Solutions to Our Crumbling Foundation: An Interview with Gregor Craigie

If talking about housing makes your anxiety level rise, breathe in deeply and out, then read Gregor Craigie’s engrossing new book Our Crumbling Foundation: How We Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis for stories that will light a candle of hope within you. It may be a mini candle on a bite-sized cupcake, but it’s a much-needed flicker of optimism.   

He cares enough about getting you into a home — whether homeless, landless[1], a senior who is being renovicted, or a Gen-Z singleton saving for a first home — that he scoured the globe looking for solutions to our national housing crisis. He discovered that Tokyo, Paris, Helsinki, Singapore, Santa Monica, London (England), Portland, Cork (Ireland) and Nacajuca (Mexico) are using creative housing solutions that people love.

Why Craigie Wrote This Book

The seeds of his nonfiction book can be found in his novel Radio Jet Lag, where a thinly-veiled Gregor Craigie voice commutes to his job at a radio station just like where Craigie works at CBC, Victoria. He is pained to see the homeless encampment and seniors living in cars on a daily basis. The deep empathy prompted me to ask him if he suffered a period of time in his life when he was insecure about housing? Or did he experience a primal fear of living out of a shopping cart one day due to unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances?

Gregor Craigie at Vancouver Public Library book launch, April 2024.

As a young man, graduating with a history degree, and no immediate employment prospects other than delivering pizza, I was deeply worried that I might end up homeless … But rents were cheap in the early 90s, and I was fortunate to have a stable family home. Plus, I worked hard, and went back to school to train as a journalist. I’ve never looked back and was fortunate enough to be able to buy a house in Vancouver in 2004, with my wife, who is a teacher. Today, our younger colleagues in these professions have a much harder time buying a home, if they can afford one at all.

His first house by a SkyTrain station cost $305K. His story paralleled my story, except my husband and I saved over $100K by going outside of the city. We spent weekends searching for an affordable, livable neighbourhood for years. Despite a decent income as high tech contractors, there were times we thought we’d never find a starter home.

Running out of places on the map, we drove down a pleasant street lined with trees housing great-horned owls and knew we’d found our future home. Tsawwassen, a peninsula accessed through a narrow tunnel near the ferry terminal to Vancouver Island and the U.S. border, became our target area.

Finally, we found a solid home built in the 60s a few blocks from the beach. We dispensed with a home inspection as there were no deal-breakers and somehow came up with the twenty-five percent mandatory down payment on the $195K home. This was 1992, before registered first home savings plans, tax benefits, and mortgage rates were in the double digits. Unfortunately, we displaced the renters at our new home, although we vacated a rented apartment in the city.

Commemorative cross-stitch of our starter home in 1992 in Tsawwassen, BC. In thirty-two years, we’ve owned two other primary homes in BC, a duplex in Vancouver and the current one on the Sunshine Coast.

We were blissfully happy for a decade but a dip in the Vancouver market gave us the chance to return to urban life until the Olympics brought the Canada Line and endless construction to our once peaceful neighbourhood.

Times are Harder than Ever for First Home Buyers

If you have a roof over your head you’re lucky in the 2020s, even if it’s rented, or in your parents’ or in-laws’ cellar, or greenhouse. If you own that roof, be it leaky, mossy, lacking in shingles, or inhabited by multigenerational nocturnal creatures, you’re among the 66.5% (Statistics Canada 2021) of an endangered species known as homo ownerous.

With seniors living longer and healthier, Gen X-ers can be retired and their parents living on their savings before the end of their long rich lives nearing their 100th birthday.[2] Gen-X-ers can’t rely on inheritances to assist with purchases of their own homes. They may be in debt with a mortgage and well into retirement before their parents move onto permanent housing in the sky.

“It’s not because of the avocado toast,” explains Craigie in reference to the myth that younger generations are self-indulgent and that’s why they can’t afford homes. “In some communities, there are few if any options, … so many young Canadians are so frustrated, if not angry, at the current housing situation. In a lot of cases, people are living in their parents’ basements, or moving a long, long way away.”

It may seem that boomers and their parents were born at the right time and had the right set of circumstances to buy a home, but each generation has struggled to buy their first home in a different way.

“But now it’s harder than ever to get into a home,” says Craigie, due to one hundred percent of household income or more required to pay for housing in Canada, salaries not increasing since 2022, and home prices increasing faster than Elon’s missiles are launching into space.[3]

Singapore vs. Parisian Solution

If you’re from Singapore (Chapter 12. Subsidies for (Almost) Everyone), you’re provided a new home with a ninety-nine-year lease purchased from the government with your mandatory savings plan. The catch is for the best housing you have to be married, straight and fertile. Those who are LGBTQ+, single, childless/childfree, or otherwise don’t fit the  government’s preferences, face delays and less housing choices.

