Unlivable Vancouver

Just in time for the winter Olympics, The Economist has rated Vancouver as the world’s most livable city. The Economist rates cities (presumably metropolitan areas or urban areas) “over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.” There is no doubt that Vancouver is in a setting that is among the most attractive in the world. It is also clear that the quality of life is good in Vancouver.

Vancouver won another honor in the last month, that of most unaffordable housing market in the six nations surveyed by the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand). In Vancouver, housing costs 9.3 times annual gross household incomes and is rated severely unaffordable. This measure, the Median Multiple, would be 3.0 or less in a properly functioning urban market. The second most expensive major “city” in Canada was Toronto, far behind Vancouver, but still severely unaffordable at a Median Multiple of 5.2.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh, the ranked highest city in the United States (yes, higher than Portland, Seattle or San Diego) shows that affordability and livability are not incompatible. Pittsburgh has a Median Multiple of 2.6.

Vancouver’s high ranking, however, makes it clear that the cost of housing (and by extension, the cost of living), has little to do with The Economist ratings. As Owen McShane wrote here to commemorate the last release of The Economist ratings, the cities are ranked based upon their attractiveness to expatriate executives. These are not ordinary Canadians. At historic credit underwriting standards, 85% of Canadians households could not qualify for a mortgage on the median priced house in Vancouver.

Vancouver is doubtless among the most livable cities in the world for those for whom money is no object. But for ordinary Canadians, affordability is a prerequisite to livability. This makes Vancouver Canada’s least livable city.