Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Opinion: How to make Vancouver housing more affordable Vancouver Courier February 11, 2015


There is a need for more rowhousing throughout Metro Vancouver, but especially in the city.

“Vancouver will always be an expensive place to live. However, with innovative planning and financing ideas, we can create more affordable housing choices throughout the region.”

So read the announcement for last week’s talk at Simon Fraser University. Titled “12 Affordable Housing Ideas for Vancouver,” it examined housing designs and financing programs from around the world that should have a place in Metro Vancouver.

While I was pleased that more than 230 people showed up, I was disappointed that Green Coun. Adriane Carr was the only Metro Vancouver politician in attendance. To broaden affordable housing choices in the region, we need local politicians to better understand available options and approve zoning changes to make them happen.

Hopefully, the numerous municipal planners and others in attendance will pass on to the politicians what they saw and heard, as urged by SFU city program director Gordon Price in his closing remarks.
During the question-and-answer period, Coun. Carr asked a number of good questions on how best to fund future growth and gain community support for zoning changes. Before repeating my answers to her questions, here are a few of the 12 ideas I presented.
  
Many of us grew up in three-bedroom houses of less than 1000 square feet However today’s new houses are significantly larger. It is time to reinvent the past and build smaller detached houses on smaller lots. In some cases, it would make sense to subdivide 50-foot-wide lots into two 25-foot lots as they are doing in Seattle.
These Hollyburn Mews coach houses sold to people looking for a more affordable housing choice in an established West Vancouver neighbourhood 
Laneway houses and coach houses, as they are sometimes called, provide an attractive new housing choice for many households. However, not everyone wants to be a renter. Under certain circumstances, laneway houses should be available for sale, especially on larger corner lots or single family lots with character houses.
 
All new houses in Vancouver have side-yards on both sides. However, often one or both side-yards are rarely used. To make better use of land, we should modify zoning bylaws to allow houses with just one side-yard. In planning terms, this is known as zero lot-line housing.
Duplexes, especially when designed with an asymmetrical facade, can fit nicely into single family neighbourhoods and offer a more affordable housing choice. But not everyone likes the strata-title arrangement. Semi-detached housing might be the solution.
Duplexes are attractive forms of housing for many households. They combine two units side-by-side, up and down or front and back. However, purchasers often do not realize they are strata-title developments. For those wanting to avoid this legal arrangement, semi-detached housing, where each house sits on its own lot, would be an attractive option.
Many people would consider moving into a townhouse; however, they do not want to live in a condominium and have to deal with a strata council. A fee-simple townhouse, where each unit sits on its own legal lot avoids condominium ownership. While popular around the world, our zoning and subdivision bylaws generally discourage this housing form.
These stacked two and three bedroom townhouses are an attractive option for young Toronto families
For those who cannot afford a townhouse but do not want to live in an apartment, a stacked-townhouse could be the answer. A popular housing form in Toronto, it is in limited supply here. With one townhouse stacked above another, this housing form meets the needs of those not minding stairs and appreciating having their own front door at the street.

While we tend to think of ownership and rental as the only two tenure options, there are other choices. Shared-equity ownership is a hybrid model that combines the advantages of both. Life-lease ownership allows someone to purchase a home at a lower price on the understanding that there will not be price appreciation. 
Performing Arts Lodge on Cardero Street
The Performing Arts Lodge at Bayshore in Coal Harbour is an excellent example of how effectively this can work.

To reduce housing costs we need to rethink how we finance growth. Under the current system, new home buyers are often subsidizing social housing and other amenity costs that should really be shared by more taxpayers over time. Local Improvement Charges or long-term Bond Financing could be more equitable funding approaches.

To help neighbourhoods understand and accept new housing forms, it would be helpful to build demonstration projects. Often the only way to appreciate these housing ideas is to see on-the-ground examples.

While Vancouver will never be as affordable as Winnipeg, with government support, these housing ideas could improve affordability for many local residents.

© 2015 Vancouver Courier

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