COLUMN: Upset about home prices or over-development? Blame Port Moody (and these other cities)

As Lower Mainland was beset by lack of housing, a handful of cities saw growth slow in recent years

Blame Coquitlam. And Port Coquitlam. And Port Moody. And Richmond. And West Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver and the City of North Vancouver. And Delta.

There are a lot of people to be mad about for the increasing unaffordability of housing in the Lower Mainland, but a good place to start is with the electors and politicians of those municipalities.

Although many others – from provincial leaders to speculators to drug barons to realtors – are also in line for a heaping of blame, those five places have largely escaped the public opprobrium they so richly deserve.

The one thing that no one disputes is that the high cost of housing is linked to the fact that the supply of housing hasn’t kept up with the demand, whatever that demand consists of.

And while that demand issue can be mitigated by squeezing out speculators and drug barons, the supply side of the equation is connected with the fact that, for 100 years, increasing numbers of people have wanted to live in the Lower Mainland.

What those people need, as they have needed for a century, are homes. If homes don’t get built, the better-off among them inevitably bump others down the housing ladder. Some people fall off and become homeless, and the fortunate pay too much for unsatisfactory homes.

The most-simple solution is to build more homes. This was obvious years ago. So what has happened in those above-mentioned communities in the last years?

According to new population statistics, seven of the eight municipalities mentioned above have seen their population growth slow over the last three years. (Delta’s has remained level, which is still fairly inexcusable.)

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But, you say: that’s their problem! That’s their choice! If houses prices go up there so that they don’t have to accommodate more growth, well that’s up to them.

And it is up to them, but the consequences are far from confined to those municipalities’ boundaries. And the effects of those choices are being felt by those in Abbotsford and elsewhere – including by those who are seeing more growth in their own communities than they like.

Let me explain. The entire region is an integrated real estate market. People who work in Abbotsford don’t just live in Abbotsford; their housing choices are affected by prices in Chilliwack and Langley. People who work in Surrey look at prices in White Rock and Maple Ridge. It is, to paraphrase millions of stoners over the years, all connected, dude.

When one municipality stops building homes in a region that desperately needs them, that reduces supply and, in turn, pushes prices up. And those prices don’t just rise in the municipality in question. They rise around the Lower Mainland. If no one in Maple Ridge is charging less than $800,000 for a house, then a seller in Coquitlam isn’t going to charge less than $850,000. And so on. Those rising prices make it harder for the average person to afford to buy a new home.

They also, critically, make it more profitable for developers in more builder-friendly municipalities to tear down older homes and put up apartments.

And while those apartments may be needed, neighbours may end up complaining about changes to their area. Would that apartment be built if some municipalities pulled their weight in housing creation? We’ll never know.

But what is clear is that, if the whole region followed the lead of those municipalities that have stymied the creation of new housing, then we’d have far more people living on the streets and far fewer ordinary people able to afford to rent, much less own, a home.

At the present, those municipalities are piggy-backing on other cities across the region that, faced with continued need for more houses, are actually allowing for the building of new homes, instead of letting other jurisdictions assume the burden.

Tyler Olsen is a reporter at the Abbotsford News.

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