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It doesn't have to be like this
Housing in Vancouver being so scarce and expensive is the result of bad policy, not a law of nature
I think people in Vancouver often assume that housing being horrifically scarce and expensive here is a law of nature. It’s like bad weather - it’s a problem, and we complain about it, but it’s not something we can change.
Thing is, this isn’t true. We have people who want to live here, and other people who want to build housing for them. The problem is that we make it really hard to get permission. We need to make it easier.
I think what opens a lot of people’s eyes to the problem - it certainly did for me - is learning more about the discretionary rezoning process. I remember seeing stories on Reddit about city council rejecting a rezoning in Shaughnessy for rental townhouses, and the landowner deciding to build a mansion instead. (Eventually the landowner submitted a revised application which council approved unanimously, two years later.)
And then not long afterward, I paid a lot of attention to a rezoning for a six-storey rental building at Fraser and 23rd, close to where we live. (My MP, Don Davies, organized a neighbourhood association and spoke against the rezoning; it passed 8-3. I was also very impressed by Kennedy Stewart’s explanation of why he was voting for the rezoning - that’s when I decided to make a more serious effort to support Kennedy Stewart’s re-election bid.)
Once you start digging into the issue, reading through staff reports and watching public hearings, it’s maddening to see just how much opposition there is to new housing, even though the scarcity and cost of housing is making us all poorer and worse off, directly and indirectly. (Even for long-time homeowners, where are our kids going to live? How’s the health-care system going to work when nurses and even doctors can’t afford to live here?)
In turn, this fear of new housing has resulted in extremely stringent restrictions on building new housing. And as the MacPhail Report explains, the city using the rezoning process to extract revenue is an obstacle to reform: fixing the process means giving up this revenue (perhaps gradually).
Book-length explanations of housing policy:
Order Without Design (2018), by Alain Bertaud. Economic principles.
Fixer-Upper (2022), by Jenny Schuetz. Concrete recommendations.
A more polemical book: The Rent is Too Damn High (2012), by Matthew Yglesias.