Affordability, the Garden City Lands, and beyond

Urban-sprawl proponents like the ones who made Richmond’s Garden City Lands their chosen battleground are at it again in their spin on housing prices in today’s Vancouver Sun. I agree, though, that housing is not cheap in one of the world’s most desirable places to live, especially since there’s such a large proportion of high-quality new homes. I also agree that urban sprawl on Metro Vancouver agricultural land might dampen housing prices. It’s just that I find it hard to understand how that’s desirable other than for the ALR-land speculators/developers who would reap most of the financial benefit. 

In the Richmond situation, sprawling the City Centre population out over the Garden City Lands would destroy the bog with its carbon-sink role and urban-agriculture potential and make the city far less liveable. Furthermore, the whole region will become a lot less liveable if the obscenely funded attempts to get the Garden City Lands out of the Agricultural Land Reserve ever succeed, since that precedent could easily be the beginning of the end of the ALR. If liveability can be damaged enough, housing values will decline too. Is that a good trade-off?

The following letter to the Sun by UBC’s Professor Patrick Condon, James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments, says it best:

Once again the Vancouver Sun rips a fax off the machine from St. Louis’s Wendel Cox’s Demographia Institute and his Dr. Tony Rescei and gives it prominent play on page one of today’s business section (“World Class in ‘Unaffordability,'” D1, Jan. 26, 2010). The curious might want to actually go to the study itself to find that it has not had the benefit of any review by non-biased outside sources, nor are its claims about the negative influence of land use controls on house prices backed up by a single reference. Demographia is infamous as a mouthpiece for the auto and oil industry, who number prominently among their mostly corporate funders. For Demographia to suggest that land use controls are at the core of the affordability problem, when Calgary which has very few controls ranks almost as poorly as Vancouver in this respect, is absurd. To suggest that we should emulate Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh as our models, which by their reckoning are the best of the lot, would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. If you have ever been to those places, you know. Lack of land use controls are not the reason why houses are cheap. It’s that nobody wants to live there.

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2 Comments »

  1. 1
    Olga Says:

    I am not going to pretend that I too do not know why is the housing in the Metro Vancouver area very unaffordable. Affordability is an index, the proportion between the cost of the house and the income of the local citizen, but most of the new homes are bought NOT on the local income. According the own data of the Realty board, the sale in Vancouver is immigrant-driven with the money for the purchase being brought from abroad. Vancouver is the best place on Earth to live…and immigrate for Chinese immigrant, to give the kids good English skills and recognized university degree, to accommodate the aging parents and go back to China to make money – so the income will be low in Canada but the property will be very expensive. I do not mind this situation, these people mostly consume the services and goods and bring money here to spend, but why do we all pretend that there are other reasons for the high properties prices?

  2. 2
    kewljim Says:

    Olga, your explanation makes sense to me. In fact, it applies to extremely nice neighbours of mine, whom I’ll describe as context for what I’ll add to your insight. They are good people who contribute to the local economy, and they help make this a great place to live. The husband has a flourishing business in China, and they are obviously fairly well off.

    However, their Richmond house value may be a hundred times their income in Canada. That is because their time here is pretty much vacation time.

    Undoubtedly, their house is quite affordable for them, but the affordability formula used in the suspect study makes it seem very unaffordable. As a statistician, you have done us all a favour by showing an important way in which the affordability statistics about the Vancouver area are misleading.


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