In Paris, old buildings are being renovated for modest-income earners (Chapter 4. Dreams Renewed: Paris). Japan, unlike Canada, doesn’t compensate for its decline in population from dropping birthrates with immigration, thus has millions of homes that are vacant and selling for next-to-nothing (Chapter 2. Priced In: Tokyo) .

In fact, there’s an impossible 1.3 million homes needed by 2030, making those election promises as empty as a gas tank just before pay day – or as drained as an e-car’s battery between charging stations on a cross-Canada trip.

Tent Cities

So, what does author Gregor Craigie think of how the authorities deal with encampments of the houseless, and those living in vehicles that he passes daily?

I’m not a big fan of it, as it’s incredibly disruptive to the people who are homeless, but on the other hand I have a lot of sympathy for many of the police and/or bylaw officers who have to carry out the clean-up. I’ve met many of them who have a lot of sympathy for people who have nowhere to call home. The issue is contentious and sparks a lot of debate, and often takes away from the underlying question — why don’t these people who are sleeping in tents have a secure home to keep them safe?

Part of the answer lies within his book, that there aren’t enough affordable homes for them when they are renovicted from their rental homes for short-term rentals, aka Air BnB’s, or so that landlords can raise the rents for the next renter.

Fate of the Next Generations

Was part of the reason he wrote the book was because of Craigie’s concern that his children or grandchildren won’t be able to own their own homes?

Yes! I have three sons, aged 10 to 16, and I can’t help wondering what they will do for housing when they’re older. That’s not to say they’re doomed. They’re not. They can study and work hard, and I’m sure they will. They’ll likely be employed and have incomes, but looking at current economic trends, they’ll likely need some help from their parents if they want to buy homes of their own. And that, increasingly, the divide in Canadian society — those whose family can help them to pay for a stable home, and those who can’t.

Glimmers are shining on the horizon, for example, out of our nine niblings two own condos in Vancouver, BC, one owns a house in the Okanagan, BC, one moved to Calgary, AB and after two years of renting purchased a home there. The youngest is still in university and living at home, so fifty percent are already homeowners in their early thirties. As for great-niblings, and at present we have only one, perhaps they will live in higher density situations, in 3-D produced homes (Chapter 20), or in pre-fabs from Cork, Ireland (Chapter 18), RVs (Chapter 19), or a type of housing not mentioned in Craigie’s book, such as floating villages, co-housing, extreme high rises, becoming Martians (billionaires and their servants only, please), or something we haven’t conceived of yet.

Choice is the Fix

Readers must not skip over Appendix B, Craigie’s Index with its shocking stats. His list of thirty-seven items for repair to fix the Canadian housing crisis summarizes his book aptly. I wanted to know if the fixes are ranked in order of most critical to least critical, or did they have equal weight?  Do we start at the top, or attack all fixes at once?

I ranked the first few repairs by importance (building more housing, and affordable housing in particular), but beyond that I found it difficult to prioritize because it’s difficult to know which measures will prove more or less beneficial than others, and that could depend in large part in which city or town you live in. But almost all of the housing experts I interviewed for this book — builders, social workers, activists, and so on — agreed that most, if not all, of these measures are needed … Choice is the solution.

Solution #38 – Rehoming Homes

I sent Craigie an article about the shíshálh Nation barging over ten homes from Port Moody that would otherwise be torn down, for refurbishment so that families can move in. The first two homes have now reached their destination.[4]

Ten seems like an insignificant number of homes but will make a big difference to ten families who’ve waited years to return to their ancestral lands. Why does Craigie think houses like those being saved from demolition by the shíshálh Nation built in the 50s and 60s are indestructible and don’t leak as compared to modern homes? Why has construction failed us, but this is probably beyond the scope of the book?

Construction methods are beyond the scope of my book, but having owned a 1950s bungalow, and now living in a 1912 house with a questionable concrete foundation, … 50s and 60s houses seem indestructible. They certainly poured a lot of high-quality concrete into those post-war house foundations! And to your point about these houses being saved for those ten families … every home matters to the people who live there!

Politicians Need to Read This Book 

Our politicians, who are usually property owners as well as landlords, need to read Our Crumbling Foundations, if only for the list of solutions that Craigie offers. Those solutions to meet the shortage are inspired and he says he could’ve added more.

