June 17, 2018

Thinking About Density? Or Rezoning in Vancouver? Or Voting?

Pseudonymous housing wonk YVRYIMBY (Vancouver, Yes In My Back Yard) has created a wonderfully simple yet powerful, data-driven graphical view of Vancouver and its housing crisis.

Consider it a required backgrounder to the premise that land locked up in exclusionary, low-density zoning inflates the cost of land in higher-density zoned areas, due to scarcity. Rezoning more land for higher density should reduce land cost per built square foot and, secondarily, reduce the demolition of existing rental stock.

Needless to say, these ideas attract varying opinion. Sort of like bike lanes did in the bad, primitive olden days.

YVRYimby has a longish thread, further discussing the ideas which follow from the data:

It’s necessary context in the face of the October 2018 civic election, as candidates transition from the “who’s nominated, who’s really running” phase, to the “here’s my platform” phase*, and finally to the “my opponent and their platform is <insert snark and expletives here/>” phase.

Will housing remain the big topic? Will density become untouchable, a poisoned lightning rod attached to the political third rail?

Will the wealthy’s save-the-mansion-zone spinmeisters succeed?

Will tomorrow’s earnest reformers win council and save the day?

*with thanks to Justin McElroy at CBC.ca.

Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. That may work for high density YVR but does not work for unlocking forested urban areas in low density Burnaby. There are not one current population model that even comes close to correctly projecting the housing requirements necessitating forest removal in South Burnaby. Not one. Except maybe the projected population models dreamed up by our vaunted Mayor wearing his wizard hat and waving his population projection demand wand around. And selling that model to other cities who wish to fill up their coffers with money from development bids. In our case .. $21 million. Which will have to be sold back to the city at a higher rate if not developed in 2 years. And which the citizens of Burnaby will be paying with their taxes.

    1. Burnaby is chock-a-block with huge lots with very large houses on them, most without any trees of significance. That is a lot of land locked up in open space often juxtaposed adjacent to the four towered-up town centres and within a 10-minute walk of rapid transit. That could be the place to consider gentle density solutions.

      It’s hard to understand what you are referring to with “forested urban areas.” With over 5,000 acres in public park land, a huge proportion in forested or riparian conservation areas, it can’t be conceived that much the land in question is publicly-owned. Do you live in a home that was carved out of a forest? Who doesn’t? Burnaby is blessed with parks and many Class A salmonid streams that, unlike Vancouver, have never been culverted and undergrounded, and that will be preserved forever.

    2. Hi Wendy, I think the goal of showing neighbourhood population changes is that contrary to population conception, the vast majority of land in Vancouver and the vast majority of land in Metro, is not high density at all and is not growing at all. What has been happening since 1927 is that we put walls around areas where apartments already existed, with the intention of preventing those areas from every growing geographically. 90 years later those areas are bursting at the seams, while just blocks away the land use has remained unchanged for generations.

      This was the express intent of the folks all around North America who pushed for zoning in the early part of the 20th century – contain apartments and their potentially lower income, potentially differently coloured occupants, into defined areas, so that the more wealthy could have free reign over most of the land without worrying about having to move if apartments got built nearby and the lower classes started hanging out in your neighbourhood.

      Later in the century, progressives used zoning to protect those apartment areas from displacement caused by new buildings but they did not deal with the reason why there is so much pressure on areas that are already quite dense – blocks away there is single family land a plenty with far lower displacement risk for new buildings, but zoning keeps it out, and focusses it onto the already dense ares.

      Well it’s been 90 years, the plan worked to a T and now it’s up to us to decide if we are going to do anything about it.

  2. There is still insufficient data, but there is an excellent chance that the artificial constraint placed on the land supply by low density zoning in a city where greenfield land has not been available for decades, along with record low interest rates and desirability, is having as much of an effect escalating the housing prices as the hordes (mass invasion, as some couch it) of foreign buyers.

    Stats Can is finally amassing data on wealthy foreigner ownership, and it just goes to show the jury is still out on how deep their influence really is. Is it 5% or 50% of recent price increases? There are caveats that swing both ways.


    Meanwhile, some mayoralty candidates are placing all the blame on foreign capital and have constructed radical solutions on this still-unresolved supposition. One in particular would hammer Vancouver with steep taxes on land far beyond the current reasonable speculation tax, which in essence would affect everyone, renters and owners alike. Is that not a formula for chaos? This would supposedly provide the funding to build public non-market rentals at a 1:1 ratio with private housing, using the Vienna Model.

    Patrick Condon made this proposal in three remarkably funding data-free pieces published by the Tyee. The moderators there removed my rebuttal from the comments on the last piece. Gawd knows why. Part of the rebuttal reiterates the level of funding Vienna actually receives in just 2017 alone. I ask Price Taggers, what level of taxation and outside funding would Vancouver have to achieve to equate with Vienna, yet maintain economic stability?

    From the unpublished rebuttal:

    While I believe there is great value in the Vienna model, [Condon] does not seem to grasp that the model is highly successful and widespread only because it is financed by the ENTIRE NATION through general revenue, not through a single tax on local land following the imposition of rent controls. Moreover, the Vienna housing model is controlled by three separate laws and covers a plethora of forms of occupancy, from subsidized housing for low incomes to outright ownership where rentiers benefit, which is counter to Condon’s premise.

    The government of Austria devotes 0.5% of its annual budgets to housing, primarily multi-family, some not dissimilar to Canada’s co-operative housing, and the funds are collected from all nine individual states with a total population 3.65 times Metro Vancouver’s. Vienna received 450 million euros from the Austrian federal government for its subsidized housing in 2017 alone, and topped that up by 127 million for a total of 577 million euros (CAN $877 million for this one city region in a single year). This housing model has been active for generations, so you can imagine the cumulative mountains of funding involved.

    If Vienna is our mentor, then clearly 80% of the funding must come from the taxpayers of Canada with a Metro top up of less than 20%, and the effort must strive for many years to achieve 60% public ownership of all housing in order to divorce housing from the market.

    Good luck with that.

    1. Apologies for the formatting. All paragraphs below “While I believe there is great value…” should be in italics.

Subscribe to Viewpoint Vancouver

Get breaking news and fresh views, direct to your inbox.

Join 7,293 other subscribers

Show your Support

Check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more – or, make a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles