Thanks, Vancouver! Finally bought a family home. Now can we afford the family?

My husband and I both have good jobs. I'm a paralegal and he's a plumber. Our household income is higher than average, we don't have any debt, we budget our money and live within our means. Why then, has it been so hard for us to establish ourselves and start a family?

When I was a child, I always thought I’d be married with children by the time I was 30. I had heard my parent’s story countless times growing up. They were able to buy their first place, a single detached family home in Delta, at the age of 20. And by budgeting and sacrificing, they were able to completely pay it off within eight years.

When I was growing up, my dad had a good job working as a mechanic for a refrigeration company. My mom worked as a senior employee for a bank while my brother and I were younger, but she eventually decided to take care of us full time. Even on just one income, my parents were able to live a higher standard of life than my husband and I have been able to.  

Our First Home Together

By the time I was ready to buy my first place, all that was within reach was a condo. So in 2010 my husband and I bought a condo in Surrey, after saving a meagre down payment of just five per cent (anything more would take impossibly long to save for). We were both in our mid 20s, and — certainly by today’s standards — very young first-time home buyers.

These figures come from our Code Red: Rethinking Canadian Housing Policy report, based on average full-time earnings for 25-34 yr olds and average home prices (all housing types), adjusted for inflation.

The plan was always to get married and move into a family home (townhouse/single family house) when we wanted to start a family. My husband and I were married in 2013 and started to think about starting a family in 2015. However, at that time, we were told our condo hadn’t appreciated and we didn’t have very much, if any, equity. Without that equity, we didn’t have a down payment for our next place.    

But by August 2016 our condo had finally appreciated enough to be able to sell it and pull some money out. With the market having increased by about 30 per cent in less than a year, single detached houses were now completely out of reach, so we focused our efforts on purchasing a three-bedroom townhouse where we could raise our future children.


Moving Back In With Mom and Dad

At the time, the market was in a state no one had ever seen before. We quickly realized that selling our condo was the easy part. We’d go to open houses to be told the property had just sold. We made offers on three properties during this time, always running up against the turbulence of the market. The owners of one property ended up refusing all offers because they were nervous they wouldn’t be able to buy another property once they sold (we even offered $25,000 more than asking price on that one).

We had a substantial down payment, good incomes and great credit, and yet we were about to be homeless because we couldn’t close on a place. Luckily, my parents still own the house I grew up in and we were able to move in with them. At 31, not only did I not have the children I thought I would have, but I was back living in my parent’s unfinished basement with my husband and dog.  

During the time we lived with my parents, the market did start to stabilize. My husband and I were lucky enough to finally purchase a townhouse, but we had to spend more money than we both wanted to. After adjusting for inflation, our townhouse cost two and a half times as much as my parents first house in 1979. Our place is even a few hundred square feet smaller. 

These figures come from our Code Red: Rethinking Canadian Housing Policy report, numbers adjusted for inflation.

Although we love our new neighbourhood in Clayton, Surrey, it's a long way for me to commute to and from my job in downtown Vancouver. All told it takes between 2 and 2.5 hours round trip each day depending on traffic, which amounts to the cost of an entire extra mortgage. 

These figures come from our Code Red: Rethinking Canadian Housing Policy report.

Can We Even Afford to Start a Family Anymore?

You could choke on the irony: we've finally been able to purchase a family home, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford a family anymore.

My salary will be significantly reduced while I’m on maternity leave. I’ll receive the maximum allowance for maternity benefits, but that works out to be significantly less than half my regular salary once you factor in taxes. In addition to our increased mortgage, the costs associated with commuting and securing adequate child care when I return to work will be extremely difficult for us to bear. Our commute is already the equivalent of a second mortgage. Childcare costs would actually amount to a third mortgage in extra costs. 

I joined Generation Squeeze because I'm worried about the future of this province. It’s quickly becoming a luxury to secure adequate housing and start a family in this city. I was instantly impressed with the research Generation Squeeze has done to shed light on the various issues that are holding back my generation and want to see this movement grow.

I've contacted the Ministry of Housing to discuss this issue on a number of occasions. After three months of waiting and many follow up telephone calls and emails, I eventually got a response. Although they said the current government considers “increased affordable housing options for all British Columbians a priority”, I was told that the Ministry of Housing is only responsible for developing, managing and administering subsidized housing for low income individuals, seniors and families.

They told me the Ministry of Finance provides a number of programs to make purchasing and owning a home in the market more affordable. I was given a summary of the various programs the government has introduced to try reducing both property transfer tax and property taxes as well as to create new housing supply. This response was provided before the new foreign buyer tax was announced in July 2016.

The current housing crisis pertains to both renting and owning property. In my opinion, none of the measures introduced to date, including the new foreign buyer tax, are assisting enough with making “increased affordable housing options for all British Columbians a priority”. My impression is the government isn’t doing enough to adequately address this issue.

This needs to change, and that's only going to happen if we work together. 

Please, start out by signing the Generation Squeeze Homes First petition: http://www.gensqueeze.ca/homes_first_petition

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  • commented 2017-01-31 16:52:23 -0800
    Reading this was like reading my wife’s and my story.
    Thanks for sharing. It’s comforting knowing we aren’t alone all be in Ontario. We are moving in without in-laws in April.

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Thanks, Vancouver! Finally bought a family home. Now can we afford the family?
Thanks, Vancouver! Finally bought a family home. Now can we afford the family?
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