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Vancouver should prohibit new single-family home construction, says builder

The soaring price of single-family homes mean city needs to radically rethink zoning to increase density in Vancouver neighbourhoods.

Doug Langford, co-owner of JDL Homes, believes the City of Vancouver needs to do more to increase density in single-family neighbourhoods

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Doug Langford, co-owner of JDL Homes, believes the City of Vancouver needs to do more to increase density in single-family neighbourhoods

Doug Langford will build you a new single-family home on your big 50-by-100-foot lot in South Vancouver.

But that doesn’t mean he likes it.

“The fact that the city of Vancouver still allows a permit for a single family home in the city, is crazy,” said Langford, the co-owner of JDL Homes.

“I have clients that I have built 5,000 square foot houses and four-car garages for, and two people live there.”

Bryn Davidson agrees. The co-owner of Lanefab Design/Build says that while the city moved in the right direction several years ago to allow secondary suites and laneway houses on single-family lots, there is still much more that could be done.

“In our duplex zones, you can build a duplex, but you’re not allowed a laneway house,” he said. “In the single family zones, you can build a laneway house but you’re not allowed to build a duplex.”

In neighbourhoods zoned for single-family homes, three units (the main house, a secondary suite in the house, and a separate laneway house) are now allowed. But they all have to share the same backyard.

“The front yard is this kind of wasted formal space,” Davidson said. “We’ve got this baggage that has everything to do with status and nostalgia for the single family (neighbourhood), which is totally, completely out of touch with our current reality.”

That changing reality, Langford said, is the extreme jump in Vancouver home prices over the past three years — it will now cost you around $1.5 million to buy a detached house in East Vancouver, compared to $850,000 three years ago. Langford thinks the city has not moved fast enough to keep up with how families now want to use their single-family lots: to house multiple generations of the same family in separate units.

That’s led Langford to work around existing zoning, for instance by putting a multi-level “secondary suite” in the back of a new home. It’s essentially a duplex by any other name.

Academics like Nathanael Lauster, a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia and Tom Davidoff, an economist at UBC who specializes in real estate, have also recently argued that zoning in Vancouver needs a radical rethink.

“What are we doing reserving so much land for millionaires?” Lauster told Metro in a previous interview.

Davidoff points out that 95 per cent of Canadian families cannot afford to buy a single family home in Vancouver. He would like to see denser forms like townhouses allowed across Vancouver. Because of the political pressure local politicians face from single-family homeowners, he’s also argued that zoning should be under the purview of the provincial government.

Change may be coming, Mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters in September.

“We currently have staff looking at what kind of density is possible in those (single family) neighbourhoods, where currently townhouses or rowhouses are possible only on the arterials.”

An earlier version of this story stated that three years ago, the benchmark price of a detached home in East Vancouver was around $600,000. The correct figure is $850,000, based on statistics provided by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

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