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The End of the $1 million Line for Single Family Homes in the City of Vancouver

Andrew Yan January 27, 2016
Urban Research


In 2016, the $1 million line for single family homes has effectively disappeared in the City of Vancouver. From the 2016 Assessment, 91% of all single family properties in the city have total assessment over $1 million compared to 65% in 2015.


Total Assessment refers to the total value of land and “improvement” which is typically the building(s) on the land. Given the data latency between assessment day as of July 1, 2015 to data release to current market conditions, there is a likelihood that this percentage has increased. This jump in the number of homes assessed at over $1 million is not unexpected given advance media comments on the 2016 assessment results by BC Assessment.

Over the last 5 years, BTAworks has charted and mapped the total value changes in single family (SF) properties of over and under $1 million dollars in the City of Vancouver at a citywide level. More recently, we’ve obtained the capacity to look at values on a regional wide level whose analysis is forthcoming. A reminder to readers why $1 million threshold was chosen is both the cultural significance and touchstone of $1 million in Canadian culture as significated here and also the price threshold that some realtors such as Sotheby’s International define as “luxury real estate”.

This particular analysis is not directly comparable to previous analysis done in this blog. The first is the changing of map colours where red is now the colour for homes assessed at over $1 million and blue is the colour for homes under $1 million for the goal of increased legibility. One large factor in this analysis and other forthcoming analysis from BTAworks on Single Family Housing in the City of Vancouver is the refinement of the base number of properties in the study. Using data from the City of Vancouver, BC Assessment, and the Integrated Cadastral Information Society, this analysis was able to refine its calculations to a level of detail that was previously unavailable in previous studies and is focused on actual single family homes and excluded non-single family properties such as condos/stratas, rights of ways, and public facilities that are located in with Single Family Home districts in the City of Vancouver. These datasets were in part furnished through an academic research partnership with the University of British Columbia. By cross checking these elements parcel by parcel, this analysis was able to obtain a level of data refinement for using single family homes that were previously unavailable. Please note that portions of neighborhoods like Shaughnessy, Point Grey, and Kitsilano were excluded in the study as they were not RS zoned, but RM (Multiple Family) zoned or occupy a special historic zoning in the case of parts of Shaughnessy. In coming analyses and maps, the history of the $1 million line will be charted through the recent past. However, for SF parcel where a history could not be established, the parcel was removed from this analysis.

There are a number of demand and supply reasons for the progression of the $1 million line in Vancouver. Some supply side reasons include the decades-long redefinition and allowance of single family homes by the City from one unit to two and three units and the constrained stock of single family homes in the City of Vancouver and lack of adequate and affordable housing types for families with children in the general. It is important to note that many properties in the west/southwest corner of the city have tended to be larger than other single family parcels in other parts of the City. On the demand side, the low cost of borrowing over the last decade, the effect of global capital entering the residential market of the City of Vancouver and Metro Vancouver, a growing City population, speculative purchase behavior, a cultural and financial predisposition/obsession to home ownership versus renting and generational wealth transfer have all shaped the values of residential property. It is a combination and compounding alignment of these factors and others that have likely produced the value assessment escalation patterns in the City of Vancouver. Beyond the truths behind the growth of Single Family Home values in the City of Vancouver, the economic, social, and cultural consequences in this environment of housing unaffordability has implications for the years and decades to come.

In a City where 51% of its residents are renters, there is fair question to ask if this $1 million mark even is relevant in terms of housing and planning policy. It matters as 57% of the City’s land mass is zoned for “one family dwellings” followed by 7% of the land mass zoned for “two family dwellings”. In sum, 64% of the total land mass of the City of Vancouver is made up of single family homes. Whether for ownership or rental, these land prices will enviably affect what can be built and who can be housed in these areas. Moreover, these are neighborhoods that have a significant pre-existing infrastructure for families with children and were planned and developed specifically with children and families in mind.

As the City attempts to densify, this is an economic and cultural reality that planners, designers, architects, and policy makers must engage thoughtfully and with rigor. Indeed, like many other cities, the political and planning culture of the City needs to evolve from the politics of development to a politics of redevelopment which, some writers emphasize, is only successful in an environment and culture of compromise and coalitions. The conversations for the local, provincial, and federal levels will not only be what can be built in the City of Vancouver, but also need to look at who can or ought to be housed in the City of Vancouver.

Now what?

This map publication occurs just as the Museum of Vancouver is hosting “Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver”. Bing Thom Architects and the Simon Fraser University’s City Program are organizations sponsoring the exhibition’s data curation which features nearly two dozen submissions on the themes of housing affordability, residential density, public space, and transportation from the city’s architectural, design, and planning communities. Over the next few months, the public programming will look at these topics in depth and the erasure of the City of Vancouver’s $1 million line for Single Family Homes will likely be one of the specters haunting the debate and discourse.

Here’s the $2 million line for a reference and perhaps next frontier.


Plus the 2016 Total Assessment Value map in $1 million increments.



As always, the data used in this analysis was available at the City of Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue. The Catalogue should be lauded by everyone in the data community in the City for providing incredibly rich and robust tabular and spatial datasets from which analysts, scholars, and advocates can draw upon. Throughout its short history, the Catalogue has been tremendously useful in facilitating the availability of assessment data and spatial parcel data for this analysis.

Through the usage of Geographic Information Science and statistical software, the accompanying visualizations were created, but not with a significant amount of data munging. It is worth stating again that previous studies are not directly comparable to this current $1 million line study. The final analytical data used here removed left and right assessment value outliers as well as non-single family parcels such as condos, right of ways, and industrial lands that were inadvertently captured in the initial GIS data capture.