Jake Fry of Smallworks talks with Jennifer-Lee and Mike about the concept of attainable housing for the missing middle and building thriving modern-day communities, suggesting we keep an open mind to solutions and focus on sophisticated conversations, versus complicated ones.
Vicostone Canada Inc: Unique and beautiful designs. Superior A grade quality. Competitively priced. Everything in stock. NO Waiting for inventory! For all your countertop needs!
Trail Appliances make everyday life better. With the best selection in Western Canada, hassle-free delivery, and a price match guarantee so you always get the best deal, Trail Appliances make sure you’ll love buying an appliance as much as you’ll love using it.
About the Speaker
Jake started Smallworks in late 2005 and became a strong advocate for the introduction of laneway housing. He established Smallworks Studios and Laneway Housing Inc. and worked with the City of Vancouver and other municipalities to help develop zoning by-laws based on his experience and interaction with literally hundreds of potential small home clients. Jake not only wanted to build small but to build sustainable. He brings together a team of dedicated people and develops homes which blend innovative techniques and incorporate modern building science and Flat Pac with hand-built finishes and millwork.
“My desire in starting Smallworks was to build simple, elegant modern homes which, with basic maintenance, would look as good a generation after they were built as when they were new.” In 2012, Jake was one of two founding directors of SmallHousing BC, a non profit society. In 2014 Jake was named Ernst & Young’s (EY) Entrepreneur of the Year in Manufacturing.
Today, Jake focuses on finding new ways to broaden the range of housing types in Vancouver to create affordable options for single-family home ownership.
Here's the Full Transcript of this Episode
Ep 39 Jake Fry
[00:00:00] Jennifer-Lee: Hey Mike, we’re back for another episode of Measure Twice. Cut Once. Always. Great to see you,
[00:00:06] Mike: Jennifer Lee. Great to be seen and great to see you too. This season is shaping up to be so interesting. We’ve taken a big picture look at High Performance Homes with Eric Lee, iceberg homes and maximizing livable space with Euro Canadian and talked to Chris Hill about the open-source BOSS system for factory built walls.
[00:00:24] Jennifer-Lee: Yeah, you really get a sense of change and innovation in the housing industry.
[00:00:28] Mike: This is a really exciting topic of conversation and it’s just so much fun to talk about and it really makes you think about the possibilities of what you can do with the home and the land that the home sits on. And in fact, it’s something we’re grappling with for our home right now, because we all know the value of land is out of control, not only in Vancouver, but the whole Lower Mainland.
[00:00:49] Mike: And while the government is working at the federal, provincial, municipal level, it’s going to take innovation and initiative from us in the housing industry in order to make the changes we need to make.
[00:01:00] Jennifer-Lee: Well, I’m really excited about today’s guest today are well versed in housing solutions. So, I want to introduce again, Jake Fry of Smallworks. Welcome back in the studio.
[00:01:08] Jake: Hey, it’s such a pleasure to be here, honestly. It’s just great and it is an exciting season you have booked and I’m really happy to participate with what I have to input on this topic.
[00:01:19] Mike: Well, we’re really glad you’re here and we’re really glad you’re back because you are kind of a tiny home evangelist now, aren’t you?
[00:01:25] Jake: Well, we’re going to call it a small home evangelist. Okay. There’s a distinction there. We’ll, we’ll talk about no doubt over the course of the hour.
[00:01:32] Mike: Well, we had you back in season two and we were talking about just enough and it was great episode with you and Richard Bell from Small Housing BC and I’m excited to continue our conversation and learn more about small homes and about how to leverage our space to get more out of it.
[00:01:47] Jennifer-Lee: Yeah, and I just love your passion too for small housing and being an advocate of getting more properties and more out there for families and other options to live in.
[00:01:57] Jake: This is such an exciting time. You know, I think when we look at the spectrum of housing and what we’ve seen develop over the last few decades, it’s really interesting. We’re really at a moment of a sea change and where many of our cities have really developed the city cores, and we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it in Lower Mainland, a lot of tower development, a lot of infrastructure projects that are quite substantive when we still come down to it. We’re living in these communities across a province that are really only five to seven decades old, and most of the land mass is tied up in single family.
[00:02:30] Jake: And we have this pressure where that land is under a lot of duress to be developed to supply housing because most of the city cores are really well built out. And at the same time, we have these neighborhoods that we want to preserve in communities that are really important and are attractive to the people who were there.
[00:02:45] Jake: And we’re at this balancing that we’re at this other moment where those communities are in many cases really depopulated. We have a demographic that’s, as Mike talked about, we have pricing going up with land value, so it’s really difficult to get into the housing market, and so what we see as really the biggest fulcrum across the province is start to use that single family lot, but as a single family lot, not amalgamating land together, but just allowing more households or lot and having joint ownership as a more common dynamic within the housing spectrum.
