By Michael Geller, Special to The Sun December 30, 2015
Now that the new year has arrived, it is tempting to predict what might happen in 2016. While some things are certain — most of us will not lose weight or exercise as often as we plan — other things are less certain, especially when it comes to housing.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to share some 2014 predictions with Westcoast Homes readers. Before I share my predictions for 2016, let’s review how I did. My first prediction was that alternative forms of housing found in other world cities were likely to become more popular in Vancouver. An example was individually-owned “fee-simple” row houses that are not part of condominiums. My feeling was many people wanting to downsize from a single-family house would be seeking the amenities of a row house, but were worried about dealing with a strata council and condominium bylaws.
I also predicted more municipal planners would promote row housing as a higher-density form of housing that fits nicely within single-family neighbourhoods. Over the past two years, row houses have become much more popular throughout Metro Vancouver and other parts of the province. However, fee-simple row house developments are not yet as numerous as I predicted. This is due, in part, to the additional costs of separate water and sewer hookups. However, there is a way to get around this, and I still maintain we will see more of this housing in 2016, especially if municipal engineers and lawyers are co-operative.
Based on the success of Hollyburn Mews, a small West Vancouver development combining duplexes and coach houses that I completed in 2013, I predicted 2014 would see a start on more similar developments. I was wrong. While the demand for this type of housing increased, most companies were busy building larger single-family houses and not inclined to embark on the complex rezoning process required for these forms of housing. However, a number of cities and municipalities, including Kelowna and West Vancouver, are now actively promoting alternative housing choices, and hopefully, similar new infill housing developments will get underway in 2016.
New heights expected
In 2014, I predicted highrise buildings would rise higher and higher, especially in urban centres and near transit stations. I was right. Some new buildings in Burnaby and Surrey were much taller than I anticipated. Expect to see even taller buildings approved in 2016 around Metro Vancouver, except in Richmond, where building heights will continue to be dictated by airport flight paths.
Two years ago, I predicted more Toronto-style stacked townhomes, especially in locations appealing to younger buyers. Again, I was right. One just needs to visit East Vancouver, Burnaby, North Vancouver and a few other locales to see the growing popularity of this housing form.
If interest rates rise — and I expect they will marginally in 2016 — more builders and developers will regard stacked townhouses as an attractive alternative to conventional low-rise apartments and row houses.
In 2014, I predicted six-storey wood-frame apartments would become prevalent. Driving around the region, we can see this is now happening. Six-storey wood-frame buildings are becoming the new normal, and in the coming year, we can expect more municipalities to change their zoning bylaws to permit this form of building, especially along arterial roads.
Following the success of laneway housing in Vancouver, I predicted other municipalities would approve coach houses and backyard cottages on single-family properties. This has proven true in the Districts of North and West Vancouver and other municipalities. However, to date most of these homes are rental only. Hopefully, municipalities will allow more laneway and coach houses to be sold this year, especially since households are now purchasing these units through complex legal and financing structures facilitated by the innovative financial institution, Vancity.
A number of my other 2014 predictions did not come true. We did not see many European-style mid-rise developments, similar to those being built along Cambie Street, outside of Vancouver. Nor did we see a renewed interest in 12-storey buildings similar to those built decades ago in Kerrisdale Village.
Nonetheless, I will conclude with four new predictions for 2016. As a result of the 2013 provincial legislation requiring strata councils to commission depreciation reports on their project’s condition, and a recent legislative change allowing the dissolution of a condominium with 80 per cent approval by owners (rather than 100 per cent), we can expect a number of older condominium projects to be sold to developers in 2016. Many other strata councils in older projects will start to investigate the feasibility of future sales.
I also predict a growing interest in co-ownership housing — a hybrid form of development that combines the best of co-operative and condominium living — and smaller housing co-operatives for empty nesters ready to downsize but wanting to live in a multi-family complex, where they can decide who else gets to move in.
Architectural heritage will continue to be a hot topic in 2016. In an effort to stop the destruction of some of Vancouver’s finest old houses, in 2015 Vancouver city council approved a Heritage Conservation Area designation for a portion of Shaughnessy. While I do not expect other conservation areas to be approved in 2016, I do predict more municipalities will develop heritage policies so they can offer incentives through heritage revitalization agreements to those prepared to conserve, rather than destroy, character homes. These incentives will permit construction of coach houses and infill housing for sale, and thus create new housing choices for those ready to move up in the market, and those ready to downsize.
In 2014, I told Vancouver Sun readers not to hold their breath waiting for a decline in house prices. While I do not expect the dramatic increases of the past two years to continue, as long as our region remains attractive and livable, the continued influx of immigrants and aging baby boomers from other parts of Canada will temper any significant decline in prices in the coming year.
Once again, time will tell whether my predictions are right. In the meantime, best wishes for a happy, healthy and comfortable 2016.