out a more inclusive city, this group was dubbed “the missing middle.”

Resonance Consultancy was invited to present findings from our Future of B.C. Housing Report to the City’s advisory groups, and contribute to the strategy that will inform Housing Strategy Re:Set, Vancouver’s upcoming affordability plan.

After taking the group through our report’s sample size of more than 1,700 British Columbians and mining their opinions about housing in the province over the next five years, we dove into the meat of our findings: A large percentage (34%) of Metro Vancouver homeowners in our survey are considering moving to more affordable markets. Even more alarming is that 40% of Gen-X homeowners in Metro Vancouver (aged 35 to 54) are considering selling their homes and moving to a more affordable market.

It became clear that what is left of the “missing middle” demographic in the city—the young professionals and squeezed families—is planning to leave pretty soon in order to stretch their housing dollar further elsewhere. That they could pocket a nice profit on their real estate cash-out as the market slows down will likely only expedite the temptation.

The rest of our presentation went from alarming to applicable; focused on housing affordability and product preferences in Metro Vancouver in order to complement the discussion around creating the right supply in form and design for those most at risk to flee.

The balance of the morning featured a mix of city planners, community service professionals, real estate developers and architects attempting to better define and understand the needs of the “missing middle.” We also tested ideas for new ways to identify collaborators to serve a range of housing needs that will only increase in the future. Here are some of the key takeaways from the workshop…

Click here to see our SlideShare presentation to the City of Vancouver.

Creating the right supply
The economics and politics of the housing market make it difficult to regulate housing price growth and affordable housing supply. And rising housing prices in Metro Vancouver are pushing home ownership out of reach for many young households and families, especially when they don’t have help from parents for a down payment. So with more people priced out of home ownership and renting for longer, it’s important to ensure that rental is a valid, long-term housing option, with security of tenure and affordability key. A potential solution for the city would be to ensure that existing and future rental stock is being used effectively by, among other things, legalizing secondary suites and bringing empty properties into the rental market quicker.

Aligning non-housing assets
Transit, housing, and land use policies must be aligned to encourage affordable housing supply throughout the city. As members of the “missing middle” are priced out of urban centres, they also face long commutes to access work, school, and other amenities, with negative consequences to health and the environment. Focus groups suggested that city-owned land could be used more effectively to support affordable housing projects. Another option for the city would be to introduce incentives to encourage owners to introduce new units on the market in order to increase rental supply.

Affordability, Form and Design
Today, middle-class communities are falling behind, with the gains and prosperity of the mid-20th century replaced by stagnant wages, rising debt, and growing wealth and income inequality. The ongoing discussion in Vancouver around land values, zoning, and the need for density signal potential opportunities to explore a city-wide, multidisciplinary solution.

Local architects and developers support the argument that innovative design has the potential to help integrate affordability into new housing forms. However, some existing City design guidelines and zoning requirements are seen as negatively impacting design innovation. Consequently, adapting the City’s design guidelines to allow more flexibility in design and architecture may help create more diversity in the city’s urban design, while also enabling forms with more embedded affordability.

Reviewing parking requirements was also raised as possible low-hanging fruit for enabling more innovative designs. Again, public education is seen as key to helping communities understand what parking changes would mean for different parts of the city.

With a growing gap in wealth between those who are in the market and those on the outside looking in, session participants identified all levels of government as key partners in the solution. Engaging a greater diversity of voices is necessary to drive the culture and social shift needed to create affordable housing across the city. Young voices are a key component of this diversity. Our Future of B.C. Housing Report captures the sentiment of Millennials as well as Boomers and Gen-X. If  you haven’t already, I encourage you to download it for free here.

The print version of our Future of B.C. Housing Report.

To learn more about the sentiment of B.C. residents towards housing, plus the opportunities and threats to the provincial real estate industry, download your free copy of the Future of B.C. Housing report, or connect with us.