This First Person article is the experience of Becky Sarafinchan who lives in Calgary. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
The crush of glass and metal silenced us mid-phrase, the kids and I on that early spring day. I saw their frozen expressions as I wondered if I had really heard or felt that sound. We ran outside.
Across our busy street, a SUV straddled the yellow line. Its grill faced the crumpled remains of our neighbour’s two parked cars. Two cars, swiped by one driver. My neighbours stared in shock at the sad mix of wreckage, nose to bumper.
But this is a feel-good story. It’s not about race track streets or distracted drivers. It’s about neighbours. It’s about me discovering that I care what happens to the people across the street, even when their lives merge little with mine. It’s about the unexpected cheer that brings.
For most of my 16 years on Coventry Hills Way, in the suburbs of north central Calgary, the greatest common bond I shared with my neighbours was geographical. The random act of real estate mixed me up with folks I only knew in smiles and waves outside our garage doors. My life was filled with kids and work; I rarely thought of those who lived around me.
Until the pandemic, that is. Until human interaction became a source of anxiety worldwide and we were told to run for cover. In those long and bizarre periods of isolation when I couldn’t see friends and family, I could still see my neighbours walking by every evening. We could share a weary smile and sometimes — from a distance — we talked.
On the afternoon of the accident, I noticed Jennifer standing with the stunned car owners on the other side of the street. She was talking and pointing; the first to offer assistance. Although I’ve only ever spoken with Jennifer a few times, I knew she was open and kindhearted. It relieved me when I saw her talking with the neighbours. It felt like they were in good hands.
Someone called the police and a few people left to check their home security cameras for footage. Another neighbour motioned for the driver of the SUV to move to the sidewalk; he was still standing in the street.
A group of teens, armed with the vehicle description, headed off to find an eyewitness who had left the scene. The adults compared stories of what each had seen and felt.
Across the road, a young man dragged the bumper of his car onto his lawn. He crossed the street to a group of us, onlookers, huddled in a semicircle. He was debating if he should accept the offer: should he just settle with the driver of the SUV?
The group reacted at once: No! You can get help. It will be OK.
We lingered on the sidewalk and a conversation expanded beyond the crash. We began to talk about hockey and school; about work and the vacations we hoped to take. Normal stuff, but I had never stood and talked, never opened up about anything with my neighbours before. It felt new.
Soon the teenagers returned from their search for an eyewitness. “We found the guy who left the scene!” they grinned, triumphant. They had checked his vehicle. “We even felt the tailpipe on his truck and it’s still warm!” To their delight, the police wanted to know.
I watched those tall boys talk, eager to share and flush with their success.
Standing in this group of people, suddenly feeling that they were my people, I felt lighter. It took me by surprise. I’d never thought of them as my people before. In the past, I was aloof and comfortable — a wave and smile would suffice for neighbourliness.
In truth, we don’t share interests; we don’t share the same ethnic backgrounds or weekend habits. We weren’t all on the same page about COVID-19 – some of us were supportive and others against mask and vaccine mandates.
Maybe that’s what makes the huddled conversation on the day of the accident so special. It doesn’t matter if we’d naturally be friends had we not physically lived beside each other. It doesn’t matter that we have different views and beliefs. We are neighbours. That counts for something.
In the months since the accident I’ve thought a lot about what changed for me that day. It’s like the pieces fit together and I was able to discover a gift I’d never seen before.
We visit more now. We share gardening tips and someone suggested a block party. There’s even – imagine! – an inside joke or two we share. Community is growing where once I saw a street of strangers. I don’t ever want to lose sight of that gift.
CBC Calgary is running a series of in-person writing workshops across the city to support community members telling their own stories.
Read more from the workshop hosted by the Northern Hills Community Association:
To find out more about our writing workshops or to propose a community organization to help host, email CBC producer Elise Stolte.
OTTAWA — Buying a home has become more unaffordable for Canadians even as housing prices fall, according to new reports from the parliamentary budget officer and RBC.
The PBO’s house price assessment, published on Thursday, says the cost of the average house is 67 per cent higher than what the average household can afford — and RBC’s own report says the median household would need to spend 60 per cent of its income on ownership costs.
That’s despite a seven per cent decline in housing prices from February to August this year.
According to the budget officer, the average national home price in February was more than 50 per cent higher than it was two years before.
The national average price of a home reached a peak of $839,600 in February 2022, up 52 per cent from $551,100 in February 2020.
Since then, prices have declined by seven per cent, down to $777,200 in August.
But with interest rates on the rise, buying a home remains highly unaffordable for the average household, the assessment says.
