The North Shore’s Lost Generation

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Many 20- and 30-somethings living on the North Shore have parents who bought a house in the early 1980s for around $150,000.

Lucky them.

Even taking inflation into consideration, this chump change likely isn’t enough to buy a rundown apartment suite now.

Today the average house in North Van is selling for $1 million more than ’80s bargain prices. In West Van it’s over $2 million more, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

The North Shore’s “Lost Generation” was examined by The Outlook in November 1999, the newspaper’s first-ever edition.

Then and now, skyrocketing housing prices have driven young people away from the community they grew up in, attended school, played soccer and got their first jobs.

But the situation is now even worse for first-time homeowners.

Prices have jumped 163 per cent in North Van and 239 per cent in West Van since the original article was written 14 years ago.

Sticker shock is an understatement.

The result: Rising prices make owning a home here unattainable for many young people who once fondly called the North Shore home.

Adiós North Shore

There is no way Melissa Ramkissoon and her young family would move back.

It’s simply too expensive.

They bought a four-bedroom townhouse in Calgary for just under $300,000 in 2010 and would be lucky to find a small one-bedroom suite for that price in North Vancouver.

“I’m putting up with minus 40-degree weather and awful winters to live here, and I still wouldn’t move back,” says Ramkissoon, an account manager and mother of two young girls who grew up near Lonsdale.

But if she and her husband, who works in marketing, could afford a place on the North Shore, they likely wouldn’t hesitate to come back.

The 29-year-old’s mom still lives in an apartment near Lonsdale Avenue, a one-bedroom that cost more than her attached-garage townhouse in Calgary.

“We’re raising our kids without family nearby because they’re in Vancouver and we can’t really afford to live there.”

Ramkissoon would like to raise her family in her hometown — she praises the “beautiful” mountains and ocean — but has settled on the 1,000-kilometre distance from loved ones.

When the original Lost Generation article was printed 14 years ago, detached houses cost an average of around $361,000 in North Van and around $550,000 in West Van. Today the number has soared to $950,000 and $1,878,900, respectively.

And, to make matters worse for young buyers, houses currently on the market are even more expensive: $1.1 million in North Van and $2.2 million in West Van.

Saying goodbye isn’t only a trend for parents wanting extra bedrooms and a yard for their kids to play in.

Raised in Norgate, Naomi Robertson bought a three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in Penticton with a roommate for $240,000 and wouldn’t consider moving back to the North Shore.

“I’d only be able to afford a tiny apartment, which is OK, but it’s not what I would want forever,” says the 29-year-old veterinary assistant.

“If I ever moved back I would have to live in Chilliwack or somewhere out there.”

Like many 20- and 30-somethings from the North Shore, she will likely never be able to afford what her parents had.

“My parents bought their house 25 years ago for $250,000, now just the land is worth $800,000. Ridiculous,” she laughs, realizing the irony.

Foreign investment

Overseas buying — a term not mentioned 14 years ago in The Outlook’s original story.

Typically from Mainland China, these investors are sometimes blamed for raising prices, but it’s difficult to tell, partly because new homeowners don’t have to register their nationality. And in B.C. there are no restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate.

“We’re not seeing as many offshore buyers as 2011 but probably 50 per cent [of sales] in West Van are Mainland Chinese buyers right now,” says Eric Christiansen, a leading real estate agent in West Vancouver.

These overseas buyers are usually looking for new houses priced $2 million to $5 million and love the British Properties, he added.

“A view is extremely important to them. If a house doesn’t have a view you really don’t even get any showings from Mainland Chinese customers.

“If it has a great view and it’s a newer house, it probably has a 70 per cent chance of selling to someone.”

Over in North Van, the percentage isn’t as high as 50 but foreign investors are still interested in new development.

Overseas buying began in the 1980s, when waves of Hong Kong residents travelled across the Pacific Ocean, fearing communist China’s rule. On the North Shore, the surge began in late-2010.

Based on his real estate experience, Christiansen says one-third of buyers are moving in with their families, one-third have their children live in the houses while attending school, while the remainder leave them empty as an investment.

It’s the last third that are often blamed for decreasing housing supply and upping prices.

Along with the West End and Shaughnessy, West Van is a go-to place for Mainland Chinese buyers.

