Boris Mann’s Personal Blog

May 2010

In Vancouver, middle class people can't afford to live middle class lives

It won’t surprise anyone who’s ever read this blog that I lay most of the blame for this state of affairs on the overheated real-state market. When the average couple – one without trust funds, inheritances, or seven-figure jobs – can’t afford to buy the average home, there’s a price to be paid. In the short-term, that price will be paid (in a cruel irony) by those very same average couples, who will leverage themselves into knots to get into the market. From there, only two things can happen, both of which will prove catastrophic for our average couple: the real estate market can either correct, in which case they’ll be sitting on negative equity and lifetime of crippling mortgage payments, or it won’t, and they’ll just be sitting on those equally debilitating mortgage payments.

Eventually, though, those average couples will start to look elsewhere, to the Edmontons, the Saskatoons, and the Halifaxes of the country, places where middle class people – teachers, journalists, nurses, and tradespeople, for example – can afford to live middle class lives. They’ll move to places where they can afford to save money, to have children, and to plan for the future, rather than remaining on the economic hamster wheel of places like Vancouver and Toronto, where wages remain stagnant while prices shoot ever higher.

They might even discover that they like these new cities, too. Certainly, from where I sit, Edmonton looks like a perfectly civilized place to spend some time, and I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll leave. But I do know this: until its economy returns to some semblance of normalcy, and until middle class people can afford to live middle class lives, I won’t go back to Vancouver.

I think a lot of people are thinking about adjusting their cost structures – driven in Vancouver almost entirely by rent or mortgages – so that they can experiment and do things differently. "A chance to finally get ahead in life" as Max says earlier in his post.

This article on Youngstown that I read in Inc. Magazine makes me think along the same lines. People moving back to places that are in rough shape, but where there is the opportunity to build new structures and new ways of doing things (because the old ways certainly haven't worked).