The high cost of hous­ing pushes skilled work­ers out of the city

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

Iain Reeve and his wife moved from rental home to rental home in Van­cou­ver but their fi­nal so­lu­tion for se­cure hous­ing was to move to Ot­tawa and buy two houses – one for them and an­other for his par­ents. He and his wife, Cassandra Sclauzero, are pro­fes­sion­als in their mid-30s who wanted to start a fam­ily, but they couldn’t af­ford to buy in Van­cou­ver.

“We wanted to own a home to have sta­bil­ity, and peace of mind and flex­i­bil­ity,” Mr. Reeve said. “The rental mar­ket didn’t have sta­bil­ity. We both had set­tled into pretty good first jobs. But as much as we loved the city and had these con­nec­tions, it wasn’t worth it.”

They were “kicked out” of a few places in three years through no fault of their own, he said, adding that it was be­cause peo­ple were sell­ing or flip­ping prop­er­ties.

Mr. Reeve grew up and went to univer­sity in Van­cou­ver.

“I also have par­ents who live in the Van­cou­ver area who don’t own a home and are work­ing class and not a ton of money saved for re­tire­ment, and I’m an only child,” he said. “We just couldn’t even get our foot in the door in terms of stable hous­ing.”

Mr. Reeve said he knows a num­ber of peo­ple who are think­ing of mov­ing out of the city sim­ply be­cause of the hous­ing mar­ket.

“Life is chal­leng­ing enough, it’s so hard when you have [hous­ing] in­se­cu­rity all the time.”

Sta­tis­tics show that Van­cou­ver, and British Columbia in gen­eral, is los­ing skilled work­ers to other parts of the coun­try.

Canada Mort­gage and Hous­ing Corp. (CMHC) spokesman Leonard Catling said one of the main rea­sons peo­ple be­tween the ages of 21 and 25 come to Metro Van­cou­ver is for univer­sity, but they move out as they get older.

A De­cem­ber news re­lease from Sta­tis­tics Canada shows that B.C.’s pop­u­la­tion crossed the five-mil­lion mark for the first time be­cause of in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion. How­ever, it lost about 1,200 peo­ple to other prov­inces in the third quar­ter of 2018 after 21 quar­ters of gains. On­tario, Al­berta and Nova Sco­tia had the largest gains in pop­u­la­tion from other prov­inces.

Andy Yan, di­rec­tor of the City Pro­gram at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, said Van­cou­ver is mostly able to at­tract peo­ple early in their ca­reers, whether they come for ed­u­ca­tion or a job, but it has a prob­lem re­tain­ing tal­ent. Even if they earn a rel­a­tively high wage, he said, they can’t af­ford any­thing ex­cept con­do­mini­ums.

“In a world like that, the labour pool has op­tions,” he said, not­ing that other prov­inces of­fer much more hous­ing for their salaries.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ca­role James said in an in­ter­view “there’s no ques­tion that Van­cou­ver is fac­ing a brain drain.”

“Cri­sis is not too strong a word to de­scribe the chal­lenges we are fac­ing, not just in Van­cou­ver, but other ur­ban set­tings around our prov­ince,” she said.

Mr. Yan said Van­cou­ver is los­ing peo­ple in cer­tain age groups. Those be­tween 35 and 45 are usu­ally at the apex of their ca­reers and think­ing about their first or sec­ond child. But they might find them­selves still hav­ing to share hous­ing if they stay in Van­cou­ver, he said.

“It doesn’t be­come cool when you’re 37 and have a room­mate.” In its De­cem­ber re­port on the hous­ing mar­ket, the Real Es­tate Board of Greater Van­cou­ver pegged the av­er­age price of a de­tached home at a lit­tle more than $1-mil­lion. An apart­ment was about $664,100 and an at­tached home stood at about $809,700.

Fig­ures from BC As­sess­ment, the Crown agency that de­vel­ops and main­tains prop­erty as­sess­ments in the prov­ince, show the hous­ing mar­ket is mod­er­at­ing, with the es­ti­mated value of some homes in Metro Van­cou­ver drop­ping about 10 per cent.

Na­tion­ally, ex­perts have said higher in­ter­est rates and a new mort­gage stress test have also had an im­pact on prop­erty prices across the coun­try.

But Mr. Yan said de­spite those changes, hous­ing in the Van­cou­ver area re­mains unaf­ford­able.

Kevin Olenick, in his mid 40s, moved back to Van­cou­ver ear­lier this year. He grew up in Cal­gary and spent about six months in Kam­loops.

“I’m one of the mi­nor­ity who would say mov­ing back here makes sense,” he said, adding that the cre­ative field he works in pro­vides for more op­por­tu­ni­ties in Van­cou­ver than in other places. But he said he un­der­stands the chal­lenges of liv­ing in the city.

“You wouldn’t want to move here if you have a fam­ily. It’s es­pe­cially tough to find a home and buy a home,” he said.

B.C. Min­istry of Hous­ing spokes­woman Melanie Kil­patrick said the gov­ern­ment has an­nounced mea­sures that are help­ing to cool the real es­tate mar­ket and mod­er­ate prices with a 30-point hous­ing plan.

Mr. Yan said that a study he did in 2018 shows that while home prices in Metro Van­cou­ver were still the high­est in Canada, me­dian house­hold in­come was the low­est. The study also showed that Van­cou­ver re­mained the least af­ford­able city in the coun­try.

Since both own­er­ship and rental is be­com­ing more and more dif­fi­cult, other prob­lems with the labour force are be­com­ing clearer, he said.

Ms. James said the gov­ern­ment is aware of the prob­lem and work­ing on it.

Jas Jo­hal, the jobs critic for the BC Lib­eral party, said the NDP gov­ern­ment needs to fo­cus on in­creas­ing the sup­ply of hous­ing, not taxes.

The NDP gov­ern­ment has lim­ited rent in­creases to 2.5 per cent a year start­ing this month. A spec­u­la­tion and va­cancy tax was also in­tro­duced, aimed at mod­er­at­ing the hous­ing mar­ket and cre­at­ing more homes for renters.

But Mr. Yan said nei­ther the spec­u­la­tion tax nor the va­cancy tax will make much of a dif­fer­ence, and if the city con­tin­ues to lose work­ers, it will lose its com­pet­i­tive edge. “And I think that one of the big­gest chal­lenges is that how do you build an econ­omy – one that’s knowl­edge based – when that pop­u­la­tion seems to be leav­ing the city?”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Iain Reeve and Cassandra Sclauzero, both in their 30s, ul­ti­mately moved to Ot­tawa when their dreams of own­ing a house be­gan to look un­likely in Van­cou­ver, the city where Mr. Reeve grew up and went to univer­sity.

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