Response to “Challenging Growth in Victoria”

The following was submitted as a response to The Victoria Record’s posting, “Challenging growth in Victoria: is bigger always better?  The Record editor deemed it too long, so we submitted a shorter version. Here is the full text. 

This column raises standard NIMBY arguments. For an alternative perspective see the Cities for Everyone website, which examines why and how our residential neighbourhoods should allow more compact infill development.

An abundance of solid research shows that by locating in walkable urban neighbourhoods households save on transportation costs, are healthier, have lower traffic crash rates, have greater economic opportunities, and have smaller ecological footprint that if they located in more automobile-dependent, urban fringe areas. For information see:

Hazel Borys (2017), 65 Reasons Why Urbanism Works: Studies that Quantify how Urban Places Affect Human, Economic, and Environmental Wellness are Essential to Building the Political Will for Change, Congress for New Urbanism.

Reid Ewing, et al. (2016), “Does Urban Sprawl Hold Down Upward Mobility?” Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 148, April, pp. 80-88.

Lawrence Frank, Andrew Devlin, Shana Johnstone and Josh van Loon (2010), Neighbourhood Design, Travel, and Health in Metro Vancouver: Using a Walkability Index, Active Transportation Collaboratory, UBC (www.act-trans.ubc.ca).

Chad Frederick, William Riggs and John Hans Gilderbloom (2017), “Commute Mode Diversity and Public Health: A Multivariate Analysis of 148 US Cities,” International Journal of Sustainable Transportation.

John I. Gilderbloom, William W. Riggs and Wesley L. Meares (2015), “Does Walkability Matter? An Examination of Walkability’s Impact on Housing Values, Foreclosures and Crime,” Cities, Vol. 42, pp. 13–24 (doi:10.1016/j.cities.2014.08.001).

Shima Hamidi, et al. (2018), “Associations between Urban Sprawl and Life Expectancy in the United States” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol. 15/5 (doi:10.3390/ijerph1505086).

Stantec (2013), Quantifying the Costs and Benefits to HRM, Residents and the Environment of Alternate Growth Scenarios, Halifax Regional Municipality.

Richard Weller (2018), New Maps Show How Urban Sprawl Threatens the World’s Remaining Biodiversity, The Dirt.

Jaewoong Won, Chanam Lee and Wei Li (2017), “Are Walkable Neighborhoods More Resilient to the Foreclosure Spillover Effects?” Journal of Planning Literature, pp. 1-14.
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According to the Victoria Real Estate Board, the median price for a single-family home in Victoria is about $850,000, which requires a $160,000 minimum income to rent or buy, compared with $550,000 for a townhouse, which requires a $108,000 income, and $400,000 for a condominium, which requires an $80,000 income. When residents say, “I only want single-family housing in my neighbourhood” they are also saying, “I only want households earning at least $160,000 in my neighbourhood.” Of course, actual prices vary somewhat between neighbourhoods, but because condos and townhouses require far less land than single-family houses, they are almost always much more affordable.

This is a generational issue. Most infill critics are older, affluent property owners who believe that they have nothing to lose from restrictive development policies. However, it is very harmful to younger and lower-income households who are excluded from renting or purchasing homes in desirable urban neighbourhoods. Even infill critics may someday want more diverse and affordable housing types in their neighbourhoods in order to age-in-place when it comes time to downsize from their large homes, or to allow loved ones to live nearby.

Infill critics often claim that increasing housing supply does not reduce housing prices. The academic research suggests that there is a little truth and a lot of fallacy in that claim. Increasing downtown high-rise development does little to reduce neighbourhood housing prices, but increasing the supply of moderate-priced housing ($200,000-600,000 per unit) in a neighbourhood does reduce prices. Even if the housing is initially too expensive for lower-income households it helps increase their affordability through filtering, as as some lower-priced housing occupants move up to the moderate-priced units, and over time as they depreciate and become cheaper.

There is solid research indicating that filtering occurs, including Stuart Rosenthal’s 2014 study, “Are Private Markets and Filtering a Viable Source of Low-Income Housing?” published in the American Economic Review, and Miriam Zuk and Karen Chapple’s 2016 study, Housing Production, Filtering and Displacement: Untangling the Relationships, published by the Berkeley Institute of Government Studies. Both studies indicate that increasing housing supply does tend to reduce housing prices, particularly over the long-run.

Recent experience indicates that even in high growth cities like Seattle and Portland, increasing rental apartment supply does drive down prices. During the last year these cities have built tens of thousands of new rental apartment units, and Seattle experienced a 2.4% decline, and Portland a 2.6% decline, in average rents, despite strong population and economic growth.

Research by the City Observatory an independent urban policy research institute, shows that displacement rates are lower in neighborhoods that increase housing supply and therefore reduce competition for available housing units.

For these reasons I encourage anybody who wants a more affordable, inclusive, healthful and resource-efficient community to say “yes in my backyard,” and vote for municipal candidates who will allow more affordable housing types – multiplexes, townhouses and low-rise apartment buildings – in our walkable urban neighborhoods.

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