Townhouses, six- to 12-unit multiplexes and co-op units would be more energy efficient, face less local opposition and could be replicated across large swaths of Metro Vancouver currently zoned for a new report, says a new report. single-family detached houses.
Booming single-family homes and condo towers won’t solve Metro Vancouver’s housing crisis — what’s missing, says a new report, is a ‘missing middle’, including everything from townhouses and from multiplexes to cooperative housing.
In a report released Wednesday by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives think tank, senior economist Marc Lee explains how the region could transform by doubling or tripling density in neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes.
About 80% of the territory of Metro Vancouver is dominated by 35% of its dwellings. The “zoning” of these neighborhoods could create a mix of small lot development away from giant homes or a skyline filled with box-sized condos.
“When we think about where we’ve put density over the last few decades, for the most part it’s been on big main streets or around transit hubs like SkyTrain stations,” Lee said. “But then we kind of left all the individual accommodations.”
Single-family homes in much of Metro Vancouver are unaffordable for the vast majority of people: in the city of Vancouver, a household needs an annual income of $300,000 to be able to afford a traditional single-family home , notes Lee.
There are few signs that the trend is slowing down. Last week, the British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) said prices are expected to rise 8.5% in 2022, with the biggest increases occurring in the first six months of the year.
Yet the region’s population continues to grow.
The report comes a day after Statistics Canada released census data on how the country’s population has grown over the past five years. In Metro Vancouver, some of the country’s most expensive municipalities have seen significant increases in residents since 2016, rising 4.9% in Vancouver, 7% in Burnaby and 9.7% in Surrey. In Langley Township, the population jumped more than 13%.
Where do all these people live? For many, it’s in one of the tall condo towers rising in new suburban skylines. But while large assemblages of land and the resulting tower blocks have helped create density in parts of Metro Vancouver, Lee says much of the wealth generated by the increased value of land went to developers.
To keep prices low on new developments, the report recommends one of two avenues: requiring that one-third to one-half of all units in a market development obtain designated or affordable rental upon purchase, or requiring developers to pay an affordable housing tax to fund housing elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the report says rental protections, such as rights of first refusal, temporary accommodations and buyouts, should be offered to protect residents.
High house prices inevitably come down to a lack of supply – there simply aren’t enough empty, affordable homes available to meet demand.
In a recent blog post, data analyst Jens von Bergmann and University of British Columbia sociologist Nathanael Lauster showed that, compared to the 2010s, the 1970s saw 66% housing completion in more per 1,000 people.
Lee’s solution: Build a modern version of the older six- to eight-unit apartment buildings that make up much of downtown New Westminster or Vancouver’s Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.
“Basically, the look of a neighborhood wouldn’t necessarily change that much,” Lee said. “We are looking at things where an elderly couple could age in place. They could redevelop the land they’ve lived on for maybe decades, get a unit that will work for them, and then maybe have a unit for one of their children or other family members – or that they could just rent.
Such units would help accommodate the region’s aging population and help accommodate the one million additional people expected to inhabit Metro Vancouver by 2040.
Zoning could also have the benefit of getting people out of old housing, where poor ventilation and a lack of heat pumps – which act to both heat and cool a home – have contributed to the deaths of nearly 600 people during the heat dome last June.
After the record heat, British Columbia Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said many seniors had no one to watch them and died alone in their apartments. The smaller the building, the more likely you are to know your neighbors and they will be there when you need them most.
Multi-unit buildings are also more efficient than single-family homes, in part because households sharing interior walls are less exposed to outside temperatures.
Like some European cities, denser housing close to shops, public services and jobs means people have less need to get into a car. That’s quite a problem in a city where just under 40% of its emissions come from transportation and 60% comes from burning natural gas to heat buildings and tap water.
Some municipalities already have a legal framework in place. Effective January 1, 2022, Vancouver began enforcing a bylaw that requires all new low-rise residential buildings to have zero-emissions heating and hot water infrastructure, and better roof insulation. And on January 26, the council passed a plan allowing development of up to six homes on 2,000 lots currently occupied by single-family homes or duplexes.
To reduce red tape and construction time, Lee recommends creating stock plan templates for a six-unit apartment building that could be replicated throughout the region in much the same way Vancouver specials were in the past. 1960s and 1970s.
Another hurdle is the kind of not-in-my-backyard (or NIMBY) prospects that have closed or delayed a long list of proposed real estate developments in the area.
Backed by an affordable housing developer, Lee says the one- or two-lot proposals would go a long way to sidestep opposition from residents opposed to the neighborhood change.
“Having more of that missing middle, it blends in with the neighborhood much better. You’re probably looking at pretty modest increases in max height,” Lee said.
Still, with housing costs spiraling out of control, Lee says deep structural changes are needed. His report recommends raising taxes for multi-property owners, which would fund the purchase of public land for affordable housing.
“It’s time to build the homes we need for the future,” he wrote.
It’s time, he told Glacier Media, for the provincial government to break the municipal gridlock and rezone neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes.
“Cities are just preachers to the province,” Lee said. “If local governments aren’t willing to step in and make these kinds of changes themselves…the BC government can actually create a zoning mandate that would allow that.”