Getting a grip on the vacant housing problem (plus: urban geology!)

Urban geologist? What's that?

Urban geologist? What’s that?

A new City of Vancouver proposal to start addressing the city’s scourge of speculation-driven housing vacancy is in the news. The municipal government wants to comprehensively identify vacant houses throughout the city, building on important work being done by the grassroots group Beautiful Empty Homes but leveraging governmental data (namely from BC Hydro) that the public doesn’t have access to.

I spoke to a number of news outlets about the proposal yesterday, starting with the Vancouver Sun, which focused on the spectre of xenophobia in discussions of Vancouver’s expensive property market. As I argued, though, the major issue here isn’t whether it’s foreigners buying houses or other Canadians, it’s that Vancouver’s housing market isn’t strongly connected to the local economy, and speculators buying properties but not living in them just makes that problem worse:

“The problem in Vancouver is that demand for housing doesn’t have that strong of a relationship with the local economy, which means that prices are out of whack with what people who live and work in the city can afford.”

CTV News Vancouver ran a good summary of the proposal to start counting vacant housing, and paid good attention to the connection between housing affordability and housing vacancy:

“The crisis of housing affordability is also a crisis of vacant buildings.”

Finally, as pictured in the screen cap at the top of this post, Global News bestowed on me the dubious title of “UBC Urban Geologist” in their newscast. No doubt this is some cutting edge new subfield in the discipline, but alas not one I am actually acquainted with.

See more: Vancouver looks to gather data on vacant homes; Vancouver to count empty housesWebsite could be in the works to identify vacant homes in Vancouver