09/28/2016 08:05 EDT | Updated 09/28/2016 08:05 EDT

Vancouver School Closures Stick Families With Impossible Choice

Letters on chalkboard
Hemera Technologies via Getty Images
Letters on chalkboard

With the housing market in Vancouver motoring along at its dizzying pace, most potential homeowners have their hands full finding something they can afford. But if you happen to be one of the many couples with school-age children, the Vancouver School Board (VSB) and its many upcoming closures is one more factor in the mix.

Eager to put into action an ambitious plan which requires a 95 per cent enrollment rate to meet the province's requirements for upgrades, earlier this summer the VSB announced a preliminary list of schools that would potentially be closed.

Citing problems with weak enrollment and "structural issues," the list currently includes four different kindergarten to Grade 3 schools, six elementary schools and two secondary schools. As many as 21 in total have the potential to be shut down. As for the effects this could have on the housing market, it is not without widespread interest that every school but just one happens to be located on Vancouver's east side.

With affordability on everyone's mind, the cost of raising children on top of paying a mortgage can be overwhelming. This frustration is palpable enough that Vancity recently embarked on a social media campaign titled "Don't Give Up" which features, among other things, videos from Vancouver residents struggling to maintain their financial stability and homeowner status.

For those with children enrolled in one of the aforementioned schools, however, upon closing there will really only be two options: either the child will be forced to commute to a school further away or the entire family must move. If it's the latter, a huge burden will be placed upon the shoulders of these families as they struggle to find a school able to accept new students in addition to affordable housing nearby.

What would happen in north or west Vancouver if 21 schools suddenly closed? Would two of the most expensive housing markets in the world be targeted with slogans like "Hang On?"

If residents of the east side (where housing is significantly less expensive than many other Vancouver boroughs) are forced to move into more expensive neighbourhoods just in order to find a school for their children, homeowners may be forced to turn into renters as they arrive outside the comfort zone of their financial capabilities.

The school closures are, at least according to an article that ran some months ago in te Globe, in large part a result of young families moving into condos and apartments downtown. Essentially, the affordability crisis has pushed these families further towards the city centre, albeit into much smaller homes than many would like, or further out into the suburbs where housing is more affordable.

The result has been uneven growth in students from one district to another, and has left neighbourhoods in metro Vancouver such as Yaletown and the West End eager to build schools to accommodate the growing number of children living in the area.

Earlier this spring Vancouver School Board Chairman Mike Lombardi spoke to the press: "The more we can get townhouses, condos with two or three bedrooms, the more we can bring in families." While Lombardi is correct in his assessment of the city centre needing more family-friendly units, he failed to describe just how exactly these families would be able to afford buying even larger units in a housing market already completely out of whack with most people's financial reality.

The comments came around the time Metro Vancouver announced that it is considering co-developing school sites across the region with daycare centres for young children and rental housing. Building social housing in this way -- on an existing school lot -- could be an affordable housing solution for single parents or low-income families that simply do not have the means to buy a home of their own.

It is only with time that Vancouverites will see how the housing crisis and school closures affect one another and play out in the end. In the meantime, it's interesting to ask ourselves what would happen to the housing market in, say, north or west Vancouver if 21 schools suddenly closed down? Would those living in two of the most expensive housing markets in the world be targeted with slogans like "Hang On," while worried parents waited to see if their children's name was plucked from one of the many school waiting lists all over the city?

In a time where much else seems uncertain, it's nice to know that some things leave little to the imagination.

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