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Going Going Gone

The exorbitant cost of housing, lack of decent jobs, and changing nature of the economy have squeezed the middle class out. That’s why a generation of ambitious young people is leaving Vancouver
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Gone
Going, Going... Gone Amanda Skuse
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The exorbitant cost of housing, lack of decent jobs, and changing nature of the economy have squeezed the middle class out. That’s why a generation of ambitious young people is leaving Vancouver

James and Tina live in Point Grey, in a two-bedroom basement suite in a Vancouver Special. Tina, 34, a former music teacher, is now a stay-at-home mom. James, 35, teaches music and directs the 260-student Dr. Annie B. Jamieson Elementary School string orchestra. He also gives private cello lessons to bring in extra cash. Their twin boys were born last May, and their challenge as a new family of five is how to afford not groceries but space. The search for a larger home has not gone well. Real estate, they say, has been “a continual source of depression” for seven years. “We feel fortunate to be healthy, have three wonderful children, and have jobs that are mostly satisfying and interesting,” James says. But they’re tired of living below ground. “Our dehumidifier and industrial mould-spore-removing air filter are playing too large a role in our lives.”

On their combined income—at around $80,000, it’s well above the regional family median of $68,000—they’re still knocking their heads against the subfloor of the real-estate boom. While in their 20s, they saved for a down payment and made offers on six houses in Vancouver and Burnaby. Despite bidding over the asking price almost every time, says James, they always lost out. “Today, any starter home in the Lower Mainland is far out of our financial reach. We didn’t ever think that we’d be 35 years old having never lived above ground level.” They love Vancouver, and want to stay close to their families and their roots. But, like many middle-income earners here—web designers and police officers, young architects and teachers—they find themselves rehashing halfhearted talks of packing everything into a moving van. “Maybe we’ll head to Victoria,” says James, “somewhere we can realize our dream of living above ground.”

Around January 2002, the average price of a detached house in Metro Vancouver was $390,000. That has since nearly tripled to $1.1 million. For those who couldn’t or didn’t buy in—who were outbid, came late to the party, or sat it out waiting for a massive market correction—real estate has been a dismal science. This July, the MLS listed only 24 two-bedroom condos for sale under $300,000. That’s the maximum mortgage available to a household earning the median family income; Vancouver proper has about 30,000 renter households in that category. The story of real-estate affordability here can be told in that one stat: in a city of over 600,000 people, two dozen bottom-of-the-barrel starter condos available for sale to the middle class.

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I have received this link a month after it was written. But Im goin' to through a comment and a link out. There are 83 single family homes under 300k in the Comox Valley. Perhaps if you wish to live a sane life and actually own a home you may want to check out my blog www.jamessmit.ca/blog and you can learn all about small town livin', it might be for you if you can climb over your own walls of perception and learn to live with people who are not just like you.

by jimmypowpow on Dec 7 2011 at 12:34 PM

Even though i agree that housing prices won't revert to 2002 prices, the question i must ask is "why?". Local incomes are only marginally better in nominal terms than they were then. The mountains, beaches, sea wall etc are no different than in 02, so it's not like investors didn't then know about this place back then. It didn't suddenly stop raining. Our traffic congestion didn't improve. Gang violence hasn't gone away.

Low interest rates are universal, so that cannot explain the meteoric rise. Can it really all be down to hot asian money and drug money? Maybe it's a combo of all these factors that creates a "can't lose" mindset that is reinforced by realtors in a complicit media. Every time i see a panel of "experts" that turns out to be a panel of realtors and mortgage brokers, i simply despair for any sense of journalistic integrity. This bubble has been puffing up for years, and it's only now that a few "bubble" articles have started appearing.

Generation Fucked is such an apt description. Apparently the median HOUSEHOLD (!) income is only 68k. Think about it. 1/2 of all households scrimp by on LESS than 68k. In this city that must be a truly miserable existence. I really, really hope that they love walking False Creek and the sea wall, because that's all they can afford to do. The irony is that they probably just do the same old stuff that working grunts do all over North America - sit in traffic, work, watch TV, drive their kids to activities etc. Yet they will all claim some mumbo jumbo about the skiing, mountain biking, beaches and golfing - all stuff they never do or cannot afford to do, for keeping them in the Best Place on Earth - yeah, i'm sure it is.

