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Is it time to leave Vancouver?

Mudslinging against millennials ignores reality

Coming back to Vancouver after some time away normally comes with a familiar thrill. As the plane ducks below the clouds on its descent toward YVR, I’m often struck by the beauty of this city, and the privilege I enjoy in calling it home.

That didn’t happen on my latest return after a week split between Cortes Island and Toronto. This time I found myself wondering: is it time to leave?

I’ve debated this from time to time, but a couple of things have me considering it more seriously than before. First off there’s the exodus. I didn’t need the recent Vancity study to tell me millennials are setting their sights on other locales. In my own life, the efforts of the Move To Toronto Lobby — a growing consortium of friends who have migrated from Vancouver in pursuit of greater professional opportunities — have picked up steam.

Every year, another friend seems to make the trek out East, and as skeptical as I am about the Big Smoke, they all seem to land on their feet. Despite the crummy climate and the housing costs similar to Vancouver they seem more than happy with the trade-offs: greater career choices and a big city buzz no one would ever call mind-numbingly boring. Conversely, my social circle is also thinning out in favour of smaller communities. Not the burbs mind you, but places like Nelson or Squamish, where you can own a house.

And speaking of houses, the other thing that has me reconsidering my future here has been the pushback against the #donthave1million affordable housing campaign. It’s one thing to have a robust public debate over how we might address the affordability crisis, but predictably, much of the discussion has devolved into generational mudslinging. Following last month’s rally, certain members of the older, more established cohort have felt it necessary to put the younger demographic in its place — apparently just for having the audacity to bring up our affordability concerns.

Cases in point: Bob Rennie and Shelley Fralic. While the condo king responded with condescending advice that Vancouverites give up on the idea of owning single-family homes and instead, one assumes, set sights on his signature shoeboxes, the Vancouver Sun columnist urged cash-poor millennials to get more education and — here’s a novel thought — a job. Their comments belie that they, like so many, completely missed the point of the campaign.

The #donthave1million hashtag isn’t an argument that every 30-something should be entitled to a detached house. It’s a symbol of how bad things have become. An actual house? In Vancouver? Pfft. That ship sailed long, long ago. Nobody knows that better than those locked out of the housing market.

The point is, not only do most people not have a cool mil, many millennials, despite being more educated (and paying more for that education) than any generation in history, don’t have high enough salaries or stable-enough employment to finance a down payment for one of Mr. Rennie’s prized condos, either. Those who do, increasingly find a 600-square-foot unit doesn’t make much sense when you’re at a point in your life where you need room — even if it’s just one extra room — for a family. Because that’s where millennials are at.  Although clearly our critics haven’t clued into the fact that we’re no longer children.

Take Rennie’s comments regarding #donthave1million founder Eveline Xia and her supporters. “We’re all paying attention to these girls, they’re holding up banners, and wanting affordability to be a party game,” he told the South China Morning Post. “And it’s a really serious issue.”

Girls? Xia is 29. I am 32. The oldest of our generation turn 35 this year, and, as anyone who’s walked down the streets in East Van’s more affordable (read: rental-oriented) neighbourhoods can attest, we’re in the middle of a baby boom. We are at an interesting point in history when traditional hallmarks of adulthood — higher education, career-track jobs, and homeownership — have been extended due to circumstances beyond our control. So I can see how from the outside it would appear as if we’re enjoying some kind of extended adolescence. But the reality is no party, and it’s certainly not a game.

Biology didn’t get the memo about the extra 10 years it now takes to get established, and so we’re having families while we’re still scrambling to put together the building blocks of basic adult life. You want a serious issue? Try figuring out how you’re going to balance pricey mortgages or market rents with potential childcare costs and increasingly precarious employment that doesn’t include parental leave. That’s my reality. That’s what has me eyeing a Plan B. But of course, that’s just fine with the critics who think those who can’t afford this city should just pack up and leave.

I just wonder how much they’ll enjoy the husk of a city that’s left behind; the one devoid of young families and inhabited by only the old and the rich. Sounds mind-numbingly boring to me.


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