News / Vancouver

Tiny houses: ‘cute but it’s not a solution’ says Vancouver city councillor

Size is not the only problem with the diminutive dwellings, according to city

Tiny houses often look like miniature versions of the single family house.

Tomas Quinones/Flickr Creative Commons

Tiny houses often look like miniature versions of the single family house.

Tiny houses may look “cute” but they are not the solution to Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis, says one city councillor.

Metro spoke with one couple who had lived in a 220-foot tiny house, parked at a friend’s East Vancouver backyard, for almost a year before the city evicted them for a bylaw infraction. Housing must be at least 389-square-feet in size in Vancouver, but size is not the only problem with tiny houses, said city councillor Geoff Meggs.

“This is some kind of shelter on wheels that is not connected to sewage or close to any kind of garbage pick up,” he said.

“It might look cute but it’s not a solution.”

Meggs, who sits on the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability, emphasized that lowering standards of housing would not fix the city’s lack of affordable housing. The city’s recent actions on affordable housing include implementing an empty homes tax, asking staff to come up with new rules for short-term rentals, and drawing up a plan that focuses on housing middle-income families.   

The city has to maintain its priorities “and legalizing substandard housing on wheels is not one of them,” said Meggs.

But tiny houses are not substandard – they are small, dignified houses, said one advocate.

“To say [tiny houses] are not part of the solution is overshadowing how big the affordability crisis is,” said Anastasia Koutalianos, co-founder of the BC Tiny House Collective.

 “What is affordable to one person or even a preferred way of living is not necessarily the same for someone else.”

But while the city is not on board with people living in tiny houses, city staff are not patrolling neighbourhoods looking for tiny houses or people living in their vehicles, either, said Meggs.

“There’s no crackdown or enforcement against these people but it’s not something we’re prepared to legalize.”

People are not allowed to live in their RVs or vehicles in Vancouver, even if it is parked on private property. Meggs confirmed the city enforces that bylaw – one that also applies to tiny houses on wheels – only if there is a complaint.

Kaye Krishna, the city’s head of development, buildings and licensing, added there are logistical concerns with people building housing without permits.

“If you think about utilities, connecting to infrastructure appropriately, waste management, electricity, taxes … there are a lot of reasons that just putting up a building doesn’t really work.”

But despite these challenges, there is room to explore new ways of housing people, she said.

“New models that are emerging and they don’t fit within the rules but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth discussing.”

With files from Jen St. Denis

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