Turn on the news and you’re bombarded with announcements about how the federal government is going to make it easier for first-time home buyers. However, with all the caveats, hoops, and small print attached to those promises, there are few who will benefit. We need to challenge the government to come up with strategies to get as many Canadians as possible off the sidewalks and inside homes as quickly as possible.

Immigration’s Role on the Housing Shortage

What’s Craigie’s opinion on Canada’s immigration policies as it relates to the shortage of housing? Should a pause be put on immigration, including accepting refugees and foreign students, and other nonpermanent immigrants until we can catch up with the housing shortage, or does that go against our Canadian values?

I think immigration has been one of Canada’s great successes, but this country needs to do a better job of managing the number of newcomers that come here every year (permanent immigrants, temporary foreign workers, and international students) in relation to our supply of housing. Personally, I don’t favour a pause on immigration, but we’re now seeing the federal government recognize that our country’s housing supply isn’t up to the task of Canada’s stunning population growth in recent years (highest in G7 and OECD). This has all led the BC government, and others, to call on the federal government to establish a direct link between annual immigration numbers and funding for affordable social housing.

Resisting Change Contributes to the Housing Crisis

How does Craigie propose we get homeowners in bastions of single-family zoning to be more open to multi-family dwellings? Does he think fear of loss of lifestyle or change, in general, is the cause or is it deeply rooted racism, pure selfishness, elitism, and lack of compassion?

I’m not entirely sure of what motivates us to resist change. I imagine some people are selfish or racist, but I suspect most of us are simply hesitant to make major changes to the things we really like. And if you like your home and your neighbourhood, you don’t want it to change. But I think homeowners like me need to be more community-spirited and magnanimous when it comes to our neighbourhoods and shared spaces. Surely there’s room for more people!

Canada is a sprawling country with about sixty percent of its land mass above the Arctic Circle. Most of the habitable land is in a narrow band along the U.S. border, where we’re already encroaching on wildlife habitat.

I feel guilty that our home of ten years on the Sunshine Coast is in a new subdivision of single-family homes, where our first neighbour was a massive black bear, who was displaced when the next home was erected. But Craigie’s book focuses on doing the best with what we already have claimed as civilization.

Do we want to live in tower cities like Hong Kong, or Kuala Lumpur, where humans are warehoused in concrete cells? Prior to moving to Vancouver, I lived in the Alberta Foothills, so living in a high-rise cubicle would be a nightmare scenario for this country gal. For now, there’s little threat of that happening, as there’s no one to build micro-sized homes that we need, and nowhere to house the workers needed to bring into the country to build them.

One of the last places where ultra-densification will happen will be in Craigie’s neighbourhood of Oak Bay, about a ten- to twenty-minute drive from downtown Victoria, on Vancouver Island, BC. Despite an aging, shrinking population, wealthy Oak Bayites squashed a multi-family dwelling development (Chapter 15. Squeezed Out by Single Family Zoning: Victoria) nearly a decade in the planning. The government intervened and the modest building went up.

The same thing happens on the Coast where I live whenever a multi-family dwelling is proposed–town hall meetings, protests, letters to the editor, delays in construction, and so on. Meanwhile, there’s nowhere to rent or buy for locals, their children, or their grandchildren. 

A Shift in Expectations

I asked Craigie how we change our expectations and dreams of the house with the white picket fence and big yard for the kids and dog that we have while growing up? When the reality is that couples, or single parents are raising their babies in one-bedroom suites in condos.

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head — couples are raising their babies in one-bedroom suites in condos — in other words, reality is forcing them to give up their expectations of the house and the white picket fence. Still, that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook. Our communities, provinces, and country need to do a lot better at providing more attainable housing, even if it isn’t the large single-family home they grew up in. But townhomes, larger apartments, and other more efficient forms of housing can still be great places to call homes. Two of the best places I lived at were in London, England — a thin terrace house (attached on both sides, with small gardens in front and back), and a bright three-bedroom apartment.

The closest we come to British rowhouses in Canada are townhouses and in-fill “skinny” houses. A more practical and common solution are laneway or coach houses. For example, the duplex we had near Vancouver General Hospital had a coach house behind it, making a duplex lot into a strata lot of three homes. A few Oak Bay homeowners subdivide their properties where new dwellings are built to give them the option to age in place.

