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“Where the Low-Cost Home?” asks an editorial in the Vancouver Sun, as, after a general wartime building lull, a decade-long accommodation shortage, and a steady increase in postwar population, Vancouver’s housing crisis once again hits the news.
“It may be, also, that to achieve a truly low-cost home in this high-priced time we will have to spread the repayments over a far longer period than the terms accepted today,” the editorial continues. “Housing costs are high, but we can’t afford to throw up our hands and say we can’t afford to build many more houses until costs come down again. In a city growing as fast as ours this would be the counsel of stupidity and despair. We must have more homes and we must have them at prices people can afford to pay.”
For the better part of 80 years, real estate in Vancouver has been more expensive than elsewhere in the country, a real estate boom which began after the arrival of the first CPR passenger train in 1887. The area has always been popular with land speculators (by 1887, Vancouver had 12 grocery stores, and 16 real estate firms), and complaints about high property values have been common since the turn of the century.
“Land prices are high, it is said, higher than anything would warrant,” reads a 1911 article by R.J. McDougal. “’Why, the workingmen cannot afford to pay at the rate demanded for these tiny outside lots’, asserted one man recently. The same thing was said here twenty years ago, answer the pioneers; others of us know that it was repeated ten years ago and five years ago, and our children and our children’s children will hear the same tale of woe decades hence.”
Lack of housing has been a major issue since the early 1930s. Rampant overcrowding was common during the Depression years, and, during the 1940s, the crisis grew so extreme that the Vancouver Housing Registry was created, with the objective of finding housing for the desperate, and potentially forcing homeowners to rent out extra rooms. The crisis itself will ease somewhat throughout the 1950s, with a shift to apartment living (formerly seen as the last resort of the financially desperate). However, with the average home costing three times the average annual salary, calls for affordable housing will continue throughout the decade, and into the next century.
“We live in the land of destiny,” the MacDougal article concludes. “In the land of wealth where, though gold is not idly picked off the rocks or from the pavements in the streets, it is just as surely gained from the platted acres and twenty-footers around us. One day an artisan may put the scanty savings of a lifetime into a tiny holding out among the evergreens, and on the morrow almost, he is building city blocks from the proceeds thereof.”
By 2011, the average home in Vancouver will cost 11 times the annual average salary.
IMAGE: One of Vancouver’s earliest Real Estate offices, inside a large tree felled near Granville and Georgia, circa May 1886. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Archives.