The Flight of the Vancouver Graduate

Recent graduates are fleeing the city over the exorbitant housing prices and meagre hopes for leading their preferred lifestyles

Annalisse Crosswell, Associate News Editor
Cynthia Tran Vo, Illustrator

For Megan Orr the thought of moving back home to Calgary evokes a “hard no” on her list of preferred next moves. And yet for the CapU Communications student, just months from graduating in June, Orr is accepting that this may be her only option. “…if I want any sort of sustainable future for myself, and for potential children, that’s probably the reality,” said Orr. “I have more connections there, my whole family’s there, I could probably have the type of life that I envision for myself having – minus the ocean and mountains.” 

According to a new study released by the National Bank of Canada and reported on by Daily Hive, it is now more affordable to rent in Vancouver than to own a home, with the average monthly mortgage payment for a detached home at over $6000. The report outlines the reality of deteriorating housing affordability which has continued for 14 consecutive financial quarters. It’s a depressing reality for anyone hoping to own a home in Vancouver. 

If you’ve looked at a list of the top 10 most expensive cities to live in over the last few years, chances are high you’ve seen Vancouver consistently there, right at the top. Housing unaffordability is probably the most vocalized complaint in Vancouver – comparable only to our discussions of the weather. It’s an issue forcing many young adults out of the city and discouraging other Canadians from moving here, and those who remain in the city have little hope of ever owning a home. 

Clearly Orr is not alone in this stressful debate over whether staying in Vancouver long term is a worthwhile endeavour. There is plenty of evidence showing that people are choosing to live in houses in the suburbs rather than lead the cramped inner city life – a concerning fact that was cited in the municipal elections, as professionals move further from the cities that need them. 

CapU Biology student Mitch Day can attest to this fact. Day found that after a year of living in a two-bedroom East Vancouver apartment totaling just under $1000, rent in the area had increased to the point that he and his friend were looking at paying almost the same individually for the equivalent space. The only affordable rental houses that he could find by this point were “sketchy” places out in Surrey. Stubbornly refusing to pay these prices, Day found himself looking further afield for affordable housing. “I didn’t want to leave BC, so I looked everywhere and the only affordable place in this whole area was Nanaimo for around $500-600,” said Day. 

Nanaimo came with other challenges. While he found one of the most enjoyable working environments he has been in to this day, he struggled to get the hours that would enable him to pay his affordable rent – 25 hours a week being the most he could get. Day did make the move, but it didn’t last long and within a few months, he found himself back in his hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo. Though he lived with his father in Ontario, he helped find a new space for the two to live in and got a feel for the rental housing market. Describing the size of the space that his father now lives in for a reasonable price, made the options in Vancouver seem obscene by comparison. 

This attraction to living in a larger space is a contributing factor in the issues we are seeing with housing prices according to Mahak Yaseri who says that densification would probably have to occur to slow the rising costs we are seeing in Vancouver. “I mean it may not be ideal for some people, but that’s probably the way of the future…” said Yaseri. Though, from what she has seen, the visible increase in apartment buildings around the city doesn’t seem to have slowed the increasing prices much yet. 

There are, of course, a number of factors that influence the housing prices in Vancouver. While the city’s idyllic natural surroundings and mild climate are huge attractions, there are also issues posed by the geography. “…on the one side you’ve got the ocean on the other you’ve got the mountains, so there are geographical barriers to extending [the city], so from a supply side you are limited,” said Yaseri.  

One of the biggest issues Yaseri sees outside of the physical barriers to expansion that the city faces is the way in which people think of houses. “Unfortunately people see housing… as an asset rather than a place to live,” she said. “So that has contributed to an increase in the price of housing.” Speculation, where an individual buys a home for the purpose of later reselling it at a profit, can drastically impact and increase the price of houses. Yaseri commented that this is probably a factor that is decreasing given new stipulations in condo contracts that discourage this, but it still no doubt having negative effects on the housing market. 

Inflation, on the other hand, is not such a concern for Yaseri who says that the oft-cited reason for financial issues is less concerning than if there were deflation occurring within the economy. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), set out by the National Bank of Canada with information from Statistics Canada, monitors rates of inflation and defines a healthy rate of inflation as between one and three per cent. While Vancouver is at the high end of this scale, it does still remain within the suggested rate. 

Yaseri doesn’t think it should be unrealistic for millenials to expect that they may be able to own a home in their future, even in a city as desirable as Vancouver. “I hope it’s not going to be an impossibility,” she said. “It’s become very difficult, there’s no question about that, but it is something that one can address, that can be addressed by policies…” Yaseri commented on the tax on empty homes that has been introduced in BC, saying that empty homes are a waste of resources making this tax reasonable, but adding that there are other policies that could be implemented. 

The issue is multi-pronged according to Yaseri and policies could focus on things like increasing how much is built, but also factors such as the job market. Job creation is important and with it education and childcare to help people in these endeavours. “We live in an age where going back to school and re-educating is not a choice, I think, it’s a necessity,” she commenting, adding that the job market is changing and that this change needs to be addressed. 

For the average Vancouverite in their twenties, business and government-centred information is probably not what they are looking at, nor is it mitigating any of their concerns. For Orr, Day and others in similar situations, the issues are clearly much less theoretical and more immediate to the safety of their day-to-day lives. 

Orr noted that, despite having lived in Vancouver for several years, there are a plethora of activities she is unable to participate in due to her financial position. “I definitely think that I’m living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I don’t get to enjoy it because everything costs money,” she admitted. Orr has never done some of the things Vancouver has on offer, like going to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. “It costs money to enter the park, I can’t justify that when I can spend that on groceries or a bottle of wine, or whatever it is that I need that week,” she joked. 

When comparing Kitchener-Waterloo to Vancouver, Day commented much the same. While he feels that when everything balances out, from income to the cost of housing to the cost of general grocery items, he ends up saving much the same in both cities, the cost of activities is also cheaper in the East allowing him to do more with less. He also noted that the spaces that one can purchase in Kitchener-Waterloo at a reasonable price are often larger than those found in Vancouver, further impacting lifestyle and the ability to live the life he prefers. 

“Here there’s more [things that increase] quality of life like accessibility to nature, the transit system here is absolutely incredible compared to there…” said Day. “So it’s basically about what you want out of life.” For him the lifestyle benefits of Vancouver outweigh the issues that come with living here and inevitably led to his return to the city. He does admit that if the same comparisons were drawn between Vancouver and living in the sprawling metropolis of Toronto the story would be different. The sprawl of Toronto, in and of itself, makes commuting even with a car complicated and the cost of housing in central locations much more expensive. “You can live in Toronto and never actually go into Toronto because it’s so far away,” he commented. 

For Orr it doesn’t seem like this will be the way that things pan out. She is close to giving up on her ideal lifestyle of living in Vancouver because of the reality of how prohibitively expensive it is. She noted, “It feels like giving up on a dream and I think that’s what a lot of people are feeling right now.” While it’s hard to know exactly how many people are leaving the province over the cost of living, as Orr may well do, we know that she is not alone in considering relocation for the benefit of her future. 


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