Castle vs. Tear-Down

The Millennial on TikTok claims that you can purchase a castle in Europe for the same or lower price than homes on the verge of being condemned in Toronto. If that’s true, what’s keeping us from packing up and living like royalty in Scotland or Spain?[5]

I’m not familiar with the sites that show European castles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some old properties were cheaper than homes in Vancouver and Toronto. I am familiar with an Instagram account @CheapHousesJapan that shows real houses for sale in Japan that are impossibly cheap by Canadian standards. Some people do leave Canada to pursue cheaper housing, but of course it isn’t always easy to leave your community and family and job. And of course, many countries, like Japan, don’t welcome outsiders to stay.

Of course, taking on a centuries old castle would be foolish unless you have the funds for upkeep, maintenance and taxes, but it’s fun to fantasize.

Alternate Investments to Housing

Owning a home is the only financial investment that’s ever worked out for me.

—Gregor Craigie

Perhaps, the above quote explains why his book doesn’t address what to do if becoming a homeowner in Canada isn’t going to be your destiny, whether by choice or circumstance.

If you have full-time employment, one way to get ahead is to take advantage of any employer RSP matching benefits. Also, you can set up accounts with your bank, so that you pay a percentage into a savings plan automatically, preferably a tax-free registered plan. Those are easy, risk-averse, and pain-free ways to save for your future. However, when look at the yield from other investments versus how a home increases net worth over a lifetime, without owning a home your financial stability may be half what it could be.

Partly because it’s forced savings that aren’t easily accessed for that new car or impulse vacation, and partly because real estate goes up in value over time. However, that isn’t to say that plenty of homeowners haven’t lost everything by taking out second mortgages on their homes.

I think most people who have made sacrifices to attain homeownership, or any difficult long-term goal, would agree that it’s worthwhile. When all odds are against you, it may mean writing to government representatives, in addition to skipping eating out, biking to work, taking on extra work, as well as researching real estate markets and alternatives that work for you.

 “Home is a safe, reliable place that doesn’t wake you up in the middle of the night in a panic that you’re going to lose it.”  

—Gregor Craigie

I am sending out almost no Congratulations on Your New Home cards these days, and it’s upsetting. However, there are housing arrangements working in significantly more crowded parts of the world than ours in Our Crumbling Foundation, so we can do it too.


[1] A term that people living in their vehicles and RVs self-identify as in my nonfiction article, Nomads to Nowhere.

[2] I love that my boomer parents are octogenarians still enjoying fulfilling lives in their own home and my in-laws are entering their nineties  living in their own home. This is a much better scenario than my grandparents who died in their fifties or earlier, except for one granny who lived almost to ninety.

[3] At Craigie’s book launch at Vancouver Public Library, April 2024 with Michelle Cyca, editor of Indigenous-led conservation coverage for The Narwhal, as well as a contributing writer to The Walrus and contributing editor to Maclean’s. Her story The End of Homeownership was the most read cost-of-living story for MacLean’s in 2023. Michelle is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6.

[4] Bronwyn Beairsto, shíshálh Nation welcomes first two barged homes with ceremony, Coast Reporter, April 10, 2023, coastreporter.net/local-news/shishalh-nation-welcomes-first-two-barged-homes-with-ceremony-8576378

[5] Lynn Chaya, “Why buy a house in Canada when you can buy a castle in Europe for the same price?:For the price of a two-bedroom house in Kitchener, Ontario listed at $1.8M people can buy a lake-facing Swedish castle,” National Post, May 22, 2023. nationalpost.com/news/why-buy-a-house-in-canada-when-you-can-buy-a-castle-in-europe-for-the-same-price

GREGOR CRAIGIE has been a journalist for more than 25 years at the BBC World Service, CBC Radio, CBS Radio and Public Radio International. He has hosted On The Island on CBC Radio One in Victoria, BC, since 2007. His first book, On Borrowed Time: North America’s Next Big Quake, was a finalist for both the Balsillie Prize for Public Policy and the City of Victoria Book Prize, and was a Globe and Mail Top 100 book in 2021. His first novel, Radio Jet Lag, was published in 2023.

Publisher: Penguin Random House (March 5, 2024)
Paperback 8″ x 5″ | 320 pages
ISBN: 9781039009387

Cathalynn Labonté-Smith grew up in Southwestern Alberta and moved to Vancouver, BC, to complete her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia (UBC). After graduation, she worked as a freelance journalist until present. She became a technical writer, earning a Certificate in Technical Writing from Simon Fraser University. She later went to UBC to complete a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) and taught English, journalism, and other subjects at Vancouver high schools. She currently lives in Gibsons, where she is the president and founder of the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society, and North Vancouver, BC. Her new book, Rescue Me: Behind the Scenes of Search and Rescue (Caitlin Press) is a British Columbia bestseller.

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