Vancouver Province column: Coping with GVRD housing crunch is getting to be a major headache

The Province
Monday, September 10, 2007

The word is out: Property in Vancouver is overpriced. Way overpriced.
And not just by Canadian standards, it seems. We actually outdo New York, London and Tokyo, to name a few pricey metropolises.

This may come as a surprise to local housing cheerleaders, who insist that paying a half-million bucks for a shoebox condo in the sky is a good deal — in light of our terrific scenery, hopping restaurant scene and sizzling economy.

But according to a recent report published by Forbes Magazine, this is the sixth most overpriced real-estate market in the world, putting us in the same league as Monaco, Rome, Paris and L.A.

That’s good news for those selling into the current Lower Mainland housing mania. But it’s a big downer for almost everybody else.

Aspiring buyers who flinch at soaring prices can only dream about home ownership in these parts.

Some are forced to put their lives in limbo — delaying marriage, having kids or simply moving out of their parents’ homes — while they wait for their shot at a modest townhome or condo in Lotus Land.

And they can forget about the house with the back yard and white picket fence. The benchmark price for a detached home in the Greater Vancouver Regional District is over $725,000.

It’s not uncommon to see an abandoned crackhouse in a good location sell for even more. The nosebleed prices are driving would-be owners to the rental market, which is facing a big squeeze of its own.

According to the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, Greater Vancouver renters are dealing with fast-rising prices and a vacancy rate of less than one per cent.

And those forced out of their apartments due to condo conversions, building renovations, growing families or even evictions, are finding they have nowhere to go.

Pickings are slim, and bidding wars are now common, in which future tenants beg or bribe their way into that perfect flat in Kitsilano, Yaletown or even the suburbs. The situation is even more grim for folks with kids or pets — the unofficial outcasts of the rental market — trying to find a place of their own.

Not surprisingly, some homeowners, high on paper profits, feel reason to be smug. They shouldn’t.

With a sizzling economy and the 2010 Winter Olympics building frenzy upon us, our government is rolling out the welcome mat for out-of-towners who can fill the surge of local job openings.

But how are we going to recruit working folks to staff our construction sites, hospitals, hotels, shops and offices, if we can’t give them a decent place to call home?

No surprise, then, that some of these mobile workers are starting to choose Ontario, Alberta and even the U.S. over the idyllic West Coast.

So while we woo outsiders with this province’s “Best Place On Earth” moniker, we should also make sure they’re reading the fine print: Finding affordable accommodation in Metro Vancouver can be a headache — of major-league proportions.

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