Rapid rate of change in Vancouver neighbourhoods is obvious when you’re door-knocking

The city’s latest report on building permits, issued in the dying days of the election, confirm what is obvious to any door-knocking politician: Vancouver’s neighbourhoods are changing rapidly as builders upgrade homes — and add laneway houses — in every part of the city.

Just three years ago, as voters headed to the polls to elect Gregor Robertson for the first time, the global economy was in free fall. The October 2008 numbers reflected the end of the city’s long building boom. A few months later, building permit activity had dropped by at least half and the new Vision council was scrambling to find $50 million in savings to balance the 2009 budget.

Four hundred and twenty-eight residential units were approved in October this year, compared to 130 three years ago. (By January 2009, the number had dropped to 34, of which 18 were replacements)

Today it’s hard to find a city block in many parts of the city without new construction or renovation. Vancouver specials are being tossed out for a 21st century update: much larger, centre-plan, two-storey homes with full basements, quality stucco exteriors and much finer finishes. (The granite front steps on many of these homes are notable for the observant canvasser.)

Laneway homes, a controversial aspect of 2008 campaign, are routine now: 162 have been approved so far this year, but they weren’t even listed in 2008.

The global economy is still in deep trouble and the US housing market is so grim that cities like Cleveland are bulldozing foreclosed homes to “save” neighbourhoods. Here, in Lotusland, we’re still building, but fewer and fewer residents can afford to buy. It looks like existing homeowners are responding with a quiet housing expansion program right under our noses.