Developing innovative housing policy in single housing areas is a natural progression. Thirty years ago suites in basements were illegal, and there was an enforcement branch at the city that dealt with that. Later suites became legal, and in this century laneway housing was introduced as a way to house additional family members and then to provide additional rental income.
Stratifying new build units on existing single family and duplex lots is this decade’s upgrade to the Vancouver housing tool box.
In the last decade the City of Vancouver has moved to a more American politic, with policy change and plans being labelled as being the property of certain political parties, councils or even Council members.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as with the move to a greener more sustainable city. But some of it should be done because it is the right thing to do, not championed because it it is an election year but because it is an option that the city needs to consider.
This is a council that we had hoped would work together to explore options on housing and affordability and ask staff to report back on potential options. Council has agreed to a motion made by the Mayor with parameters that could be limiting in the type of housing being created and who the end user will be, which may preclude families.
Instead of exploring how best to allow for the densification of single home neighbourhoods in terms of consolidation of lots and densifying around schools and parks, Council is only looking at existing lots.
The motion asks staff to reduce floor space ratio for single detached housing areas (a downzone) “as a densification incentive”. This means you can’t achieve the outright floor space that is currently achievable for single house zoning unless you build more units. And at this point they appear to want to tuck parking for the six units on the properties.
As Michael Gordon writes in this article single family zones are a misnomer, and despite this policy we can “anticipate that wealthier people looking for a house will consider Vancouver’s west side over other areas in the region, and this will put continued upward pressure on house prices.”
The Vancouver Sun has headlined that the mayor has “paved the way for a conversion of 2,000 detached homes into 10,000 stratas”.
Not really. What has happened with this motion is that staff will be asked to report back on policies and guidelines to allow single detached housing and duplexes to be developed into up to six units which can be stratified. All of that work will then be reported to Council for consideration and at that point it will be once again debated to see if it passes. That report back has been asked for in this calendar year.
While this all sounds good, some of these new units will be below grade, and there are some sticker items like climate change levies, development cost levies and community amenity contributions that will be added to the cost. With the current cost of construction, the pro forma must work to make these units affordable and that may mean these units may be constructed only in certain areas of the east side.
The motion also targets housing creation for people with average incomes of $80,000 a year which precludes many lower income earners, some who may also be displaced in redevelopment from existing accommodations.
It also does not address the fact that the City is losing adults from age 35 to 44 and children. As noted in Vancouver’s Social Indicators Report, the City is gaining young adults from 25 to 34, but those forming families are leaving. People having kids need amenities, schools and space. We need to find a way to bring these families back to the city, and that may not happen in these proposed smaller spaces.
In Vancouver 68 percent of units are not designed for families, being two bedrooms or less. Forty-one percent are studios or one bedrooms. Young families are the missing link in neighbourhoods, and need to be accommodated.
While this motion is a good first step, the tight parameters passed by council means that other options for lot consolidation and housing for families in these areas will not be considered at this time.
You can take a look at the original motion here.
Instead of “consolidation of lots and densifying around schools and parks,” the city should be densifying around transit crossroads and creating villages. And the “will allow” up to 6 units on a single lot ignores the reality: wealthy people moving onto the West Side lots don’t want or need even lane houses – they want space, and can’t be forced to create strata developments. Reducing the outright density for new houses will help – if it had been done 30 years ago, it would have stopped the spread of McMansions and the depopulation of West Side neighbourhoods like Point Grey and Dunbar. But the key thing, missing from all these initiatives, is the creation of villages, the way Kerrisdale evolved a lifetime ago. Where are the planners?
Michael Sadly this initiative is political in nature, being a motion by the Mayor with an already agreed upon agenda instead of a more comprehensive prudent approach that ties into the Vancouver Plan and community consultation. I agree a better approach would have been for Council to simply ask the Planning Department to report back on potential ways to accommodate density near/on single house areas, and transit/commercial hubs, and look internationally at best examples. What is missing is the Vancouver Plan which I expect would have reinforced what the decades old CityPlan achieved, is concentrating on neighbourhood centres and producing a range of housing that would also be for families, which this proposal will not achieve.