Skip to main content

This week, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced yet another step toward making housing more affordable in this city and it is – are you ready – laneway houses! Not just any laneway houses – laneway and infill houses that could be purchased rather than just rented! Laneway houses that may be slightly larger than what is currently allowable! In neighbourhoods like Dunbar, MacKenzie Heights, Arbutus Ridge and Kerrisdale!

Okay, I'm being a little facetious, but enough with the laneway houses and coach homes and town homes as the solution to Vancouver's housing crisis.

Details of the policy won't be unveiled until a council meeting next week, but the city is hoping to achieve several goals, namely increasing the amount of, ahem, affordable housing while incentivizing the preservation of character homes. Right now the city allows laneway houses to be built in those aforementioned neighbourhoods, but they can't be stratified or sold – only rented.

Story continues below advertisement

The city has also noticed data from the latest census showing that in those neighbourhoods there has been a drop in the number of families and children. It would apparently like to reverse that trend and repopulate certain neighbourhoods so they look less like The Omega Man.

Over in the single-family zones of Mount Pleasant and Grandview-Woodland, the city would allow three homes (rather than the current two) to be built on a standard 33-foot lot. Larger lots would be able to accommodate four-plexes. For the rare east-side homeowner on a 50-foot lot, you no longer own a home, you own development opportunity. Congratulations.

All of this falls under the Housing Vancouver Strategy, the intent of which, according to the city, is to "deliver the right supply of housing to match local needs and incomes."

The local needs are obvious. Since buying a home is out of reach for so many families, we need affordable, purpose-built rental housing for all kinds of families, preferably close to amenities. Housing that isn't going to be sold out from under the renters.

We also need affordable housing for young people who would like to stay and build a life in this city but currently can't afford to.

Matching local incomes? That's another matter. The gap between earnings and housing costs is no wider anywhere in Canada than in the city of Vancouver.

So far what the laneway house initiative has given us are some tiny, albeit charming rental homes across the city with most in the range of $2,000 to $2,500 a month. If you're taking home $6,000 a month, then they're technically affordable, though, as Vancouverites we're used to laying down far more than a third of our earnings for housing.

Story continues below advertisement

All of this said, opening up single-family neighbourhoods to higher density is a good idea. You may recall that for decades, single-family neighbourhoods resisted secondary suites. They worried about the character of their neighbourhoods, parking, the drain on city services, and well, you know, renters. Those worries vanished when the cost of housing made a reliable basement tenant the key to home ownership. When the city finally moved to lift restrictions on the suites in 2004 there was barely a peep.

UBC sociology professor Nathanael Lauster, author of The Death and Life of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City, says a diversity of housing stock is fundamentally a good thing. But he says what was announced this week amounts to baby steps toward densification.

Prof. Lauster was asked in an interview whether people need to accept that the era of the single-family home is over.

"If you're living in one and you own it, you don't have to accept it, but I think the idea that you can say your neighbour has to live in exactly the same type of housing – I think that is something we are going to have to accept is gone," he told the CBC. "And we should move beyond the understanding that people can prevent their neighbours from providing more housing options to other people."

I expect that some neighbourhoods will mount a decent fight against the move to increase density – crème de la crème and all that. But I expect it to be short-lived and, as was the case with secondary suites, and finally out of necessity, end with a whimper and not a bang.

Story continues below advertisement

Columnist Gary Mason says British Columbia is now a divided province, with the Liberals finding support in the interior and north, while the NDP dominates in Metro Vancouver. But the latter region is growing while the interior remains stagnant, leaving a question over the Liberals' future election prospects.
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.