The West Vancouver Community Foundation’s latest report on all things regarding the municipality is a tale of two realities – the overwhelming love for West Van as it is now, and the community’s deep concern for the future.
Vital Signs, a 21-page report which grades the community’s foundations (such as housing, quality of life and transport) through a survey “check-up,” was collated through 2021/22, and garnered responses from almost 560 people.
Looking at the report like a “council report card,” West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth said the report validates her own feelings and what she hears from community members about West Van.
“I hear words like ‘paradise,’ and [I hear] ‘Oh my gosh, we live in the best place on earth. And we're so grateful to live here!’ We're seeing quality of life get an ‘A’ and seeing safety, and health and wellness, and sense of belonging getting ‘As’ as well,” she said.
When it came to raising a family, 83 per cent of respondents agreed it was a good place, while about 80 per cent agreed it was a good place to retire.
However, the report gave the municipality a scathing assessment on housing – it received an ‘F’ for having housing choices which meet the needs of different types of residents and housing situations.
“Housing continues to be a crisis issue and impacts many of the other elements of a livable community,” the report said.
This kind of assessment isn’t new to the district though, as in 2017 the report showed one-third of residents said they planned to move from their current home within five years, with more than half of those surveyed said they were pessimistic they would be able to find the right housing in West Vancouver.
“But what stands out, and this also is validating for me, is the ‘F’ on housing,” Booth said. “And that's not surprising, because we have not met our targets during the period of this report, or even before that. We’re already coming from a housing diversity and affordability deficit and since council set its targets … we have only met about half of those numbers.”
The community responded to questions regarding housing with a resounding call for more – more choices for seniors who wish to stay in the community, more affordable options for young families and young adults, and more options for those who work in the community.
Booth said the results are reflected in the fact that many have chosen to leave the community, moving up the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Squamish and Whistler.
“Squamish, our neighbour, is noted in here as growing 21 per cent. And so municipalities around us, including the islands, are growing significantly because of housing, affordability, and lack of diversity,” she said. “[West Vancouver] is close to 60 per cent single family homes, so we're the worst on the North Shore for diversity of housing.”
However, the report also noted that 62 per cent of respondents think the community will be “worse” 10 years from now, citing increased density, crowding, traffic congestion and unaffordability, amongst other reasons.
“That really gave me pause for thought. Because that's obviously really disappointing commentary. The most important thing you want is for people to have hope for the future,” Booth said, adding that density is “creating homes for people.”
Booth noted that the report captures a diversity of opinion, as it represents the community.
“There are people that are comfortably housed that say, ‘Well, what's in it for me to have more people, more cars, more construction?’ And all those things can be disruptive for people and their quality of life, which they gave an ‘A’ to.
“However, people value safety, they value vibrancy, they value inclusiveness, and I know that [because] there's not the right housing here, and it's not affordable, it is affecting a lot of the things people value,” she said.
Mark Sager, a former West Van mayor and current challenger to Booth’s seat in October’s upcoming election, said the report was consistent with his expectations and that West Van is a “fabulous place to live.”
“When you look at it and you compare it to other places on the planet, there’s really nowhere better to be really,” he said.
But Sager said that while the central issues in the community are known widely, it’s a matter of how they’re dealt with effectively moving forward.
“The areas that need work are areas that have always needed work, frankly, and always will,” he said. “There are no quick fixes. By our geographical situation, some things are always going to be challenging, [including] traffic in and out of the community.”
The fact that so many respondents thought the community would be worse off in 10 years time “was a little bit negative,” Sager said.
“I don't share that sentiment. … We're always gonna be an expensive place to live, [but] the west side of Vancouver, it's way more expensive than West Vancouver.”
Sager noted that he has a family member who recently moved from Vancouver to West Vancouver with their young family, and another friend who used to live in Lower Lonsdale, but recently moved back to West Vancouver because of the price per square foot.
“I've also seen people returning to West Vancouver who maybe for business or whatever else moved away, and are now moving back with young families. And that's reflected by the school-age population in West Vancouver – it's considerably higher today than it was in the '80s. … So then all of that's pretty healthy,” he said.
Sager said the competing ideas of density vs. housing have been circulating in the community since he can remember, but West Vancouver isn’t Calgary.
“We just have to understand that we can't house everybody, there simply isn't enough space," he said. "If you're in Calgary, they just keep building subdivisions. We’ve got oceans and mountains, so that's not going to happen. ... A lot of the reason people want to live in West Vancouver is because they like the neighborhoods the way they are. So it's pretty natural that people are going to say, ‘Hey, I moved here because I love it this way.’ That is the fine balancing act that the community’s council has to balance.”
Included in the report were several suggestions the community made to make West Van “an even better place to live.” For youth, these included integrated and emergency mental health support services, subsidized rapid transit through West Van, and more things for young adults to do, such as the infrastructure available in Lower Lonsdale.
Charlie Carey is the North Shore News' Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.