British Columbia

New study: 23 years to save for an average home in Metro Vancouver

It's all about when you were born — that is one of the most significant factors in the growing gap between the rich and poor, according to a new study.

It used to take about six years to save for an average home in the region in 1976

It used to take five years for a typical young person to save a 20 per cent down payment on an average home in Canada. Now, it takes 23 years in Metro Vancouver. (Generation Squeezed)

A young person today will have to work for 23 years to save for a down payment on an average Metro Vancouver home.

That's according to a new study entitled Code Red: Rethinking Canadian Housing Policy (pdf), authored by Paul Kershaw of the UBC School of Population and Public Health and Anita Minh, a researcher at Kershaw's Generation Squeeze Research and Knowledge Translation Lab.

 In 1976 it took nearly six years of full time work for the average 25- to 34-year-old to save a 20 per cent down payment for an average-priced Metro Vancouver home, according to the study.

These days, with house prices soaring, the average young person needs to work for 16 years to save a down payment for an average home in B.C., and 23 years to save for an average home in Metro Vancouver.

Along with the rising cost of housing, the authors blame a $9,000 drop in average real wages in B.C. (after inflation), rising rents, longer and more expensive commutes and expensive child care for the widening gap.

Meanwhile, those who were fortunate enough to buy a home in the 1970's are benefiting from the price increases, the study found.

"This means the typical older resident of B.C. – not the one per cent – has now accumulated additional wealth from their housing that is equivalent to having purchased two homes when they were young adults," says the study.

The authors conclude that the primary driver of net wealth for Canadians over the age of 50 — soaring house prices —is now the primary source of debt for their children.

It's not how hard you work

The authors note generational trends in wealth and debt accumulation from the housing market largely reflect the lottery of timing.

"The wealth gains reported by Canadians 55+ do not primarily represent smart decisions, hard work or other factors that would suggest this wealth has been 'earned."

"There is no clear evidence that these generations purchased and consumed housing resources more cleverly and productively than did their parents' generations," they write.

"Similarly, the higher mortgage debts reported by the average young person today do not reflect a lesser work ethic, or poorer judgment with respect to the housing market. Higher mortgages reflect the reality of getting into the housing market when the timing is not nearly as fortuitous as it was in 1977."

And they say it's unfair to argue that young people should not have the same expectations for home ownership as older generations did.

"While some may argue that the dramatic increase in housing costs should give young people pause before committing to home ownership, home ownership has been a strong Canadian norm for many decades now."

"It is understandable that many younger people believe this goal is worthy of pursuit – at least to the same degree it was prioritised by their parents' generation."

To solve the problem the study makes 10 recommendations to reform the housing market and make it more affordable for younger workers while protecting property values for existing home owners. 

"It is imperative for political parties to turn their attention in advance of the 2017 election to the broad range of costs squeezing young adults.  We can help ease the housing squeeze by no longer tolerating child care, parental leave, transportation, etc. adding up to second, third and fourth mortgage payments," concludes Kershaw.