Vancouver’s mayor analyses Sydney’s affordability crisis

By Michael Mata

Vancouver's mayor analyses Sydney's affordability crisis

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson – who was in Sydney for the CityTalks event on Tuesday night at the Town Hall – sees many parallels between Sydney and Vancouver’s property markets.

“It took cities like New York and London a generation of global capital influx to skew their real estate prices. [In Vancouver, this] has happened in a decade, at most,” he said. “My sense is Sydney is in a similar predicament.”

Sydney and Vancouver are each enjoying heightened capital investment, thriving economies, and burgeoning populations, with local governments earning huge surpluses from the boom.

On the downside, house price growth has accelerated, pricing out huge swathes of people, from the most vulnerable to those with professional jobs. In both cities, record numbers of homeless people now live on the streets.

According to Robertson, Vancouver and Sydney both suffer from housing affordability issues because “[they’re] way behind in innovation in government”, leaving both cities with few real policy levels to tackle the issue.

“Cities need to have more self-determination and powers to take care of people,” he said. “The symptom of the housing affordability crisis exposes the much bigger structural problem in government that we need to fix.”

Robertson said his experience trying to alleviate the crisis with the limited tools of local office and against the political intransigence of higher levels of government formed the basis of his keynote speech at the Sydney Town Hall.

Last year, Robertson was forced to re-draft his signature 10-year housing plan after it failed to deliver on its key goal: ending homelessness in Vancouver by 2015.

Sydney is now the second most unaffordable major city housing market in the world, according to Demographia’s global ranking of the 10 least affordable major housing markets. Hong Kong is ranked number one and Vancouver is ranked third.

The disconnect between the need for more affordable housing and a grassroots reluctance to greenlight more development is a “delicate balance,” Robertson said. “In cities like Vancouver and Sydney, where the growth pressure and global capital are daunting forces, it does pit communities against developers and elected councils.”

However, Robertson said the tide was turning – in Vancouver at least, where housing forums and council meetings once dominated by the “nimby crowd” are now seeing a “surge of advocacy” from the next generation of young professionals and families “who want to live in the city and cannot access [affordable] housing.”