Discussions about housing affordability in our region are a regular part of life. In fact, the situation is often described as a crisis. The #donthave1million campaign on Twitter recently started in Vancouver and soon went viral, illustrating how top-of-mind housing affordability is for Metro Vancouver residents.
The cost of housing
Policies in Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our Future, our regional growth strategy, are designed to support the provision of diverse and affordable housing choices. In Metro Vancouver’s 2013 Progress Toward Shaping our Future Baseline Annual Report, we found that 45 percent of renters and 28 percent of home owners in Metro Vancouver pay more than 30 percent of their household income on shelter. The typical housing affordability threshold is 30 percent. The maps below show what this looks like across our region for homeowners and renters.
But do housing costs alone paint a complete picture of affordability in our region?
Affordability is not just about housing
Intuitively, people understand there is a trade-off between housing costs and transportation costs, and that a move to more suburban locations to achieve more affordable housing means transportation costs will increase. What is not intuitive, however, is how significant those transportation costs are.
In Metro Vancouver, average annual transit costs range from $100 to $1,200 while the average annual costs of operating a vehicle range from $4,800 to $17,600. The map below shows the combined transportation costs across the region, which can range from $5,400 to $17,700 per year.
Housing + Transportation
Given that transportation costs can be so high, conversations about affordability must consider both housing and transportation costs, which are often the two largest expenditures for many working households. Income is another contributing factor. With a regional median household income of just over $63,000, the combined cost of housing and transportation is taking a toll on Metro Vancouver families and residents. In 2011, Metro Vancouver homeowners with mortgages used 40 percent of their pre-tax income on housing and transportation costs, and for renters it was 49 percent, nearly half of their pre-tax income.
An unequal burden
Renters and lower-income families bear the heaviest burden. Lower-income renter households earning less than $50,000 can spend up to 67 percent of their pre-tax income on housing and transportation. The median income for this group of renters is just over $30,000, and their housing and transportation costs are close to $20,000. For some families, this could leave just $10,000 per year for other expenses including food, clothing, and child care.
Living near frequent transit can make it easier to absorb higher housing costs. Access to the Frequent Transit Network provides working households the choice to spend less on personal vehicles without sacrificing mobility. There are two ways to improve access to frequent transit: expand frequent transit so that households can reduce transportation costs and live more affordably, and recognize that every strategically located frequent transit stop is an opportunity to stabilize and add more affordable housing.
Addressing affordable housing
Metro Vancouver and member municipalities strive to expand affordable housing through the Regional Affordable Housing Strategy (RAHS), which is currently being updated, and through municipal Housing Action Plans which continue to be updated and developed. Creating more affordable housing near transit has been a key focus in the update of the RAHS.
Increasing access to frequent transit
Transit expansion can be achieved through investment in our frequent transit system.
A ‘yes‘ vote for the Mayors’ Council Transportation and Transit Plan means that increases in bus and train frequency will begin right away in 2016 with another boost in frequency by 2019. Expansion of the B-Line rapid bus lines will be immediate. Engineering work will also begin on the larger projects with light rail in Surrey opening in 2022, and the Millennium Line extension tunneled under Broadway opening in 2024.
These short- and long-term improvements would put 70 percent of Metro Vancouver residents within walking distance of frequent transit, which is a less-costly and more-efficient alternative to driving, and would ease the housing and transportation cost burden on households region-wide.
This is part of a series to highlight the connection between investing in transit and achieving the goals of our regional growth strategy. These stories will demonstrate the long-term benefits of planning for growth and investing in transit for communities across our region.
Chair – Metro Vancouver