Thursday, November 24, 2011

Who's Condoning All These Condominiums?

One of the reasons I live in New Westminster, as opposed to Vancouver itself, is affordability - namely, while I can afford to live in New West with the lifestyle that I want, that being proximity to a SkyTrain station and services available within walking distance, I found it considerably more difficult to find such a place in Vancouver. Even with a recent rent increase, I still pay less than the Metro Vancouver average monthly rent of $864, as per Spacing Vancouver. According to the City of Vancouver, the average rent for a purpose-built one-bedroom apartment there was $1,041 a month in 2009; not necessarily unaffordable, but it doesn't exactly leave all that much leeway for things like food and transportation and entertainment and savings. Here in New Westminster I'm able to live fairly comfortably, and that's all I'm really looking for.

Even so, as a renter I can't help but look with jaundiced eyes at the nature of the residential projects I see sprouting up across Metro, and New West is no exception. While the transformed skyline created by the condo towers of Plaza 88 was already there when I moved here, similar projects are just starting to get off the ground. Earlier this week, the New Westminster News Leader reported on the presentation for a proposal to build a six-story, 118-unit condo structure on Royal Avenue, on the site of what is now rental apartments.

So it goes; it's nothing new. Most likely the biggest effect it will have on me will be through the noise of construction. At the same time, I can't help but feel vaguely threatened by the prospect.

Apartments along Royal Avenue in New Westminster, across the street from City Hall and on the site of the proposed new condo.

Renters occupy a particular place in North American society, where the general expectation is that everyone is striving to own their own home... a goal that has become much more difficult thanks to the fallout of the economic crisis, but culture takes longer to respond to stimuli than the money markets. Opinions vary from place to place; it's not unusual to be a university student or twentysomething renting your own pad, but there are those like teabagger Judson Phillips who last year suggested that renters should not be allowed to vote. Renters aren't second-class citizens - at the same time, though, governments don't exactly pay particularly fine attention to the situations renters can find themselves in.

For some, ownership just isn't an option. Before I made the decision to move out west, I was looking at the prospect of buying a condo in Toronto - a prospect that the state of my paystub kiboshed almost immediately; aside from a few units up in Crescent Town, the sort of sensible mortgage that I could get wouldn't have got me anything in the city, and even then I didn't much like the prospect of almost totally draining my savings to make the down payment. Here in Metro, of course, the price situation is even worse.

So it's no real surprise that developers are building condos; that's where the money is. With that focus on the money, though, renters are losing out. Sure, rental accommodations are being built, but it's just a fraction - fewer than one in five of all apartments built in Vancouver between 1990 and 2009 were rentals. I'm not sure what the numbers for New Westminster are, but I wouldn't be surprised if the ratio was broadly similar. Still, this focus on condos, if permitted to keep on chugging to its logical conclusion, portends a serious housing problem in Metro Vancouver - simply that there aren't enough housing spaces for people wanting to live there, and the housing spaces that are there are so expensive that the residents are perched on the rim of poverty.

The cities of Metro Vancouver want to build better futures for themselves - that's always the case, after all. Still, in the wake of this weekend's elections, it behooves them to take actions to ensure those better futures, to ensure that there's space for renters and not just homeowners within them.


  1. Yup, this is a problem. However, you might be interested in reading the material on the City pages related to affordable housing. It's here:

  2. And what about those of us who are in buildings in New West that the owners Capilano Property Management are too damn cheap to upkeep and so our buliding has been declared "Unfit For Occupancy" 7 times since September 2011?
    Where they just keep upping the rent while raw sewage comes up the sinks and the fire alarms have to be disabled because the rain leaks through the building and shorts the circuts?
    I have lost my pets and my own health has been compromised due to slum apartment buildings and us renters are the ones who suffer for it. And sad to say, this will get covered up anyways.

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