Painful Truth: Destroy Metro Vancouver’s housing in order to save it

Painful Truth: Destroy Metro Vancouver’s housing in order to save it

What if the best rule for residential zoning was “there are no rules?”

Maybe the first step in creating more and better and cheaper housing in Metro Vancouver is to establish a treaty.

All the local municipalities need to come in and negotiate – Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley Regional District, Whistler and Squamish, even Greater Victoria.

Then they need to set out a uniform set of rules.

Well, one rule. In urban areas, on residential-zoned land, you can build homes.

Any kind of homes, from single family all the way up to low-rise condos.

I know, I know, some of you immediately grabbed torches and pitchforks.

You might be right to do it. This would be an insane, radical idea.

It would tear out the roots of the existing system and kill it dead. It would upend decades of urban planning. It would run roughshod over the opinions of literally hundreds of thousands of homeowners.

Of course, the existing system, all that planning work, and the wishes of existing homeowners have created the second-most-expensive place to live in the world, after only Hong Kong, not to mention aided in an unprecedented increase in homelessness.

So maybe the whole thing deserves to die.

There are a number of ways we can drive down the price of housing.

One is to massively increase supply. The developers are always asking for us to slash red tape so they can build more, cheaper, better homes! And we all know that the thing that drives up the price of homes, more than anything else, is land.

There’s actually lots of land, it’s just that most of the good stuff already has houses on it, and when we create new neighbourhoods… well, it’s not fun for anyone.

Local councils go through an exhaustive planning process that sets out in excruciating detail exactly what land use densities are appropriate, in some cases block by block.

This is meant to make local residents and landowners happy about the change coming to their neighbourhoods.

(It has never succeeded in this goal even once in all of recorded history. People fight tooth and nail and take grudges to their graves.)

So do away with that.

One standard. In urban areas – which means anywhere from downtown Vancouver to Walnut Grove and Brookswood – housing is housing. You want to build a duplex? Fine. You want to build townhouses? Also fine. Condos? Let’s say up to six storeys, sure.

Yes, it will anger people. (Oh, the rage! I kind of want to see this happen just to see how many shades of purple there are in the faces of furious NIMBYs.)

It will anger them even more if it works. Because the key idea is to finally, at long last, make housing affordable by crashing the price of urban residential land in British Columbia.

Land for development is scarce; what’s scarce is expensive.

If we ensure that literally any urban property can be redeveloped into denser housing… well, it makes assembling a bit of land much easier.

I don’t think unfettered capitalism alone will save us here. Crashing the price of land means provincial and local governments can build more low-income housing, more seniors housing, and support the creation of more co-ops and co-housing options.

The downsides?

Well, a whole lot of people who bought in the last five to 10 years would suddenly be underwater on their mortgages. There would need to be some kind of government support for people in danger of losing their homes because they were overextended.

And people who had borrowed liberally against the value of homes they bought decades ago might not be happy, nor those who contemplated a luxurious retirement by selling for $2.5 million a house they bought for $150,000.

But the upside? Generations given the opportunity to buy or rent cheaply. Money available to spend, to save, to invest, for several generations that have faced pouring almost everything they earn into the cost of housing. A potential end to homelessness. Greater density not in pockets but spread more equitably throughout Metro Vancouver.

I don’t expect this to ever happen, although systems much like it do exist. (Tokyo’s extremely relaxed zoning regulations are one of the reasons it’s less expensive to buy a condo there than in Vancouver.) Where there’s money, there’s power, and money in Metro Vancouver flows from real estate. Turning everything upside down would hurt too many rich people.

Why would we do that, just to benefit the poor, the young, and future generations?

BC HousingHousingLangley

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The family of injured Willoughby resident Ronald Gerald Jesso is hoping someone saw something that will help solve the mystery of how he came to be so badly hurt on the morning of Feb. 22. Jesso is still in hospital. (Jesso family/Special to Langley Advance Times)
An appeal to help solve the mystery of an injured Langley man

Family of Ronald Gerald Jesso asks witnesses to come forward

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

Liberty roses – created by acclaimed rose breeder Brad Jalbert – will be planted in White Rock later this month. (Contributed photo)
‘Liberty Rose’ to be planted along Johnston Road and at White Rock City Hall

Poppy-like rose created by acclaimed rose breeder Brad Jalbert

Brad Kiendl, president of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Langley Chamber hosts tax man for talk on business benefits

A CRA liaison will speak at this month’s virtual meeting

Undated Google Street View image of Peterson Road Elementary School in Langley. A member of the school community has tested positive for COVID-19. (Google)
COVID-19 case reported at Peterson Road Elementary School

Person is ‘self-isolating at home’

Seveya Jepsen is inviting people to stop by her Pet Food Drive on Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Jepsen family/Special to the Langley Advance Time)
Langley girl’s 10th birthday goes to the dogs, and cats, and rabbits

Seveya Jepsen is concerned that animals have enough food so she’s hosting a pet food drive.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Retired B.C. teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 closed in Metchosin, detour made available early Saturday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. RCMP Lower Mainland District officer, Asst. Commissioner Stephen Thatcher presents RCMP blankets to (from left) Chief James Hobart, Chief Maureen Chapman, Chief Derek Epp and Chief Mark Point. (RCMP)
Historic agreement significantly expands Indigenous role in Lower Mainland policing

Community Safety Agreement builds relationship of ‘trust, communication and prevention,’ says Chief

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Lower Mainland teens with Ocean Wise’s YouthToSea program have launched an initiative called Clean Coastal, Eat Local, through which they’re offering restaurant gift cards to individuals or households that organize a coastal cleanup in the month of March. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise)
Teens challenge Lower Mainlanders to clean up their act

YouthToSea offers restaurant gift cards in exchange for a cleaner coastline

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Most Read