SFU professor and director of the City Program Andy Yan was recently honoured by the Planning Institute of British Columbia (PIBC) for a decade of work on housing affordability and urbanization in Vancouver.

A leading expert on the province’s housing affordability crisis, Yan has helped shape the public policy response. He received the award in the Leadership in Advocacy and Innovation category last month.

“It is a great honour to be recognized by my professional organization [for] the work that I’ve been doing for almost a decade,” said Yan, whose research has focused on many aspects of city life, including Vancouver’s housing market, residential real estate, population, and transportation.

Through his research, Yan has also concentrated on elements of globalization, ownership patterns, and Metro Vancouver’s overall economic state. As a result of studying these factors over a ten-year time frame, Yan was able to identify the role these factors played in Vancouver’s current housing crisis.  

“The biggest finding of [my research] has been the ongoing decoupling of local incomes to local residential real estate,” said Yan.

There has been a rising disparity between local income and the rate at which the local real estate prices have increased. Since this gap affects both renters and homeowners, it has become a big challenge in terms of affordable housing, Yan explained.

With the crisis still going strong, this makes housing a difficult issue for many demographics. “Increasingly what we see is even further pressure for both renters and owners to live in metropolitan Vancouver, and I think that provides a profound challenge whether you are a young person, a worker, or a senior,” Yan noted.

According to Yan, policy increasingly needs to account for the types of demands that exist for housing. This includes recent initiatives such as regulating short-term rentals such as those advertised on the website Airbnb, taxing empty houses, and looking at the size of the land designated for housing.

However, policy has been slow to respond to the problems in the demand market.

“I think that fundamentally . . . there has been a lot of reluctance to deal with the demand side,” explained Yan. “It provides a major challenge to actually make public policy that produces a level of housing on a scale that can make a difference.”

Importantly, planners need to look at for whom the residences are being built, which is a “major element towards shaping housing policies,” he added.

Yan recommended that there are certain types of demand, such as buying a home that you don’t plan to live in, that should be discouraged.

However, the housing demands from aging members of the community and young people are not yet being met. Yan believes that these residents are some of the most affected by the current housing crisis and it is pivotal to ensure that they have access to housing.

“Should we want a thriving, sustainable economy, those are key demographics,” Yan explained.

Yan emphasised that citizens often are not aware of the role that they can play in shaping the development of their own communities. He encourages people to get involved through elections and by attending hearings to have their say in mitigating the current housing crisis.