The young continue to flee Vancouver

Bill Mann, a MarketWatch columnist, based in Port Townsend, Washington asks, if Vancouver is one of the three most livable cities in the world, why are its young residents increasingly moving to other provinces? This is a growing concern for the province as these individuals aren’t just leaving the city and heading to the lower priced suburbs, they are leaving British Columbia altogether. Has the 15 years of increased housing prices finally forced people out? Or is this temporary?

The latest government numbers show that from January to March this year, 2,554 people, mostly Vancouver-area residents, left B.C. for other provinces. That’s an eye-popping jump, accelerating a negative trend started last year when B.C. logged a net migration loss to other Canadian provinces of 1,920.

Naturally, the resulting outflow has to do with more than just our housing prices. Sure our house prices are high, real high (in fact we own the top 5 list of most expensive homes in Canada), but our rental rates are still on par with the rest of the major markets in the country. If one chooses to or comes to grips with reality that renting may be their only option, then Vancouver is no pricier than most major markets. Those that refuse to abandon the dream of owning a detached home in the city are mostly out of luck. The average detached home in Vancouver is close to a million dollars. Even East Vancouver is too pricey for many young families. And if the condo lifestyle is not your cup of tea, then you might as well forget about home ownership.

High housing costs is just one factor. Another big factor, is the wage disparity between Vancouver and other major markets like Toronto and Calgary. Most of the young people end up leaving for Alberta. Alberta is still booming and is always looking for workers, you can make decent money flipping burgers at a fast food joint in Alberta. In Vancouver many skilled workers have a hard time finding good paying positions.

It’s the combination of lower average wages and high housing costs that are forcing people to at least temporarily leave BC. Many do come back after they’ve stock piled enough money to afford the Vancouver lifestyle. However, it’s hard to believe that the third most livable city in the world has trouble retaining young talent. If Vancouver doesn’t stem the tide it will become a quasi resort town (check out our editorial “Vancouver will become a resort city, unless…“). This is where the city’s municipal government needs to step in and create a “vision” and address the situation now and be progressive moving forward, rather than do what most politicians do, act when it’s already too late.

In the end, I agree with Bill Mann’s conclusion:

And besides, I’d bet that if Vancouver home prices continue to fall, many of the young people leaving this province will head back.

Analysts are saying that Alberta’s rapid, oil-sands-fueled growth has been the major attraction for departing B.C. residents. But … those oil jobs in Alberta could start to decline if all that crude can’t get to foreign markets in new or expanded pipelines to B.C., pipelines that face significant hurdles.

Bottom line: Vancouver is a vibrant, bustling and diverse city with great restaurants, extensive and much-used public transportation, plus safe, abundant parks and good neighborhoods. It certainly seems like the city of the future.

And I don’t see any of that going away, even if housing prices drop. And If they do drop, the recent out-migration from B.C. might well reverse.


Image: @Suitoflights