by Aimee Schalles
A recent study by UBC researchers David Ley and Nicholas Lynch, “Divisions and Disparities: Social-Spatial Income Polarization in Greater Vancouver, 1970-2005”, highlights Vancouver’s growing income inequality. The study compared 35 years of census data from 1970 to 2005. Researchers noted that during that time the social geography of Vancouver was radically transformed.
Vancouver’s increasing income disparity takes two forms. The first is a growing inequality between rich and poor; the gap between the incomes of rich and poor is increasing. The second is a growing polarization of income; there are now more high income and poor neighbourhoods, and middle class neighbourhoods are now virtually non-existent within Vancouver proper.
Wealthy areas of the city have grown larger through accretion at their borders, and the rich living in those areas have seen their wealth deepen. At the other end of the spectrum, the number of low income neighbourhoods has increased and their income has been stagnant or declining. The most disturbing finding of the study is that this change has been happening along racial lines: the poor and declining neighbourhoods are disproportionately comprised of visible minorities and immigrants.
So what does increasing income inequality mean for housing affordability?
While the study’s authors make no conclusions about housing affordability, the census data presented indicates that “unaffordability” is rising equally across all income levels. This implicitly indicates that housing affordability has decreased somewhat and has affected all socioeconomic groups equally.
But is this actually the case in Vancouver?
It is arguable that the census data presented fails to document income inequality’s effect on housing affordability for the poor, and that Ley and Lynch’s research on income polarization should give rise to concern about the polarization of housing affordability.