What do we mean by affordability in Vancouver?

Affordable housing is not just a low-income issue, and our policies should reflect that

July 27, 2016

By Trevor Melanson

When it comes to Vancouver’s housing market, there are two things we all agree on: it’s bloody expensive, and there’s no single solution to that problem that will make everyone happy. But there’s also a third thing we can’t agree on: what the word “affordable” actually means. Consider the Affordable Home Ownership Pilot Program that the City of Vancouver announced in April. Working with developers, the city will acquire a 20-percent stake in 300 new units around town and then will sell those condos to homebuyers at a discounted price. But if you’re thinking of applying, know this: for childless couples, your combined income can’t be higher than $67,540, while parents who need at least two bedrooms can’t pull in more than $96,170.


I don’t mean to sound like an elitist jerk here, but that’s not exactly a ton of money. When  the #donthaveamillion proponents say Vancouver is unaffordable, they don’t just mean for those earning minimum wage. They mean it’s unaffordable for everyone, including doctors, lawyers, engineers, and entrepreneurs—the kind of people we need to grow our economy, sustain our tax base, and support our community. Given that, it’s worth watching what happens down in Silicon Valley (the region, not the television show). That’s because the suburb of Palo Alto is facing an affordability challenge not unlike ours, and it’s examining the possibility of creating affordable housing options for families earning up to $250,000 in order to address them. Yes, it’s an unconventional (and controversial) idea, but it’s also one that should at least give us a reason to reconsider what we mean by affordability here—and whether it’s time to substantially expand that definition.

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