Vancouver council has voted to explore ways to allow as many as six homes to be built on any residential lot in the city as part of its quest to find ways to make more housing accessible to current and would-be residents.
That move puts Vancouver in the company of a cluster of cities in Canada and the United States – including Minneapolis, Minn.; Portland, Ore.; Toronto; and Los Angeles – that are grappling with rising housing costs and complaints that middle-class people are being pushed out of major cities. The jurisdictions are also introducing new property-use policies aimed at putting more people on the same amount of land.
They, and others, are experimenting with initiatives to allow everything from laneway homes to small apartment buildings in what have been vast tracts of urban land reserved for single-family homes.
“That was quite a step forward for this council,” said Bryn Davidson of Lanefab/Design Build, a builder who helped develop the concept and is looking forward to the eventual change this could bring.
But Mr. Davidson added that the initiative, which likely won’t result in a staff report outlining a possible policy until early next year, will only be successful if it is an option for every single-house residential lot in the city and isn’t loaded down with a complicated process. Vancouver has suggested starting with a cap of 2,000 lots.
Vancouver changed its zoning rules in 2009 to allow laneway houses on most lots, resulting in about 5,000 applications to build those small homes. The city’s move to allow duplexes, a citywide policy, has received 450 applications in the past three years.
“The success of the laneway program was that it was citywide. That is the key piece,” said Mr. Davidson, whose company builds laneway and passive houses.
The vote on Wednesday to approve an exploration of sixplexes included requests from Mayor Kennedy Stewart and various councillors for staff to consider all kinds of conditions that should be put in place. For example, they want staff to look at whether three of any six units could be required to be affordable for people making less than median income, what kinds of fees should be put in place to limit speculation or excess profit-taking, how to prevent pre-1940s houses from being demolished in favour of sixplexes, how to protect any renters in the existing housing, and whether the units could be all above-ground.
Although the mayor got strong buy-in from Vancouver’s multiparty, no-majority council for his “making home” proposal, it is still also seen as Mr. Stewart’s effort to establish his identity and achievements for the city in advance of this fall’s civic elections.
His campaign team has been promoting the policy in e-mails and advertisements.
“To all the young people and hard working families who love Vancouver but are feeling pushed out, my message to you is this: Making HOME is about giving you hope, and giving you choice. It’s about giving you a future in our great city,” said the mayor’s news release announcing the council vote.
The initiative didn’t stir up a lot of opposition. Fewer than 10 speakers expressed opinions on the proposal, most of them in favour.
“This is sensitively adding homes that will bring life back to our neighbourhoods,” said Peter Whitelaw, a planner with the Renewable Cities organization. He said it would also help with climate change mitigation efforts, by making room for more people in the city and reducing the amount of time they would have to commute.
One opponent was Elizabeth Murphy, a landlord and heritage-house advocate who has been critical of many of Vancouver’s efforts at housing densification over the past decade.
“How can this not inflate land values?” she asked, warning that it could lead to the demolition of many of the city’s steadily shrinking stock of “character” houses. “And what is the point if it displaces people from existing rentals?”
All of the city’s often divided councillors supported the basic idea behind a motion from Mr. Stewart to get planners to come up with a mechanism that would permit up to six units on any of the 65,000 properties now zoned for only single detached houses or duplexes.
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