Housing affordability problems growing fastest in the suburbs: report

A house, a yard, maybe even a picket fence. Families looking for less expensive homes have been filling up the suburbs for years, but a new report finds the suburbs are being hit the hardest when it comes to the region’s growing problems with affordability.

Vancity tracked local markets over a one-year period — looking at home price versus income — and found affordability dropped the most in some of the municipalities where buyers have traditionally looked for more attainable homes.

The report finds affordability dipped 31 per cent in Delta, 29 per cent in Langley Township, 24 per cent in Mission, 23 per cent in Abbotsford and Maple Ridge between February 2016 and February 2017.

But with Vancouver proper and the North Shore remaining among the least affordable markets in region, there are still pockets where buyers can find a break. “If you’re looking out to places such as Langley, Victoria and Chilliwack, there are still some areas of affordability there,” explains the bank’s Senior Mortgage Development Manager Ryan McKinley.

However, he says they are disappearing as prices in the Fraser Valley and other parts of BC continue to rise. “Not surprisingly the least affordable places still include West Vancouver, Lions Bay, North Vancouver and Vancouver proper where you’re looking at anywhere from 50 to almost 200 per cent of the median income to afford the median house price. Contrast that with more affordable places such as Langley, Victoria, Chilliwack and New Westminster where it ranges from 18 to 30 per cent of the median income,”The report finds the widespread decrease in affordability came despite a cooling of sales in the latter half of 2016 following the introduction of the 15 per cent foreign buyers tax on residential real estate within Metro Vancouver. “When the tax came into effect you saw quite a drop off in the very expensive properties, but it didn’t really impact the affordability of the less expensive properties much,” McKinley explains.

The report shows the cooling was seen most at the top end of the market, where the average number of properties in Metro Vancouver that sold each month for $4 million or more (mostly detached homes) decreased by 68 per cent in the eight months following the introduction of the new tax. At the market’s lower end, the number of units that sold for less than $500,000 (most often condo apartments) declined by 38 per cent.

While affordability problems spread further afield in Metro Vancouver, McKinley suggests many buyers are being forced to reconsider their expectations. “By no means are we saying that home ownership is for everyone,” says McKinley. “There are other options out there such as renting, co-housing and co-ownership. There are other ways of putting a roof over your head.”

But he says mindsets are changing. “People are starting to realize that they can raise families in attached homes or condos and that will greatly help affordability.”