The money you’d spend on two houses in the 1970s could buy only two bedrooms today, according to research from a University of British Columbia professor mobilizing young people to convince politicians of all stripes to act on a housing crisis.

Youth across the country are bearing the brunt of sky-high real estate prices and are forced to squeeze their families into smaller spaces, said Paul Kershaw, the organizer of a movement called Generation Squeeze.

“These are massive deteriorations in the standard of living,” Kershaw told CTV News. “We need to take this seriously. It’s urgent, like there’s a code red problem in a hospital.”

His “Code Red” campaign features videos made by young people that show a family putting beds for three kids in a cabinet, under a desk and in a couch – and another woman offering rent to “students” in kitchen cupboards.

They’re meant to be a humourous take on how a broken housing market has forced young people to make more and more desperate living arrangements – but they often hit too close to the bone, said Kershaw.

“When did having a child and being able to have a bedroom for it become the equivalent of a Ferrari in your driveway? It’s become a status symbol to afford a bedroom,” he said.

“The crisis is causing real pressure, and at the same time your biological clock is weighing on you. If I’m going to start a family, where am I going to do that?”

In 1976, a young Canadian with average income had to save five years for a down payment. Today in Canada that has risen to 12 years. In Toronto, that’s 15 years. In B.C., it’s 16 years. In Metro Vancouver, it would take a young person 23 years to save for a down payment.

Code Red

One per cent or less of the housing stock in several Metro Vancouver municipalities costs less than $500,000 and has three or more bedrooms, he found. 

“This is not a problem just for some Westside Vancouver neighbourhoods,” Kershaw said.

The accumulation in housing wealth has been great for owners. But Kershaw is appealing to parents to have compassion for their children or young people they know, who face hardship. The movement is non-partisan, he added.

“We need all parties to recognize that this is urgent,” Kershaw said.

Solutions he posed include re-envisioning the housing market regulations to provide plentiful, adequate housing, rather than just a vehicle for investment. 

Another idea: net tax housing wealth, so people with higher mortgages aren’t paying the same as those who have their homes paid off. He also proposes changing zoning for single family homes so that more people can fit into those lots with cheaper homes.

Code Red