How Can We Solve Affordability? By Redefining Housing

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

In a city of NIMBYs and BANANAs, creativity is needed to find ?missing middle? of housing

Anne McMullin

Out of crisis comes creativity. Vancouver’s affordable housing issue has led to the development of innovative approaches that, with zoning changes, would enable more first-time homeowners to enter the market.

Laneway or micro homes are affordable solutions but zoning restrictions prevent the ownership, strata or otherwise, of these smaller housing options. The adage “less is more” applies, given our need to reduce our ecological footprint, make better use of our existing space and consume less.

Consider the traditional single-family homes across the region. Municipalities could strategically rezone these to multi-family dwellings, permitting current homeowners to subdivide their lots for townhomes, duplexes and more. These housing options are called the “missing middle”, or what’s between the condo tower and single family home.

Imagine grown children of homeowners buying in the neighbourhoods they grew up in. Seniors benefit by selling their main principal dwelling, likely an old timer with maintenance needs where property taxes have been deferred anyway. Seniors could downsize or “rightsize”, to a smaller, new laneway dwelling on the same lot after selling their principal home parcel. In many neighbourhoods, seniors’ housing is not available or long wait lists and monthly costs make it prohibitive to move from single-family homes.

Tiny homes that are portable and easy to assemble are also catching on. These could be built on existing single-family lots, subdivided for multiple homeowners.

Micro-home builder Ian Kent of Nomad Homes told News 1130: “The world would be a better place if housing was more accessible and affordable. But… supply and demand has made it too expensive…, at least for the size of house we are accustomed to. If houses were smaller, more efficient and easier to build, this reality could change.”

In Vancouver, for example, a primary residence must be at least 37m² or 398 square feet. What’s more, strata-titling is generally not permitted in single-family zoning.

Will we see resistance to a new home ownership approach? Absolutely. After all, Vancouver is home not only to NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard) but also to many BANANAs: “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything” (or Anyone). Applying a 15% foreign buyers’ tax won’t make the affordability issue disappear. Condo and townhome housing prices haven’t magically declined.

Zoning change for multi-family dwellings, condos and townhomes must also accommodate a blend of market and non-market housing for all incomes. Vancouver’s cost of living makes employee recruitment difficult, underscored by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes, who said: “Vancouver risks becoming an economic ghost town as people continue to leave due to lack of affordable housing.”

For comparative curbside appeal, see the four homes in the photo above. A typical laneway home in Vancouver (around $250-300K to build), a new rowhome development, a new duplex and a multimillion-dollar detached teardown. Which home would you choose to live in? Shouldn’t more of these lower-priced options be available? These discussions must start now among all stakeholders: governments, developers, home-seekers, homeowners and affordable housing agencies.

As Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

© 2017

Comments are closed.