British Columbia

Vancouver home ownership out of middle-class reach

In the second of our CBC News series in partnership with The Tyee, reporter Lisa Johnson looks at how Vancouver's high real estate prices are affecting young families

B.C. household income lower than in the 1970s

Home ownership used to be part of the bargain for the average middle-class family in B.C — even in Vancouver.

But as reporter Lisa Johnson tells us in the second of our CBC News series in partnership with The Tyee, "Priced Out", sky high prices mean that for many young parents, the reality of home ownership has become nothing but a dream.

Lawyer Nathan Hume and health researcher Angie Chan live with their two young children in a rented two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver.

With two good jobs, they had hoped home ownership in the city would be within their reach. But sky-high prices in Vancouver have left them without any options.

"We have a number of friends who are in the same situation as us — highly educated, they've got good jobs, they have young kids, and they've all left the city," said Chan.

Hume says it is likely they could get a mortgage to buy something, but they don't think that's smart, when it would mean foregoing savings for retirement and their children's education.

"That's the kind of thing you should be preparing for and how can you possibly do that when, I don't know what the statistic is, 86 per cent of pre-tax disposable income goes to pay for the average house in Vancouver? I mean, you can't," said Hume.

Earning less, paying more

Paul Kershaw ,of the University of B.C. Human Early Learning Partnership, says young families who feel like they have less time and money than a previous generation are right, even before you factor in Vancouver's relatively exorbitant house prices.

"We have a generation that's priced out of the housing market in a way that we've never witnessed before," said Kershaw.

Kershaw has compared B.C. incomes and house prices now with those in the 1970s.

In the 1970s, the annual household income for couples aged 25-34 was the equivalent of  $73,000 in today's dollars.

Today, the same age group earns just $68,000 a year.

Kershaw says even with more women working, households are earning less, not more — and at the same time, the average cost of housing, adjusted for inflation, has increased by 149 per cent.

"If you manage to cobble together enough of a down payment to incur that half-million-dollar mortgage then suddenly what is the primary source of wealth for those retiring, is the primary source of debt for those who are also contemplating, 'Can I afford to start a family,'" he said.

Kershaw believes governments need to help this generation by making child care and parental leave more affordable.

"That would have a big, big impact on improving the bottom line for young people."

Chan says her family of four are willing to wait for a place to call their own.

"If you had asked us a year ago, I think my responses would have been a lot angrier and more emotional. But I almost feel like the idea, that I've come to accept that we're not, that buying a house will remain quite a challenge."

Source: RBC Economics Housing Trends and Affordability, March 2012; Statistics Canada. Assumes std. condo is 900 sq.ft., bungalow is 1200 sq.ft., two-storey house is 1500 sq.ft. (CBC)

With files from the CBC's Lisa Johnson