Using a methodology developed by the International Monetary Fund that examines household borrowing capacity and the ability to purchase a home in select Canadian cities, the PBO says a house considered affordable for an average household in August would cost $464,952.
The national average home price was 67 per cent higher.
The gap has gotten larger since December 2021, when the national average house price was about 45 per cent more expensive than what an average household could afford, according to the budget officer.
The RBC report, also published Thursday, says buying a home has never been this unaffordable, per its own affordability measures.
RBC says the median Canadian household would need to spend 60 per cent of its income to cover ownership costs. For those who live in Toronto and Vancouver, the figure balloons to 83 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively.
Both RBC and budget officer Yves Giroux attribute the worsening of the situation to higher mortgage costs, as the Bank of Canada aggressively raises interest rates to cool high inflation.
Since March, the central bank has hiked its key interest rate by three percentage points. Its key rate currently sits at 3.25 per cent and another interest rate hike is expected in October.
The rate hikes are feeding into higher borrowing costs for those seeking a mortgage and, in turn, a slowdown in the housing market.
“The Bank of Canada’s rate hiking campaign since March has added hundreds of dollars to mortgage payments that come with a home purchase,” the RBC report says.
RBC expects affordability issues to peak by the end of the year. As house prices continue to fall and interest rates eventually stabilize, the bank expects affordability to improve.
“The good news is the widespread market downturn is setting the stage for some affordability improvement down the road,” the report says.
Based on scenarios the PBO constructed to gauge where housing prices are headed, prices could decline by 12 to 23 per cent by the end of the year from the peak reached in the winter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.
Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press
Canada’s national housing agency plans to revamp its forecasts to call for a drop of as much as 15 per cent in home prices, as higher mortgage rates threaten to cause a protracted slump in real estate.
Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. said in July that national housing prices could slide 5 per cent by mid-2023, compared with levels earlier this year. It’s now revising those projections to allow for a 10 per cent to 15 per cent decline, Chief Executive Officer Romy Bowers said in an interview Thursday at the Bloomberg Canadian Finance Conference.
“We’ve seen that inflation has been more persistent than we originally anticipated and the Bank of Canada is taking more aggressive action, so we’re in the process of revising our forecasts,” Bowers said, adding that the new projections would be released soon.
Since CMHC’s July forecast, the central bank has stepped up what was already one of the most aggressive rate-hiking cycles in its history. It shocked markets by increasing the policy rate a full percentage point on July 13 — the biggest since 1998 — then raised the rate again by three-quarters of a point in September.
Variable-rate mortgages at Royal Bank of Canada, which were offered at less than 2 per cent in February, are now over 5 per cent and poised to go even higher if the central bank lifts rates in October, as expected. The abrupt rise in borrowing costs has had an immediate impact, prompting benchmark home prices to fall for six straight months.
CMHC’s new projections would bring its forecasts closer to those of private sector economists. Still, Bowers said price declines must be viewed against the historic gains in home values over the last two years.
“It’s very important when thinking about this price decrease to think about the rapid, sort of unsustainable, levels of house price increases that occurred during the pandemic,” she said, adding that shelter will remain unaffordable for many Canadians.
In fact, even though prices have dipped since February, it has never been harder for Canadians to buy a home, according to a new report by RBC economists. Total ownership costs, including mortgage payments, now soak up 60 per cent of a typical household’s income, higher than the previous record of 57 per cent.
Perched over a harbour across from the bright lights of Vancouver’s city centre, a massive new residential development is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be climate resilient.
The development, called North Harbour, is being built by developer Concert Properties in North Vancouver to a set of novel standards that will mitigate against sea level rise and storm surge.
The new requirement is for the project to be raised 4.5 metres above sea level, well over a metre above the previous requirement. None of the building’s mechanical equipment will be installed below ground, which is the norm, to prevent damage from flooding.
“I think with this site, we really were on the leading edge of thinking about what the next chapter of planning for sea level rise looked like in British Columbia,” says Michael Epp, the director of planning for the City of North Vancouver.
The North Harbour project is a prominent example of a paradigm shift in civic planning to make cities and communities more weather-resistant. The storm that barrelled through Atlantic Canada last weekend swallowed homes in its fury, and was just the latest reminder of the power of nature to eat away at coastlines in the blink of an eye.
Because of climate disasters, insurers, municipal governments, developers and ordinary Canadians are waking up to the real cost of inaction.
A report released today by the Canadian Climate Institute concludes that damage from climate change will take a $25 billion bite out of the economy each year. Then there are costs to health, jobs and overall wellbeing, all of which will suffer as “heat-induced productivity losses and premature deaths shrink the workforce,” the report finds.
