Better use of land key to affordability in Vancouver
The last two weeks have been a bonanza for affordable housing junkies.They started with the Housing Central Conference, organized by the
B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), Co-op Housing Federation
of B.C. and Aboriginal Housing Management Association. It brought
together more than 1,300 participants from the non-profit and
cooperative housing sectors, and I was invited to deliver a version of a
recent SFU Affordable Housing Ideas presentation.
Many of the sessions focused on the need for new partnerships
between non-profit housing providers, developers and municipalities.
This message was reinforced by Municipal Affairs Minister Selina
Robinson and Mayor Gregor Robertson, who both addressed the delegates.
Kishone Roy, BCNPHA CEO, told reporters that while he was pleased to
see senior levels of government increasing funds to support affordable
housing, it is going to take years before new projects come on stream.
He, therefore, expects the current housing situation to probably get
worse before it gets better.
I was pleased to hear him applaud temporary modular housing as an
effective short-term solution. I did my 1971 university thesis on the
concept of relocatable modular housing, and some Courier readers may recall that Peter Ladner and I first proposed this idea to house the homeless during the 2008 municipal election.
In my conference presentation, I urged attendees to explore better
use of land. One idea was to redevelop well-located single-family lots
with small low-rise apartment buildings such as those built throughout
Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s.
These simple buildings can be very cost-effective. They do not need
underground parking, and while some fire code relaxations may be
required, they can provide safe, decent and relatively affordable
Another idea was to consider other uses for back lanes. Now that
laneway housing has become accepted in many parts of the province,
perhaps it is time to also build townhouses and low-rise apartments
along lanes. Anyone familiar with English mews housing will know what I
mean. Moreover, the latest West End plan allows small infill apartments
A critical factor contributing to the high cost of housing is the
price of land. I therefore urged attendees to seek out free land. For
example, a 140-foot strip off the Langara Golf Course along Cambie
Street could accommodate a substantial non-profit and market housing.
The berm along West Sixth Avenue, built in the 1970s to shield False
Creek residents from railway noise along the now-abandoned railway
line, could offer another free land location, as might the top level of
After the conference, the federal government announced its long-awaited Federal Housing Strategy
at joint events in Toronto and Vancouver. (Toronto got Trudeau; we got
Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal minister responsible for housing.)
In a Nov. 22 Courier story, Mike Howell summarized the $40-billion, 10-year, 100,000 unit program, which promises to reduce homelessness by 50 per cent.
While I'm pleased to see the federal government back in the housing
game, I’m sure I’m not the only one a bit sceptical when it comes to any
promises to end or reduce homelessness. But we can hope.
Following the federal government’s announcement, the City of
Vancouver released its 10-year housing strategy, which includes a broad
array of initiatives, including approval for 72,000 new homes around the
city. While I'm often critical of the city’s zoning, planning and
housing initiatives, this comprehensive program has potential to offer
I was particularly pleased with the proposal to transform
low-density, single-family neighbourhoods with 10,000 duplexes,
triplexes, townhouses, stacked rowhouses and low-rise apartments —
something many of us have been advocating for decades.
The city is also committed to speeding up the approval process and
eliminating community amenity contributions for rental housing —
something which has deterred some developers from building rental
Following the city’s announcement, former mayor and premier Mike
Harcourt noted that even in neighbourhoods such as Dunbar, West Point
Grey and Kerrisdale, where residents have traditionally defended
single-family zoning, there is now more openness to change than only a
few years ago.
I discovered this to be true last Thursday when Abundant Housing’s
Brendan Dawe and I were invited to speak on Changing Dunbar at the
Dunbar Residents’ Association annual general meeting. But that’s another
story for another day.
Link to Howell’s story: