Vancouver's Wild World of De Facto Density

Adding to racial redlining, zoning attempts to regulate human behavior, restricting residents just as it does developers.
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From the 17th floor of the Sandman Suites on Vancouver's Davie Street. (Photo: Darren Stone/Flickr)

From the 17th floor of the Sandman Suites on Vancouver's Davie Street. (Photo: Darren Stone/Flickr)

Immigrants are innovators. They pour into expensive gateway cities such as New York or San Francisco and find a foothold. The rent is too damn high? Foreign born and 20-something natives don't care. Hacking Hongcouver

He and his roommates pay an average of just $750 a month, substantially below the average $1,000-plus one-bedroom rent in the city. But they've managed to drive costs down by moving into an abode that is anything but "humble."

In doing so, they've discovered a workaround for high rents and mediocre accommodation that's attracting a growing number of daring individuals and, in some cities at least, attention from municipal government and the private sector.

Their 7,500-square-foot, six-bedroom Spanish-style mansion, built in 1931 and nestled on nearly an acre of land overlooking the Fraser River, is valued at $5,063,000, according to municipal records.

A wealthy resident of Hong Kong buys a mansion in Vancouver. She might move there eventually. She might be making a shrewd investment. In the near term, she isn't living in her Vancouver house. Why not rent it out in the interim? Tenants willing to put up with the drawbacks of co-op housing reap luxury accommodations at a price below market rate. The landlord rakes in unexpected income on land that returns a healthy dividend in equity. Reciprocity.

Deregulate real estate demand. Zoning restricts residents (buyers) as it does developers (sellers). Advocates for increasing residential density focus on the impediments to developers. They ignore the demand side of the equation. Unrelated occupants fear eviction while such co-habitation arrangements make housing more affordable.

Before we argue who has rights to the city, we must debate who has rights to a domicile. Multi-generational housing passes muster. A lesbian co-op does not. Such socio-economic distinctions distort the real estate market. Adding to racial redlining, zoning attempts to regulate human behavior (e.g. red light district). Only the right kind of people should file a rent application. Only the right kind of people get a home loan.

When debating home affordability, why should we cater to the suppliers of housing? Zoning restricts who may rent and who may buy. Advocate for the buyers.

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