News / Vancouver

Vancouver's single family density push begins

But with the traditional single family home now out of reach for all but the wealthiest, critics say city is being too cautious.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Chief Planner Gil Kelley hold a press conference outside of 4028 Quesnel Drive on options to densify single family neighbourhoods that have been losing population.

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Chief Planner Gil Kelley hold a press conference outside of 4028 Quesnel Drive on options to densify single family neighbourhoods that have been losing population.

For some, Vancouver’s push to densify single family home neighbourhoods is putting heritage homes at increased risk.

To others, the changes proposed are too modest and slow to respond to the city’s dire housing crisis, in which single family homes sell for millions and the most expensive neighbourhoods are losing population.

“Excluding me and so many other Vancouverites from the vast majority of residential land is something that I think needs to change,” said Jens von Bergmann, a data analyst who falls into the latter camp.

To illustrate his point, von Bergmann has made an interactive map showing just how much you need to earn to be able to buy a single family home in the city. The map doesn’t even begin to start to turn affordable green until you move the slider up to $170,000. At $250,000, you might have a chance at buying on the eastside. Vancouver’s median income for 2016 was $72,662, according to Statistics Canada.

The City of Vancouver has started the public hearing process for two of the changes planning staff hope will help bring people back to the single family neighbourhoods. The city is proposing to allow homeowners to build stratified laneway homes that they can sell off — not just rent, as the current rules allow — if they retain the original character home.

In Mount Pleasant and Grandview-Woodlands, the city wants to change the number of homes allowed on one 33’ lot from two to three. The city also wants to allow “a new detached form for duplexes that allows for two separate houses on a lot, with a larger house at the front and a smaller house at the lane:” essentially, a coach house behind a main house. Four-plexes would also be allowed on larger lots.

The city decided not to go ahead with a previous proposal to limit the size of a new home in an attempt to limit teardowns of older homes. That spurred a letter writing campaign to council from residents concerned about the loss of character homes. In advance of the public hearing, council has received 72 letters from people asking for the original proposal to be restored.

The zoning changes have also become an election issue as Vancouver heads into an Oct. 14 byelection, with one city council seat up for grabs. NPA candidate Hector Bremner and Green candidate Pete Fry are both calling for more “missing middle” zoning (townhouses, lowrise apartments and duplexes), with Bremner pushing for those types of housing to be allowed in all neighbourhoods.

Currently, they’re excluded from the RS (single family) zones, as von Bergmann has tried to illustrate with his map.

Although many of Vancouver’s new townhouses are also very expensive, often at or above the million dollar mark, von Bergmann argued housing like duplexes, townhomes, and four- and six-plexes are much less expensive than the new single family homes that now often replace older homes, which are commonly bought as “teardowns.”

“I just felt that this response is not in proportion to this actual overall picture that we have,” von Bergmann said.

“Who do we do all this stuff for? Who are the people that can still buy in these neighbourhoods, that we’re protecting?”

Is there more to this story? Contact Metro at vancouverletters@metronews.ca.

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