In the early 1970s, while I was still in university, I bought a little semi-detached house in central Toronto. I scraped together every cent I could and came up with a $2,500 down payment; the place cost $16,500. A few years later I sold it for almost three times that. And so—by dint not of smarts or hard work but of serendipitous timing—I’ve lived in a home I’ve owned ever since, usually without a mortgage. Good fortune is all about timing, and it was my dumb luck to have been born when I was.
I was forcefully reminded of that fact reading Tyee Bridge’s piece (“Gone”) about the challenges facing young people in Vancouver. Middle-class incomes are incompatible with home ownership, and the rental market is highly competitive, which means more and more professionals with young families—even two-income households—find it impossible to afford a place. Once they outgrow their little condo or basement suite, they can’t manage anything more spacious, even if they devote most of their income to housing. So dire are their prospects that Bridge christens them Generation F, as in the “f” word. Many members of Gen F are being forced out of the city, either commuting or leaving the Lower Mainland altogether.
The housing issue is usually framed in terms of subsidized units, tight rental markets, and homelessness. But as Bridge points out, the real crisis involves this shrinking middle class. Just when they become really productive, many people in their late 20s and 30s think about starting families, and realize that their rent or mortgage money will go way further just about everywhere else. We’re losing some of our brightest young minds, Bridge argues, simply because they—unlike me and many members of my generation—didn’t win the demographic lottery and can’t find suitable places to live.
The need for more density, lower-cost units, laneway housing, and legal suites has never been greater. The long-term effect of this brain drain impacts us all. Places as diverse as Whistler and Palo Alto have found ways to address similar housing problems. Amid the promises and posturing of the municipal election campaign, wouldn’t it be good to learn that Vancouver has concrete plans to do likewise?