School Troubles in a Booming Metropolis: Part 2 – Family Housing

This is the second post in a series exploring demographic, housing and land use contexts of troubled public schools in the City of Vancouver and its suburbs.

Last week’s post showed that, though the proportion of Metro Vancouver’s population made up of school-aged children is declining, that decline is occurring more rapidly in the central City of Vancouver. More suburban in character, the City of Surrey (pop 400,000)  is home to the only public school district in British Columbia where enrolment is actually increasing.

Canada-wide statistics show that these trends are not unique to Metro Vancouver. One analysis of 2006 Canadian census data showed that “27% of first-time parents made the move out the city and very few moved in.” A Statistics Canada report suggests that “one of the explanations for a younger population is that peripheral municipalities are favoured by households with couples and children”.

Across Canada, young families tend to depart from inner cities. Why might this be? A Vancouver-based twitter feed (above) proposed an educated guess.

Providing affordable and suitable family housing in central cities like Vancouver is a challenge. In 2006, 30.2% of Vancouver’s rental households, as well as 9.9% of its owner households, experienced core housing need, which is a combined measure of unaffordability, crowding, and need for major repair.

A typical Vancouver household would have to spend 78% of their income to carry the mortgage on an average bungalow. Photo by author, from Vancouver's West Point Grey neighbourhood.

Affordability of Family Housing
A Royal Bank of Canada Economics Research housing report recently determined Vancouver’s housing market to be the least affordable in Canada. The situation is most dire for the 35% of Metro Vancouver households that rent their dwelling. Virtually no purpose-built rental is being produced.

Single-family houses, which are traditional homes for families, have become increasingly less affordable when compared to attached dwellings and apartments. Today, a typical Vancouver household would have to spend 78% of their income to carry the mortgage on an average bungalow.

Suitability of Housing for Families
Since single-family houses are now unaffordable for the majority of Vancouver families, what about other suitable housing types?

The typical Canadian urban condo averages about 600 square feet. Thanks to John Koetsier on Flickr for the Creative Commons photo of new condos in downtown Vancouver.

Led by apartment condominium construction, multi-family housing comprises more than two-thirds of Vancouver housing starts. However, the typical Canadian urban condo averages only about 600 square feet, and three-bedroom apartments comprise only 2% of Vancouver apartment stock. Similar situations in other urban centres led a Toronto city councilor to observe, “We are generating the space to start families but not to house them.”

In 2009, Regarding Place Magazine analysed the demographics of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods to identify concentrations of families with children. Researcher Erick Villagomez found that those areas of the city which had recently experienced significant redevelopment had “minimal population” of children 12 and under. Likewise, when considering the neighbourhoods containing the greatest proportion of Vancouver’s under-5 population, “all [... were found to be located in] single-family home communities.” These findings suggest that current models of housing development may not be providing family-friendly alternatives to detached houses.

Many families with school-aged children cannot afford suitable dwelling space within central cities. Declining enrolments and threatened school closures in Vancouver’s school system, therefore, comprise more than a political, budgetary or demographic issue. They represent a long-range urban planning problem. Part of the challenge, from a planning perspective, is enhancing the affordability and suitability of family housing in inner cities.

This series on the demographic, housing and land use contexts of troubled public schools will continue next week, with a look at intergenerational neighbourhoods.

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2 Responses to “School Troubles in a Booming Metropolis: Part 2 – Family Housing”

  1. School Troubles in a Booming Metropolis: Part 3 of 4 – Intergenerational Neighbourhoods and Housing Diversity | Planning Pool said:

    Apr 18, 11 at 5:54 am

    [...] conundrum of why growing cities like Vancouver face declining public school enrolments, the first two posts in this series suggest links between municipal and regional populations of school-aged [...]

  2. School Troubles in a Booming Metropolis: Part 4 – Changing Expectations | Planning Pool said:

    May 08, 11 at 6:13 pm

    [...] demographic, housing and land use contexts of troubled public schools. Here are links to parts one, two and three. North Americans are culturally attached to the single-family house, especially for [...]