News / Vancouver

Vancouver considers allowing laneway houses to be stratified for first-time buyers

It’s part of a suite of options the city is looking at when it comes to densifying single family neighbourhoods

A laneway house in Vancouver

Shaun Martin/Flickr Creative Commons

A laneway house in Vancouver

In an attempt to add more affordable housing for families in a very expensive city, Vancouver may allow laneway houses to be stratified for first-time homebuyers, says the city’s chief planner.

It’s part of a suite of options the city is looking at when it comes to densifying single family neighbourhoods, many of which lost hundreds of residents in the past five years because families can no longer afford to buy homes in those areas. City staff will report to council with some of their recommendations on March 28.

“We are looking at everything we do,” said Gil Kelly, adding that allowing more homes to be subdivided into duplexes is another example of the infill development the city is looking at.

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“We’re thinking about some new housing types that we don’t currently allow in low-density neighbourhoods, but also looking at this through income lens and family size.”

Bryn Davidson, the co-owner of Lanefab Design/Build, said stratification makes sense because currently the larger house and laneway house must be owned as one very expensive package, with the owner of the property acting as landlord.

But a laneway house wouldn’t be particularly inexpensive: a stratified laneway house would likely cost around $1 million, similar to what a townhouse costs. On smaller lots, the small backyard dwellings can be 700 square feet in size, while on larger lots they can be built up to 1,000 square feet.

Davidson believes the city should allow both more stratification (where owners own pieces of the building on a site, but hold the land in common) and subdivision (where land is divided into separately-owned lots) of single family lots.

That increased flexibility would allow multi-generational families to co-exist more easily on the same lot — and would allow owners to “convert their equity to cash flow,” Davidson said. That could help some homeowners stay in their neighbourhood as they become older.

“The city in the past has been reluctant to add strata because they really thought it was going to lead to a run-up in property values,” Davidson said. “The run-up’s been happening anyway, and even if the entire lot becomes more expensive, the individual piece that you can purchase becomes less expensive.

Davidson pointed out that when laneway houses were first approved by council in 2009, they didn't have much of an effect on home prices because the zoning applied across all single family zones. (Vancouver's real estate sector was also in a financial crisis-induced slump at that time.)

 “If they do it city-wide, then it has a very different impact (on prices) than if they just did it in a little area.”

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