Low-to middle-income housing still a challenge in Vancouver

Update from Vancouver Real Estate Agent Dan Miller and Greater Vancouver Homes

The Mayor's Task Force on Housing Affordability in Vancouver has begun to  tackle the challenge of finding ways to provide more housing for low-to  middle-income households in the city.


Barely a month after being appointed, the 16-member task force this week  issued its first progress report containing a few key "quick start"  recommendations that are focused on spurring the approval of some new housing  supply.


The task force is focusing its efforts on low-to middle-income earners -  those with individual household incomes of $21,500 to those with combined  household incomes of up to $86,500 annually.


They believe this will capture a number of different market segments,  including lower-income singles and couples looking for rental accommodation they  can afford, modest income couples struggling to buy their first home, families  with children who want to live in the city rather than have to move to the  suburbs, and seniors wanting to downsize while remaining in their  neighbourhoods.


It is interesting to look at what a couple earning a combined $86,500 can  afford to buy with today's current interest rates. Assuming they would have  saved enough to be able to make a down payment of 10 per cent and that they  would qualify for a mort-gage where the mortgage payments and taxes would not  exceed one-third of their income, they would be able to afford a home priced  around $500,000.


The February Real Estate Board's benchmark selling price for all residential  properties in Greater Vancouver was $670,900. For detached housing, that price  was $1,042,900. Supplying homes for those households that earn up to $86,500 is  not an easy challenge.


The task force's first set of recommendations focus on expediting  applications for new market housing development targeted to low-to middle-income  earner.


The quick start recommendations also focus on bringing some more clarity to  policies in the Cambie Corridor Plan to ensure that they trans-late into actual  new development. The city's land-use plan for the stretch of Cambie from 16th  Avenue to Marine Drive has opened up new areas of the city for a fair amount of  transit-oriented development, including rental housing required as a part of the  new zonings. However, 10 months after the plan was adopted, not a single project  has been approved.


These recommendations came rather quickly, but they only brush the surface of  the issue in terms of increasing housing supply to a level where the  supply-demand curve will actually start to permanently warp in favour of buyers  looking for afford-able housing options in Vancouver. It was encouraging to see  task force co-chair Olga Ilich quoted as saying that the task force would be  talking a lot about "gently densifying neighbourhoods." This is where the work  of the task force can make a real difference.


Making housing affordable for modest income earners will require much more  housing supply and a diversity of housing types. Not everyone wants to live in a  highrise condominium apartment or in an apartment above retail on a busy main  street.


Gentle density needs to be introduced to Vancouver's single-family  neighbourhoods. Laneway housing was the beginning of a creative approach to  small density increases in residential neighbourhoods. Other even more creative  ideas are now being looked at, just in time to perhaps be considered during the  next stage of work by the Mayor's Task Force.


Smallworks' Jake Fry, who is the pioneer of laneway housing in Vancouver,  recently convened a group of architects, developers, builders and residents to  explore some ideas that might one day allow homeowners to redevelop their own  residential lots, introducing some additional housing units with a form and  character that could be compatible within the single-family neighbourhood  pattern.


With this kind of flexibility, homeowners become the developer; they use  their own equity in their home as financial leverage and they create some  additional "gentle" density that might be in the form of housing types that are  in short supply - housing types that would be in the reach of modest income  earners - and housing types that are what's called "ground-oriented", with their  own outdoor entrances like a house.


One idea that is being explored is either permitting the conversion of an  existing home on a standard 33-foot lot or building a new structure that would  accommodate two basement suites of 560 square feet each, two two-storey duplex  homes of 1,120 square feet each and a laneway building with a small  400-square-foot studio on the main floor and a townhouse in two storeys above  with 1,290 square feet. That means doubling the dwelling count to six homes from  three homes on a single-family lot, which is currently per-mitted with a primary  residence a secondary suite and a laneway house. This would bring affordable  housing and housing choice through land-use efficiency and creative design.


Another design idea that is being explored would see eight units on a  50-foot-wide single-family lot, all in a form not that much different than the  massing of the typical house plus a laneway house, with the addition of another  laneway house.


These ideas and others require creative design and some compromises, such as  reductions in front and rear yard setbacks, parking reductions and some modest  height reductions. They aren't ideas that will work in every block and every  neighbourhood. Adding density to corner lots is easier, for example, than adding  density to a mid-block single-family lot.


These are all ideas that need to be explored, refined and adopted for the  gentle transformation of our single-family neighbourhoods if we are going to  supply the housing that is needed to make Vancouver an affordable and livable  city.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/real-estate/middle+income+housing+still+challenge+Vancouver/6329606/story.html#ixzz1qF3YYVmW