Thursday, July 23, 2009

Council OKs ‘mortgage helpers’ in the sky (as small as a 5 ton truck)

While much attention is being given to the Laneway Housing zoning proposals, on Tuesday night Council approved another very innovative zoning change that could encourage the development of larger condominium units. The reason? A portion of the unit could be designed with a separate entrance to the corridor and small kitchen area and be legally rented out, just like a suite in a basement. As noted in the story below by Jeff Hodgson, a reporter with a nose for a good story, the idea was originally tested at UniverCity, in order to provide more affordable rental units for students.

One small correction...the units will not be 'condos' within condos' since they cannot be subdivided off and sold. They can only be rented.

I spoke in favour of this zoning change at the Public Hearing, although I did question the sizes. At UniverCity, after some trial and error, we concluded that 250 sq.ft. was a good minimum size. The City of Vancouver is requiring larger units, but allowing some relaxation. While this should ultimately work, I worry that in this case the permitted minimum size is too small, and the need to request a relaxation may add uncertainty and unnecessary additional work load for staff.

(Astute readers will note that on the Laneway Housing matter, I was arguing the opposite....that MORE discretion should be given to the Director of Planning...but he didn't really want it because of its impact on workload!)

A copy of the staff report and applicable areas can be found at

Availability, affordability expected to rise with condos within condos
July 23, 2009 5:00 a.m.

Secondary suites within high-rise condominiums the size of a five-ton truck are coming to Vancouver.

In a move to increase the city’s rental stock and home affordability, city council approved Tuesday night the development of secondary suites within suites.

Vancouver architect Michael Geller, who pioneered the idea in the UniverCity development at Simon Fraser University, said people should think of them as “basement suites” or “mortgage helpers” in the sky.

Just as basement suites allow people to purchase a larger house, Geller explained, secondary condo suites could enable homebuyers to purchase a three-bedroom over a two-bedroom condo.

It would also increase rental stock in Vancouver.

The suites have their own bathroom and kitchen area and can be as small as 280 square feet. Geller compared them to a hotel room with kitchenette.

That minimum size could be further “relaxed” by the director of planning down to 205 square feet if the developer meets numerous livability guidelines, like adequate lighting and storage space.

Vision Coun. Raymond Louie said the suites would allow families to “age in place,” if they choose to do so.

Families could rent out the suite before they have children, expand into the suite when the family grows and rent it out again when their children leave the nest.

Louie said he expects it will be a year before the first development with secondary suites is built.

The city has previously approved secondary suites in the planned East Fraserlands development in South Vancouver.

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