Cambie Corridor debate lays bare generational differences when it comes to tackling the housing crisis

Vancouver will have to tackle the crisis of housing affordability by driving a big increase in construction of new units, “Condo King” Bob Rennie told council Thursday.

“Are we one of the most liveable cities in the world?” Rennie asked. “Are we one of the most unaffordable? The answer to both questions is yes.”

The reality of the crisis was underlined by the large number of under-30s also before council — many of whom said they were young professionals with above-average incomes — who declared flatly they cannot afford to buy a home in the city.

Rennie was just one of scores of public intervenors speaking on the draft Cambie Corridor plan, which would add significant new density from Cambie Village south to Marine Drive. Many intervenors worried the proposed density is too low, others that it is too high.

Rennie supports the corridor plan because it will increase housing supply.

His appearance turned into a brief real estate seminar. The city will need 53,000 homes to accommodate anticipated population increases in the next 15 years, he said.

The only way to achieve affordability is through supply, Rennie said, but the market is delivering less than half the need. That can only drive prices higher.

(The latest summary of building permit activity shows the city issued permits for about 4,200 units of all types last year, but Rennie estimates the supply of new units is falling to 400 to 500 annually, far below 2,000 in the peak year of 2007.)

In the plan is approved, population in the corridor would rise to 35,000 by 2041, an increase of 13,500. Equally significant is the anticipated addition of 8,000 jobs for a total of 19,500, all made possible by the $2 billion Canada Line.

But new homes along the line will not be particularly affordable. Most will be market condos.

The city would drive to have 20 percent affordable (social) housing on large sites and seek to have 20 percent market rental throughout the corridor. Even those goals will be elusive with the mid-rise four to 12-story building heights that would be the limit along Cambie.

That won’t cut it for Erik Lyon, the 27-year-old roofer who works 35 hours a week “when weather permits,” but can only afford to share a basement unit with his girlfriend in East Van. “I just get pushed further and further east.”

Lyon opposes the plan because he believes it will undermine the existing Cambie  and King Edward neighbourhood without adding any cheaper housing. But he won’t be moving west under any current scenario.

Matthew Currey, a 30-year-old young professional earning about $65,000 a year, doesn’t believe he can afford even a tiny condo in Vancouver. If he did take on a mortgage with his girlfriend, they might have to chose between the bank payments and raising a family.

He’s considered moving away.

As Councillor Kerry Jang noted, the debate seemed to reflect an emerging demographic divide in the city.

On the one hand are the existing property owners who are strenuously opposed to more density; on the other, a younger generation of tenants who see density as their only ticket to decent housing, either rental or home ownership.