With three blogposts under my belt (on languishing West Side Vancouver real estate, the ‘million over-asking’ house in West Van, and the recent CREA report on mortgage regulations) – I thought I’d take a chance to introduce myself and share how I’d like to see this blog develop.
Primarily, I’m a freelance writer with an interest in the way people live, now. If you do a Google search (why would you, really?)
Since I moved to Vancouver in 1982, an enormous amount of ink has been spilled on Vancouver real estate. At that time, interest rates were in the neighbourhood of 20 percent (!), but a modest home on a 33 x 125 lot on the West Side could be bought for well under $200,000.
The province was in a huge recession – unemployment in Kamloops was something close to thirty percent – and the province’s extensive labour union movement was in an uproar over Premier Bill Bennett’s restraint program.
Though Lotusland had a reputation for an easy, laid back vibe (there were still a lot of communal houses in Kitsilano, and the most common vehicle parked on the streets was an off white VW bug), times were tough.
People felt challenged by many of the same things that they do, today – making ends meet in a very expensive living environment, trying to get ahead in a city that really didn’t offer much in the way of high paying jobs in either a corporate or manufacturing environment, and, intriguingly, attempting to live with a light impact on the earth (I suppose you don’t buy too much ‘stuff’ when your monthly income is going to housing payments).
So, the focus of this column is not going to be just listings, statistics, project profiles, or recycled press releases on Vancouver real estate – I’m going to try to perhaps broaden people’s perspective about the importance of creating a home environment.
I’ve been a renter, home owner, landlord, home seller, and am back to being a renter, again. Our family lives in a well built but unremarkable home in one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in the North Shore.
I have teenaged kids who hang out with other kids who seem to live almost Hollywood-style lives, but whose families have nothing compared with those who send their kids to the private schools.
I’ve always been fascinated by the huge disconnect between Vancouver’s median home price ($700,000) and the median household income (somewhere around $60,000) – a figure that is so out of whack with other ratios in Canada that it is almost laughable.
And it also begs an important question – “so, where do these people live? Is there an average homeowner, and an average, middle class family?”
Right off the top, I’ll state my biases. I love nature and parks, and despise sprawl. But I’m extremely lucky in that I’ve never had to commute by car to a workplace for longer than fifteen minutes, one way. I think that homeowners should demand more when it comes to home builders and developers.
I love The Urbanist, Dwell (sorry, Trevor), Sunset magazine, and the old issues of Western Living. But I also recognize that Modernism – despite its cult-like devotees in tight intellectual cliques – is not the way that a lot of people want to live. It’s an acquired taste, like John Coltrane. Similarly, I own three bicycles, but as much as I hate to admit it, when I have to go into town I usually drive our van. I’m usually just a bit too disorganized to get my kit together.
Mostly, I believe that very talented and well-intentioned people are planning an extremely bright and environmentally conscious future for the citizens of not just Vancouver but the small neighbourhoods within it, and the larger Lower Mainland community as a whole. Their progressive, challenging, and (yes) expensive ideas will change the way that we live, and our identities as engaged citizens.
But it will continue to be a tough, unforgiving place for families and people mired in unsecured jobs or who have taken on too much debt.
What I want to hear are not just stories from real estate and housing experts, but from – as my political hero Ed Broadbent once called them – “ordinary Canadians” who continue to live in what I honestly believe to be the most extraordinary time in human history.