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Has the number of single-family houses in Vancouver shrunk by 20,000? Or not at all?

September 29th, 2015 · 10 Comments

I called the city recently to try to figure out why there are such different numbers circulating as to the number of single-family houses in Vancouver? Some people (Bob Rennie, reporters) are saying 47,000, down from 67,000 some number of years before. Others (general manager of planning Brian Jackson, other reporters) say 75,000.

My question went off to the city’s wizardy stats-crunchers, who know all things StatsCan and more, and it came back with this response:

There are two sources of data, (census and BC Assessment Authority) and they use different definitions, so it’s not straightforward. (But when was it ever?)

To answer a query earlier in the week we looked at single family, and single family with a suite from the BC Assessment data. They identify all the structures in the city, and categorize them by type. We didn’t include any with two suites, as those might or might not look like a house (in theory, they’re not usually legal unless they’re often a big house cut up into strata apartments).

There were 75,510 structures in 1996, and 75,780 in 2015 – hence our statement of 75,000 no real change over 20 years. In 1996, BCAA thought 56,700 were single family, and 18,800 were with a suite. (They probably undercounted the suites in those days, as there were still many unauthorised that they don’t know about). That means in 1996 there were 94,300 dwellings in 75,500 buildings. In 2015, there were 43,100 single family, and 32,700 had a suite. So that’s 108,500 dwellings in total. That’s total stock – some will be empty, awaiting redevelopment (on Cambie) etc.

The 47,000 single family number is what Bob Rennie quotes: it’s a 2011 census number. It’s technically correct, although it undercounts a bit, as it’s the number of occupied single family dwellings. There were around 47,500, and there were also 2,000 more considered as unoccupied in the census (although 230 were occupied by temporary/foreign workers, so while they don’t count as occupied – somebody was living there).

That means there were 49,500 single family buildings in 2011, according to the census. Comparing the 2011 census to the 2015 BCAA, it looks like the census people might have missed a few thousand suites, although they’re doing much better than they used to. On top of that the 2011 census says there are about 25,000 houses with suites or duplexes (so 50,000 dwellings) – confusingly they label them all as ‘duplex’, and they don’t differentiate between up and down and back/front. Fortunately BCAA do separate types out, and so that’s what we counted (see above).

Bearing in mind the four years between the two data sets, and how many more houses are now built with a suite when they’re rebuilt, the two data sets are pretty close. 100,000 dwellings in 75,000 buildings, Census 2011, and 108,000 in 75,800 BCAA 2015. 49,000 without a suite in 2011 (and probably a bit less as they missed some) and about 43,000 in 2015.


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