Some big pandemic news this week, including the fact that the Covid crisis is no longer a reason to work from home, and that employers in British Columbia can call back their employees to work in the traditional work venues that stabled employees during the 20th century.
There have been some surprising shifts during the pandemic, where places like London England experienced a fifty percent decline in transit trips in 2021 into the downtown core. London found that only 25 percent of workers returned to the downtown during the pandemic. A lower amount of steady expenditure continued in the downtown, attributed to the core population of 330,000. But the big surprise from credit card data was that the outer ring of London’s suburbs were the big winners in economic recovery, with food and drink at the same or more than pre-pandemic spending levels.
These shifts and strengthening of neighbourhoods and suburbs were expected, but have been accelerated during the pandemic. The shift to working from home and coming in a few days a week to a central office is an expected trend for certain workers. It’s also popularized the term “hot desking” which means that instead of having a designated desk or workspace, workers would share that space with several other workers when not working at home. Needless to say this economizing trend to a shrinking office floor space has not been universally well received.
For those not doing shift work or in the service industry ,the opportunity to work remotely from home has meant that suburban communities in Metro Vancouver have seen increases in population as well as real estate prices.
Writing in the Squamish Chief, Steve Chua’s interview with Simon Fraser University’s Director of the City Program Andy Yan shows a 22 percent increase in population in five years, outpacing the province’s average growth of 7.6 percent and the national average of 5.2 percent.
Andy Yan estimates that based upon national statistics 40 percent of jobs in Canada can be home office based, with the remainder requiring physical presence at a work location.
That shift to being able to work from home has resulted in rapidly increasing real estate prices in other communities including suburbs. Andy Yan calls it “Drive until you qualify”, with a house for kids in Squamish being comparable to the price of a 600 square foot two bedroom apartment in downtown Vancouver.
Places like Squamish are centrally located between Vancouver and Whistler, and also have added recreation options and an extraordinary ocean and mountain vista. There’s a “wow” factor.
Of course that also increases the price of Squamish real estate for service workers that may not be able to afford escalating prices and not have the mobility to live elsewhere. How to ensure people living with locally derived incomes are home secure needs to be addressed. That’s something that Whistler as a resort town has faced, and a challenge that will increase with remote workers relocating to more “burban’ communities for affordable accommodation options.
As Andy Yan states “Working remotely as a consultant…you’re in really good shape. But if you’re a person working in restaurants or a person working in the shop, that becomes a lot harder.”
From pre-pandemic Whistler, here is CBC’s Man of Municipalities Justin McElroy talking about that city’s affordable housing initiative that includes the prices and rents of housing developed for people working in that resort town. There is a short interview with Mayor Jack Crompton who describes Whistler’s housing approach.