In July agents jumped on packed busses for the Lower Mainland’s annual Luxury Home Tour to see properties listed at upwards of $9 million.

Steering clear of heritage houses and boomer-style bungalows, they headed for large lots, particularly new construction in the B.P.s.

“Anytime there is a new house being built in the British Properties… the houses are getting wok kitchens and [developers] are paying attention to things like feng shui,” says Christiansen.

West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith says there is little the municipality can do to alter overseas buying. Because it’s beyond the scope of local council, he says he hasn’t heard much about the trend from residents.

“We don’t have control and nor should we, in my mind, have control over a person’s private property, who they sell it to, as long as the purchaser complies with the laws and bylaws of the district,” Smith adds.

Good ol’ days

Back in November 1999, Bruce McWilliam, a then 35-year-old father of two, spoke with The Outlook about moving to Maple Ridge to escape rising housing prices on the North Shore.

A full-time planner for the Municipality of Pitt Meadows, McWilliam and his former wife weren’t willing to increase their mortgage to move back to North Van, the community he grew up in.

“My parents paid $76,000 for their house when they bought it in 1978,” he told an Outlook reporter at the time. “They sold it for $259,000 in 1988 and bought another house down the street for the same price.

“Now you can’t touch a bull-dozed shack for $220,000.”

In today’s market, the average apartment in North Van is $350,000 — that’s only $10,000 less than a detached house was 14 years ago. (In West Van the average apartment is nearly double at $610,100.)

Prices 14 years ago — when McWilliam first chatted with The Outlook — definitely are low by today’s standards.

The article’s headline “Lost generation: Will any North Shore kids grow up to live in their community?” now seems ironic with the average house in North Van nearing $1 million and inching towards $2 million in West Van.

McWilliam currently lives in the Tri-Cities and works in land planning. He no longer has family living on the North Shore — his mother moved to White Rock and most of his friends have left.

“You get way more for your money in the Tri-Cities. You can move from a townhouse on the North Shore into a house for virtually the same amount of money,” he says, catching up with The Outlook.

He recommends young people save money while renting basement or apartment suites if they want to stay put on the North Shore. If it’s a house they’re after and can’t afford the hefty downpayment, he says the Tri-Cities are a great place to raise a family.

“These rental options weren’t there 15 years ago. In the late ’90s, there were only a handful of Lower Mainland municipalities that actually had legalization of secondary suites.”

It’s an option he might have considered for his family.

Senior central

How to keep young people on the North Shore?

The topic comes up routinely at all three municipalities’ council meetings.

West Vancouver is trying to protect its aging rental stock and may approve coach houses, an alternative form of housing proponents say would allow children to live in their parents’ backyards.

New development projects in North Van, such as Onni’s two highrises slated for 13th Street and Lonsdale Avenue and Seylynn Village’s three towers under construction in Lower Lynn, have advocates excited more apartments are available for young single people and new families starting out in the high-priced real-estate market. But despite these recent attempts to hold onto diversity on the North Shore, the average age has steadily increased.

Fourteen years ago, in The Outlook’s first article, the average age in the District of North Vancouver was 37. Today it’s 43, according to Statistics Canada. In the City of North Van residents were 38 years old on average; today they are 41. And in West Van, the typical person is 50 years old, five years older than before.

Schools have shut down as a result of the North Shore’s aging population. Balmoral, the last junior high school in North Van, transitioned to an adult education and alternative learning centre last year. Plymouth and Ridgeway Annex elementary schools are also among those to recently shut their doors due to declining enrolment.

Susan Haid, the District of North Vancouver’s manager of sustainable community development, said bringing back the “lost generation” is central to the new official community plan.

“The 20- to 38-year-old age group in the district, compared to many municipalities, is relatively low,” she told The Outlook. “The biggest way we’re working to attract that missing generation back is by encouraging and facilitating a much wider range of housing.”

The district’s four new village centres — Lower Capilano-Marine, Lynn Valley, Lower Lynn and Maplewood Village — are expected to see 75 to 90 per cent of new population growth in the next 25 years.

“We want ensure that we always have a diverse population representing all age groups, and we do. But in recent years, comparatively, our 20- to 38-year-old cohort is a bit lower than many municipalities.

“They’re a part of a healthy and sustainable community.”