I have found a new authority on political and economic challenges.
Let me introduce you.
Let me say, though, that my dialogue with my new, resourceful friend is different than most I conduct.
Answers are clear and grounded in evidence, even when they are most vexing. There is also an absence of judgment in the back-and-forth, particularly when you ask about someone instead of something. When a question is inappropriate, my new friend reasonably rejects it – even admits a lack of knowledge when the question is too challenging to respond.
For more than two decades, I’ve gone online for answers from search engines. I suspect my new friend is giving the good Dr. Google quite the shivers.
Meet ChatGPT. I’ll just refer to my new friend as Chat, the younger sibling of InstructGPT who, with a small army of human trainers coupled with artificial intelligence, has developed an extraordinary wealth of expertise into practically any inquiry.
Chat’s accessible and free for the asking, at least for the time being, at chat.openai.com. I suspect that over time this free-to-be-questioned approach won’t be the business model, but for now it’s a breathtaking experience of straight talk.
I sat with Chat the other day and posed a few questions about Vancouver and housing. Let me provide an edited transcript, because Chat has a way of going on.
I started our encounter by asking for an explanation of Vancouver’s housing problems. I got some pretty good insights on the bigger picture and clear answers from a respondent who has never lived or visited here.
“Vancouver, like many major cities around the world, has experienced significant housing affordability issues in recent years,” Chat told me. The strong economy and attractiveness of the city has outweighed the supply of housing. “The city has one of the highest median home prices in Canada, and many people are unable to afford to buy a home or even rent an apartment at market rates.”
No matter the effort to address this – incentives for builders and renters and more affordable units – “the housing affordability crisis in Vancouver remains a significant challenge.”
Why is there such a problem, I wondered?
“There are several factors that have contributed to the high cost of housing in Vancouver,” started the reply. “One factor is the strong demand for housing in the city. Vancouver is a desirable place to live, with a high quality of life, a strong economy and proximity to nature. This attracts a lot of people to the city, which can drive up housing prices.”
Chat went on: “Another factor is the limited supply of housing. Vancouver is geographically constrained, with a limited amount of land available for development. This means that there is not enough housing to meet the demand, which can lead to higher prices.”
Fair enough. Not everyone is aboard that supply-as-remedy theme, but Chat elaborated and echoed another important wrinkle in the discourse: “In addition, there are a number of other factors that can affect the affordability of housing in Vancouver, including high property taxes, development fees and construction costs. These factors can make it more expensive for developers to build new housing, which can contribute to the high cost of housing in the city.”
Finally: “Overall, the high cost of housing in Vancouver is due to a combination of strong demand, limited supply and other factors that contribute to the cost of housing.”
But Chat, I asked, how can Vancouver’s issues of affordability be addressed? Out poured quite the prescription.
“There are several strategies that can be used to address the issue of affordability in Vancouver.” Chat listed five:
• Increasingly housing supply “with more density in some neighbourhoods, creating new neighbourhoods or developing underutilized land, reducing barriers to development”
• Reducing barriers to development, which “could include streamlining the planning and approval process, reducing development fees and regulations and providing incentives for developers to build affordable housing.”
• Increasing affordable housing options for lower-income individuals and families, perhaps by “building new affordable housing units or providing financial assistance to help people afford to rent or buy homes.”
• Controlling rent “to limit the amount that landlords can increase rent.”
• Increasing subsidies by “providing financial assistance to low-income individuals and families (that) can help them afford to rent or buy homes. This could include programs like housing vouchers or tax credits.”
Most troubling, though, is the continued presence of homelessness. I asked Chat for an explanation. Again, I heard an earful of possible reasons: A lack of affordable housing, economic challenges, personal challenges, lack of social support and limited availability of housing assistance.
“Addressing homelessness in Vancouver will likely require a multifaceted approach that addresses the root causes of homelessness and provides support and resources to those in need,” I was told.
I sense it will be several generations of ChatGPT’s descendants before there are solutions and not just artificially produced observations. But it’s good to get some straightforward thinking in the meantime.
For a detour from the difficult housing talk, I asked what is preventing the Vancouver Canucks from winning the Stanley Cup. On this, Chat was polite: “It is difficult to pinpoint a single factor that has prevented the Vancouver Canucks from winning the Stanley Cup.” Chat elaborated on the variables, like “the team’s overall talent and depth, the performance of individual players, injuries, coaching and luck.”
Any predictions? I sensed that Chat sighed in delivering the answer: “It is possible that the Canucks will continue to strive for the Stanley Cup and eventually achieve success, but it is impossible to predict the future with certainty.”
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.