Vancouver developers want more townhomes. Critics say they’ll just be sold overseas

Click to play video: 'Report: Affordable housing in short supply in Metro Vancouver'
Report: Affordable housing in short supply in Metro Vancouver
Tue, May 30: A new report confirms what most people already know: affordable housing is in short supply in Metro Vancouver. As Tanya Beja reports, there’s a bigger problem – May 30, 2017

A group working on behalf of Vancouver developers is urging the city to build more townhomes and other forms of multi-family housing as a way to boost the supply of affordable homes.

But critics say it’s little use building more supply if it’s going to be marketed to overseas buyers.

Construction projects seem to be a permanent fixture of life in the city, but new numbers show that despite all the cranes dotting the skyline, Vancouver is experiencing an all-time low for multi-family housing availability.

A new report by the Urban Development Institute (UDI) says to boost affordable housing supply the region needs rezoning that would allow for more townhomes, rowhomes and low-rises in traditionally single-family neighbourhoods.

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“In the City of Vancouver there are zero ready-built, ready-to-move-in townhomes available for sale, everything else has been sold,” said the UDI’s Anne McMullin.

“The resistance to building new homes is overwhelming, yet the criticism of house prices is overwhelming. You can’t have it both ways.”

Critics say building more housing won’t help if it’s being offered first to buyers overseas.

A recent series of ads show several Vancouver condos being marketed in Hong Kong.

“When you’re pushing supply as the solution, and then you’re ultimately selling it overseas to foreign speculators, it’s really not helping locals, it’s not helping local affordability,” realtor Steve Saretsky said.

According to the UDI, roughly seven per cent of Metro Vancouver sales are to foreign buyers.

Tom Davidoff of UBC’s Sauder School of Business suspects that when it comes to presales, the numbers are much higher.

“When these buildings are complete are we going to see the foreign buyers of the presale units flip their presale assignments to local buyers?” he said.

“Are we going to see them rent the units out or are we going to see foreign buyers hold onto empty units?”

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Davidoff believes the empty homes tax may reduce the number of properties sitting vacant.

But more regulations are needed, if you ask Saretsky.

“It’s almost like the government has to intervene and incentivize developers to not only build for locals, but to sell to locals as well,” he said.

The UDI said only a minority of condos, namely at the high end of the market, are marketed overseas so new regulations may not help, but with little in the way of data it’s hard to know for certain.

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