Vancouver: Moving to the Suburbs

Commentary, Housing Affordability, Wendell Cox

A few weeks ago, The New York Times touted purported savings that a household would save by living in the core city of New York (in Brooklyn) instead of the suburbs (South Orange, New Jersey). The article downplayed the 1,000 fewer square feet the money bought in Brooklyn and did not consider the 40% higher cost of living.

The Province in Vancouver has now followed with a near identical story, except that the urban household in will make do with even less space. The city of Vancouver household will live in 800 square feet, or 1,200 fewer square feet in the high rise condominium than in a suburban Coquitlam detached house used in the comparison. Like The Times, The Province is little concerned with the smaller size of the house and misses the fact that the cost of living is from 10% to 20% less in the suburbs and exurbs than it is in the city of Vancouver.

Nonetheless, according to Tsur Somerville, director of the University of British Columbia UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, who assisted in developing the figures for The Province, "If all they cared about were the dollars, they wanted to have $600,000 worth of real estate and then minimize their out-of-pocket costs, all else being considered, then being in the city is better," A commenter appropriately notes the volatility of strata (condominium association) fees, which suggests that out-of-pocket costs could rise significantly.

Canadians are not listening to "their betters" any more than Americans. US Census data indicates a continuing strong migration of people from the central cities and strong migration to the suburbs, despite heroic efforts on the part of the media and others to mask the reality.

"Being in the city" may be preferable to some in the Vancouver area, however not to the majority of the age group (25 to 44 years) most likely to move is voting for the suburbs, according to a recent Statistics Canada report. According to the report:

"… there continues to be a migration of many young adults and families from central municipalities to surrounding municipalities, while few move in the opposite direction."

For every one person who moved from the suburbs to the city of Vancouver between 2001 and 2006 (in the age group):

  • Among all in the age group, 1.8 people moved to the suburbs from the city for every person moving to city from the suburbs.
  • Among those in the age group with advanced degrees, 1.7 people moved to the suburbs for every person moving to the city.
  • Among those earning $100,000 to $150,000, 3.4 people moved to the suburbs for every person moving to the city. The ratio fell to 2.0 times for those making over $150,000.
  • More than 25% of the age group population who had their first children between 2001 and 2006 moved to the suburbs from the city, more than five times as many as moved to the city from the suburbs.

A table in the Statistics Canada report shows people in "creative class" occupations moving in greater numbers to the suburbs than to the city.

However, not everyone is moving in larger numbers to the suburbs.

  • More of the lowest income people are moving to the city than to the suburbs.
  • Artists have moved in greater numbers to the city than to the suburbs.
  • University professors and other university personnel have moved in greater numbers to the city than to the suburbs, perhaps explaining why so many in these groups misunderstand the direction of the migration.

The Statistics Canada report provided a similar analysis for Canada’s two larger metropolitan areas, Toronto and Montreal. In Toronto, moves to the suburbs were 3.5 times moves to the city, while in Montreal 2.7 central city dwellers moved to the suburbs for every suburbanite moving to the city. This does not, however, necessarily indicate that the exodus to the suburbs is stronger in Toronto and Montreal. It is rather an indication of the fact that these two central cities represent a larger share of their metropolitan population than Vancouver. This means that more of the core out-migration is captured in Toronto and Montreal.

So, the media continues the "drumbeat" and the people keep marching — in the opposite direction.


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