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OPINION: Affordable housing solutions? Look in the mirror

Politicians and real estate developers have had their say on the root cause of Canada’s current housing-price crisis. Perhaps it is time to look a little deeper
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A new Metrotown condo project in Burnaby includes a luxurious 50,000-square-foot bicycle sanctum. | Concord Pacific

The big annual Canadian Apartment Investment Conference was held September 20 in Toronto, and, as with the stumping politicians in the federal election the same day, affordable housing was a key talking point.

Some of the biggest condo and rental developers in the country bemoaned the lack of housing that Canadians can afford.

Landlords called for the end of rent controls; developers urged speedier approval processes at the municipal level, and most agreed that government barriers were all that kept them from delivering more low-cost homes.

“We need the federal government to step in with much more significant contributions to address deeper affordability needs in Canada,” one major condo developer said.

“We’ve seen the gaps between the haves and the have-nots growing larger. We’ve seen homelessness increase during COVID-19,” said the CEO of a national high-rise condo developer that builds almost exclusively in Vancouver and Toronto.

Yet, in Vancouver, those designing and building the lowest-cost product in the place that needs it the most have apparently missed the message.

Condo developers from downtown to the outer suburbs are creating the most luxurious apartments and lavish amenities that have ever hit the mainstream market.

Former deluxe features have become standard spec in a competitive market.

Burrard Place in Vancouver boasts custom Italian interiors where, with the touch of a button, residences can summon a private chef, a sommelier, a personal trainer, even an on-call musician. There is a huge pool, hot tub, a sauna, a gym, a yoga studio, a multimedia room and a rooftop garden.

For buyers at the latest condo development in North Vancouver, a courteous concierge greets guests and accept deliveries in an expansive glass-sheathed lobby graced with a Brent Comber sculpture. Apartments have solid-core interior doors with imported Italian Colombo polished chrome hardware. Bathrooms include glass walls and integrated LED-lit mirrors.

One three-tower Coquitlam project has an enclosed bicycle sanctum larger than an acre that is worth – when its size is priced the same as the condos above – at more than $60 million.

In Surrey, the concierge at Melrose will show the Amazon delivery room, state-of-the-art gym, yoga studio, spin room, tai chi studio and “spa-like” dog washing station.

In Squamish, the new Redbridge development boasts a 20,000-square-foot amenity centre with therapeutic hot and cold plunge pools, video conference room, a Zen Garden and outdoor kitchen ­– and condos that ascend from $800,000.

In any of these projects a nice two-bedroom apartment costs more than $1.2 million. Strata fees will likely be through the roof. And yet all of them has either quickly sold out this year or is within 90 per cent of target. Redbridge presold 275 of its luxury condos in just seven days.

If new homebuyers really want to know where housing prices are going, and why, they needn’t look to government. The private sector is merely responsive to demand. 

They have to look in the mirror.

Frank O’Brien is the editor of Western Investor