A demonstration planned for Sunday (May 24) could be one of the loudest calls for government action on housing affordability in recent memory. And yet the young woman behind it, Eveline Xia, told the Straight she remains unaffiliated with any political group and, until very recently, never intended to organize a public protest about anything.
On March 18, Xia recounted, she took to social media to vent a moment of frustration, writing “#DontHave1Million” as a comment on the seven-figure price for a single-family home in Vancouver. “And it kind of took off,” she said.
“People have written me saying they make a really good salary with a partner and they cannot afford to stay,” Xia continued. “I know doctors who have had to leave because they cannot afford to live in this city.”
Scheduled to speak at the demonstration—which takes place at the Vancouver Art Gallery beginning at 12 p.m.—are Paul Kershaw, founder of Generation Squeeze, and Tony Roy, executive director of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association. Also presenting will be Wes Regan, a Green Party contender for the federal riding of Vancouver East.
In a telephone interview, Regan said this protest differs from previous rallies for affordable housing in that its focus is not low-income earners but the middle class: “the 20-somethings and 30-somethings born into this really odd circumstance, with wages stagnant and housing prices skyrocketing,” he explained. “We’re seeing this generation and this middle-income bracket really getting fed up with this.”
In March 2015, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver reported the benchmark price for a single-family home on Vancouver’s West Side was $2.4 million; on the city’s East Side, it was $990,800. The same month, an analysis by Bing Thom Architects’ Andy Yan found 66 percent of single-family properties in Vancouver were assessed at $1 million or more. That was double the portion worth that much five years earlier.
The B.C. Ministry Responsible for Housing did not make a representative available for an interview. On May 13, CBC News reported that Premier Christy Clark had responded to questions about “foreign” owners who purchase Vancouver properties in which they have no intention of residing. Clark said the province has no plans to introduce a tax on such investors. (Despite there existing no evidence of a quantifiable link between foreign buyers and Vancouver property values, an online petition demanding the government take action has garnered more than 23,000 signatures.)
Ray Spaxman, a former director of planning in Vancouver, told the Straight the situation requires some sort of involvement from higher levels of government. He suggested cities cooperate with one another to exert pressure that might bring about that action.
“We need to agitate the provincial and federal governments more than we’re doing,” Spaxman said.
He also suggested what's required to fully respond to Vancouver's housing crunch is a greater understanding of international pressures: primarily, globalization and climate change.
“The tendency is to say, ‘Let’s build more and more,’ without looking at all the implications of why that is happening and what we can do to protect ourselves from too much of that,” Spaxman said. "We believe our future seems to depend on consumerism and yet we sense that consumerism is not going to solve these sorts of problems.”