In other words, climate change takes a toll not just on the economy, but also on our overall health and well-being.
For city planners in North Vancouver, the flooding that washed out much of Calgary in 2013 was their teachable moment. It forced them to rethink how to deal with rising water and to plan ahead for climate scenarios all the way to the end of the century.
But the unfortunate reality, says Jesse Keenan, a professor of real estate at Tulane University in New Orleans, is that it often takes a disaster where you live to make change happen. The other problem is that information that would otherwise help make better decisions is simply lacking.
“One thing we don’t know in Canada very much about is the benefits of investing in flood mitigation,” says Jason Thistlethwaite, an expert in climate adaptation at the University of Waterloo.
His research has found that just six per cent of residents who live in flood-risk areas know they do, and the majority, 81 per cent, have not reviewed their local flood area maps.
“It’s difficult to imagine a property owner who’s desperately seeking a house to prioritize something like flood risk over, let’s say, a granite countertop or various fixtures in their home,” he said.
But the importance of getting a clear climate risk picture is becoming just as obvious as a home inspection or a study of an apartment’s sightlines.
In the United States, at least $108 billion in real estate valuation is at risk of literally going underwater, according to Don Bain, a senior advisor at Climate Central, a non-profit that looks at the impact of climate change on people’s lives.
“By mid-century,” he concludes in a recent report, “more than 648,000 individual tax parcels, totalling as many as 4.4 million acres, are projected to be at least partly below the relevant tidal boundary level.”
The world is starting to appreciate that there is a financial and health cost associated with polluting the atmosphere with reckless abandon.
“We’re at a phase where the capital markets are really beginning to understand this as a risk,” says Spenser Robinson, a professor of finance and real estate at Central Michigan University.
Large regulatory bodies like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, he says, are proposing more stringent disclosure laws so that people understand the dangers associated with a range of financial products, including real estate.
But climate-risk factors, Robinson says, have yet to trickle down to the general investor level, and they need to.
“Right now, this is kind of some opaque black box concept that the average consumer can’t really understand.”
To address that, some real estate firms are starting to flag climate risk much like they do walkability scores.
For example, realtor.com has started putting environmental risk scores on some of its home listings.
Then there is artificial intelligence, which is being used to assess climate impacts on real estate valuations.
Parag Khanna, an entrepreneur and author who has written extensively on migration, argues that a warming planet is completely changing the calculus of where people are choosing to live.
His latest venture is a platform – Climate Alpha – powered by artificial intelligence that makes cutting-edge predictions on property valuations based on climate risks and other factors.
Machine learning, Khanna says, can take into account a range of data points, from climate forecasts, to immigration patterns, to the availability of land. These data can then be used to assess property prices in ways that financial data and models simply can’t compete with.
For example, new AI-powered modelling tools can look at how much property prices have been going up or down in a given property market over a period of time, and calculate where those valuations will go in the coming years based on a variety of climate risk calculations and migratory patterns, Khanna says.
Retirees Joan and Rob Boras recently moved to BC’s Okanagan Valley from Alberta, and decided to build their home in the most environmentally sustainable way possible. But part of their motivation was also to ensure their home was resilient, given the hotter summers and more intense wildfire seasons.
“You can’t bury your head in the sand anymore,” Joan Boras told Global News from Naramata, B.C.
They didn’t need advanced technology or fancy financial models to tell them they needed to look climate change straight in the eye.
“You’ve got to look, and when you look, you’ve got to think, ‘OK, what is this area prone to? What are the things that happen?’ We knew it was fires out here. You know that,” Joan says, emphasizing that, “We’re not super wealthy by any means.”
They did their homework and found a contractor who understood the mission. They deliberately picked a lot that was away from the forest edge, and are using a range of energy-efficient and fire-resistant products and technologies to reduce their home’s impact on the environment and make it more resilient.
But this kind of forward-thinking innovation by ordinary homebuyers is still more of an exception than the rule. Information, however, is starting to trickle down to the average person, and that means there will be more demand to build differently.
A study led by UBC researcher Markus Baldauf found that flood-prone homes in communities where there is strong acceptance of climate change sell for less than in those communities where climate change is not taken as seriously. In other words, if you know about the climate risk, you’re not going to pay as much for your property.
“The more information we get out there, the greater response we see among buyers and sellers,” Keenan says.
The most forward-thinking municipalities know that as well: getting ahead of climate risk means more investment, not less.
“In the future,” says Jason Thistlethwaite, “we’re going to be looking at municipalities who are recognized for being climate resilient, and their property values are going to go up because people are going to want to live there.”
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