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Housing stock must change with times

Rising cost of single-family homes could alter Okotoks' demographics.
real estate
The key to a single-family home, which makes up almost 80 per cent of Okotoks' stock, is becoming more difficult to acquire as prices rise.

Being a recent arrival in Okotoks, I can’t help but compare my new hometown to Ladner, the place I called home for more than two decades. They’re similar in size, both just south of major metropolitan centres and they share a small-town vibe. 

I would have added family-friendly to that list of similarities, but unfortunately that’s not the case any more for Ladner, not because the good folks there have become grumpy, but due to the fact that housing has become out of reach for all but the very well heeled. There’s no doubt that Ladner is a victim of Greater Vancouver’s never-slowing real estate market, but in hindsight, it didn’t do itself any favours by its unwillingness to change, which could serve as a cautionary tale for Okotoks. 

After the opening of the George Massey Tunnel, Ladner boomed in the 1960s and ’70s as young families flocked to town in search of their very own home, which were so affordable that developers pretty much only built single-family stock. The Agricultural Land Reserve soon drew hard boundaries around the residential areas and Ladner essentially stood still for many years, a quiet, safe community where you couldn’t find a building beyond four storeys. 

There wasn’t an issue until Vancouver's real estate madness began to creep into the suburbs, eventually pushing even the most modest of Ladner homes, ones that are now 50 or 60 years old, well north of the $1-million mark. The scarcity of other, less costly housing options means most young families simply can’t afford to buy there any longer. 

Ladner and Tsawwassen, a similar-sized community a few minutes south, have largely been resistant to any type of denser development over the years because they wanted to preserve the family character, but the irony of that approach is that they’ve now priced a great many families, including their own children in many instances, out of the area. 

I offer the B.C. history lesson because I can see a parallel developing in Okotoks, where house prices are on the significant uptick and single-family dwellings make up almost 80 per cent of the housing inventory. While still affordable when compared to Greater Vancouver or some other parts of the country, rising prices here are making home ownership less attainable, which has the potential to alter the demographics of the community. We might have already seen a glimpse into that with last year’s census which showed considerably more tweens and teens in town than younger children.  

The good news is that I’m seeing some multi-family development taking place in new neighbourhoods that should help diversify stock and provide more buying opportunities, but new is always more expensive than old, which can have a mitigating effect on those efforts. You can't do anything about the past, but given we’re already starting from a deficit, it’s even more important to embrace housing variety or the situation will only worsen, and quicker than you think. 

Okotoks’ family-friendly atmosphere and small-town sensibilities likely drew many people here, but it could prove difficult to maintain such a welcoming environment into the future if the housing market doesn’t cooperate. 



Edward Murphy

About the Author: Edward Murphy

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