Economist survey finds Vancouver now most expensive city in North America

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Vancouver often tops or ranks high on lists of the world's most liveable cities but residents are looking dubiously at its latest distinction: the most expensive city in North America.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, it now costs more to live in the city on the edge of the rainforest than in New York.

Vancouver is still far from the most expensive city in the world. That honour belongs to Zurich, Switzerland, which displaced the previous No. 1, Tokyo, in the 2012 Worldwide Cost of Living survey.

Vancouver ranked 37th in the world among 131 cities surveyed to produce a cost-of-living index using the weighted average prices of 160 goods and services. It was 72nd last year.

The Big Apple, which was seventh in 2001, was ranked 47th in the latest survey, while Los Angeles was North America's second most-expensive city.

"It seems that being one of the world's most liveable cities comes with a cost," the Economist Intelligence Unit said in news release, according to the Vancouver Sun.

A weak U.S. dollar and modest inflation have pushed down the relative cost of living in major American cities.

"Now, Canadian and Brazilian cities are costlier than U.S. cities," the Economist release said.

"How can it be possible that Vancouver is more expensive than a city like New York?" Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe asks in a blog post.

"Well, it's worth remembering that New York City is more than just Manhattan, which would bring costs down. Also that Canadian goods generally have been found to be about 20 per cent more expensive than U.S. goods due to higher transportation costs in Canada and economies of scale to be found in the U.S."

And then there are Vancouver's "wacko" housing costs, which along with rising costs in other major Canadian cities such as Toronto and Calgary, should give politician pause, says Yaffe.

"It is incumbent upon them to keep affordability in mind when crafting their policies. Because the cost of living clearly is becoming an increasingly pressing matter for those living in Canada's three largest cities," she writes.

A Royal LePage survey last October reported the average price of a detached bungalow in Vancouver roe 17 per cent to $1.02 million in the third quarter of last year, Global BC TV reported.

The average-priced home in Vancouver now is 11.2 times the average family income, a figure many economists consider unsustainable, Global noted. The city is developing ways to make home-ownership more affordable, including increased density and the use of small, lane-way homes.