Young Vancouverites 'Straddling the Gap'

In the throes of a full-blown housing crisis, younger Vancouver homebuyers have gotten much-needed reinforcements

Young Vancouverites 'Straddling the Gap'

In the throes of a full-blown housing crisis, younger Vancouver homebuyers have gotten much-needed reinforcements.

Dr. Paul Kershaw, founder and lead researcher of Generation Squeeze, an advocacy organization for young Canadians, says that with an election looming it’s important to remind policymakers about some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens.

“We continue raising awareness to remind people how big the problem is, and we need to do that because high home prices aren’t uniformly bad or uniformly good,” he said. “For a long time, people were excited about watching home prices rise faster than earnings, because it made people who bought their homes some time ago richer, but they have realized it’s starting to harm their kids.”

In particular, Generation Squeeze is trying to steer the conversation towards a panacea rather than harping on the problem itself.

“Housing prices are rising at an emergency rate if you’re a young person trying to get into the housing market.”

Generation Squeeze has made gains on that front. It pushed for a change to zoning bylaws that allow for more density, which helps housing supply; it has taken on NIMBYs and helped get rental buildings past development hurdles in a bid to tackle low vacancies; and it’s fought against harmful demand.

“We tackled demand-side issues and helped get the foreign buyer tax implemented beyond Vancouver,” said Kershaw. “We also helped get the empty home tax implemented.”

While Generation Squeeze is non-partisan, it certainly has the ear of the NDP-Green coalition governing British Columbia. But the organization has played a role on an even greater stage.

“We got young adults included in the National Housing Strategy as being among the groups most vulnerable in the housing market,” said Kershaw. “The first draft only had one age group, seniors, but 20-25% of them are renters, and that means the other 75% are homeowners and have been for some time. It’s their kids and grandchildren who are vulnerable.”

Generation Squeeze recently released a study called Straddling the Gap, which showed that the average home price in Canada would have to fall to half of its current value—around $223,000—for people aged 25 to 34 to afford an 80% mortgage. They would also need to earn about twice as much as they do now, which is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $93,400.

The study also determined that it takes the average young person 13 years to save for a 20% down payment—significantly longer than it did in 1976, when it took about five years.

“A lot of younger Vancouverites know the housing market is broken and we’re not going to be re-establishing housing affordability for the typical person for a few years—the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation puts the timeline at 2030 for all Canadians to afford a home that fits their needs, but they know a lot will be doing it as renters,” said Kershaw.

“The NDP-Green coalition has put out a bolder strategy tackling affordability that’s better in line with research evidence. They need to have the courage to continue being bold, even amidst all the pressure the pressure from the real estate sector.”