It is very, very hard to pack your family up and leave your friends, family, and jobs, but in the long term for many of Generation Fucked they would probably be far better off.

by ulsterman on Oct 22 2011 at 11:02 PM

I think it is utterly naive for a couple who makes $70,000 per year in combined income to expect to purchase a home in a world class city. At $29,000 per year in salary, that is the rough equivalent of $15.00 per hour. At $41,000 per year, that is the rough equivalent of $22.00 per year. At some point or another, we as the generation of tomorrow need to make smart choices for ourselves that get us ahead and keep us competitive with the people around us - especially if we want to live the lifestyle that the rest of the world upholds as being the best. There are great points in this article, but I refuse to believe that Canada does not provide the opportunities for those who fight for it.

by lookingforward on Oct 21 2011 at 9:56 AM

a) If locals can stop jerking off to their bloody mountain views, then they can start quadrupling the heights/density of ALL the buildings in downtown Vancouver. Just like HongKong and NYC, both are world class cities.

b) Pay the salaries expected of a world class city. Vancouver is the but of jokes among the global expatriate professional when it comes to salaries. If ever there was a city with a gap between the rich and the middle class...its Vancouver.

c) Leave. as many and as fast as you can. Take your skills, your ideas, and your ambition and build a new Vancouver. Vancouver its self is an idea that can be exported and sold quite easily.

Great article by the way..I miss these meaty Vancouver Mag articles, as I sit here in my rental on the UWS of NYC earning 3 times your base salary paying the same rent ya'all do.

by jonnyrockin on Oct 20 2011 at 7:03 PM

Excellent article.

But seriously - if the average two-income household can't afford to find a place to live that's comfortable for their families and people start moving - how does the future of Vancouver look?

What about single parents? I'm a single parent, earn well over the average two-income household and even I can't afford to buy a place - I was born and raised here in Vancouver.

I think the answer lies not necessarily in building affordable housing complexes but in limiting the access to "free market" buyers (ie foreign investment) in Vancouver property. No more plane-loads of people coming to Vancouver just to scoop up real estate - only to have it unoccupied most of the time. I think that's unfair to those who live and work here. Yes, the middle class is shrinking - and who will pay for the aging population's retirements if there is hardly a middle class?

by nena on Oct 17 2011 at 4:10 PM

Excellent article.

And pardon this rant - but you know what? I'm a single mom and I make a darned good income - more than most two-income households. I grew up in Vancouver - lived here my whole life. I was unfortunate to have lost the house we had in divorce proceedings - and timing was all wrong - it's just when things started to really get crazy.

I have some words to any politicians/leaders who read this: LIMITS need to be placed on foreign investment on residential properties in this city. Other countries/cities do this and it WORKS. NOBODY who makes a decent wage wants to live in a "housing complex" - are you kidding me????? STOP THE PLANE-LOADS OF PEOPLE WHO COME TO VANCOUVER JUST TO BUY PROPERTY - and slap massive tarriffs and/or limits on how many properties they can purchase - and that will at least control the market prices. Our real estate should not be up for grabs in the "global" marketplace - because the people who work and support this city do not earn "global earnings" - i really don't care if ppl can or can't afford a home in their own country. They can deal with that problem themselves. Let's deal with our own back yards first!!!

by nena on Oct 17 2011 at 11:55 AM

good read-does the gov't of b.c. care that vancouver's talent is leaving on a mass scale? i know they do not. i have written them several times and always get the same story....we are aware of the problem. what we have witnessed is a massive money laundering scheme and a massive real estate bubble. i always hear the same comments..... mainland chinese love this city and are moving here and there is no bubble. i lived in an area between macdonald and arbutus for seven years and witnessed it first hand- houses have been traded like stocks and 20-30 percent of the homes are empty, never lived in. i have seen the same homes bought and sold every year for the last 5 years. one in particular that i have tracked was sold at the end of 2008 for 1.2 million , sold again in 2009 and again in 2010 and is now listed again for 2.88 million that is speculation my friends , not people moving here because they like the city. the children that have been brought here to get a good education will not be contributing to our economy once they graduate...they will head out to other parts of the world where the jobs are and vancouver will be nothing but a pretty city. the crash is coming...we have already popped- most just don't know it yet. take a look at mls.ca .... one big red dot. BM

by vancouverbubbleman on Oct 14 2011 at 6:07 PM

Good article. Finally, something worth reading in regards to the topic. If my husband didn't have a good paying job in this city we would be gone gone gone. He grew up here, I'm an Easterner. I've never fallen in love with "the best place on earth" I don't ever expect to. The big empty houses on the west side, the scads of empty condos in coal harbour, the aggressive real-estate industry and the hoards of homelessness on the street is a truth i can not ignore. It just makes me wonder "is everyone high?!"

by becelou on Oct 14 2011 at 3:59 PM

Why doesn't Canada do what Australia has done and limit real-estate sale to residence and people who work in the area only?
This would solve this problem OVERNIGHT!

by rachellita on Oct 14 2011 at 2:03 PM