[00:03:19] Jennifer-Lee: And like you said, a lot of cities are waking up too. Like Burnaby now is going to start allowing laneway homes that was a no-no before and now they’re waking up to the opportunity of like, hey, we need to have more options for people. So, I think it’s great that a lot of us are starting. I remember when I grew up in New Westminster, you were allowed to have a duplex, but they were frowned upon and they were very hard to get through city hall. So, a lot of these multi density living situations. I’m glad that, you know, it’s taken us a while – three, four years that people are starting to wrap their heads around it.
[00:03:51] Jake: Well, I would build on that as well because I think we’re in a unique position because what we have is, we’ve had a period of time where regulation has New West. When you were growing up, really reinforced, Hey, these single-family lots, so sacrosanct those one people. It’s, it’s an ideology. So this is really interesting because when the original plans were put in for Vancouver and these little townships like Point Gray and Kerrisdale were Amal.
[00:04:15] Jake: There’s a city plan, which was preserving that single family lot as a real, very protected entity. And our regulations have basically held true for the last, you know, six decades around that. And I think many other municipalities across the province are very in a similar position. But now what we have is we actually have, like many of these communities, we have the citizens of the community wanting to see the housing changed and the regulation is so lagging. So, we have this inversion that’s happening. So, we have politicians who are looking so solutions. We have homeowners who are much more attuned and interested in having, getting equity off their property, having more households per property. Whether it’s for their parents or extended family or their kids. And then what we have is the regulations behind. So I would think in many respects, the emotional conversation about what are we going to do with these single family lots that’s happened. Now we’re just having to go through the motions of how do we deal with this on a regulatory basis.
[00:05:12] Mike: and I think we’re seeing a lot of evolution and growth. Like as an example, when I first moved to BC, it was not commonplace to have a suite in your home. It there was no permanent suites. And now it’s almost unheard of not to put a suite in any of these new homes that are being built. So that’s a good example of that paradigmatic shift.
[00:05:31] Mike: And I know you’ve been dealing with this for many, many years. You’re not new to this at all. For anyone who hasn’t heard our episode with you in season two, can you just go a little about your background and what sort of initiated the passion for this movement? Because I think that’s fundamental in understanding where it’s going to go is understanding who are the people driving the change behind it?
[00:05:50] Jake: Yeah. The inception story behind Smallworks. So, Smallworks is a company, and that’s where I started in on this, on this road about 16 years ago and I had moved back to Vancouver with my wife and I was working as a finish carpenter and just wanted to get the lay of the land and I’d had a renovation company before that. I was working on one of those ubiquitous monster homes. It was a 12,000 square foot house. There was I remember it was this one afternoon, I was thinking about how expensive housing was even back then, and this is like 20 years ago when I’m installing some crown molding in a bathroom. I was looking out the window and there’s this beautiful sort of country laneway almost. It was a gravel laneway and there was lots of trees. And I go, you could just put so many houses, little tiny houses down here. And I had lived in Toronto for a while and the sort of coach house thing was more prevalent there and I had traveled a lot. And it was always what’s around that little corner and there’d be some little house. And it was always the interesting part of exploring a city. And I was like, you could have this whole laneway filled without, and I’m sitting there and I’m struggling away and a lovely little four-year-old girl or six year-old came in and she said, oh, this is my bathroom. And I started talking to her a little bit and she and I discovered this whole house is being built for three people. It was just such a difficult conversation because obviously these people wanted this home and that’s great and it’s lovely. But I was thinking all the resources going into housing, three people where you could have taken that same effort and you could have housed 24 families. A week later I said, that’s it. I’m going to start this company and I’m going to make those little homes. And I ended up for about four years advocating for this type of housing and then helped with the bylaw. And then for the last 12 years we’ve built about 370 lane homes in Vancouver.
[00:07:32] Jennifer-Lee: Wow. I love that. And congratulations cause that’s a huge feat and I think you are driving the force when it’s coming to building these communities. Like, you know, Burnaby is going to start allowing it. Other municipalities hopefully will get on board. But you know, we peer behind the hedge and now you’re creating many homes for many different people.
[00:07:50] Jake: Yeah, it’s, I can’t tell you how satisfying that is. And, and also I think, well, when I think about the Laneway House program and, and it was, I think as you mentioned, it was really scary for something so different, and I really have to give a lot of congratulations and credit to Vancouver. That council at that time was, I think, very brave to look at this. And I remember really early on, Peter Ladner was running for mayor and I showed him some of the work we were doing and he really got it and he became a bit of an advocate. And then later on, the whole vision team came on as well. And this was a first city in North America that went citywide. And we look at what the implications were. One thing is that all of California adopted something very similar. If you have a single-family home in California, you can have an accessory dwelling, which is ostensibly a laneway home. That is such a shift, and we were the pioneers being Vancouver of really seeing that happen at a citywide basis, and Vancouver deserve a lot of credit for that.
[00:08:50] Mike: One of the things I really appreciate about what you’re doing is in a traditional home you have, you know, 3,500 to 7,000 square foot lot. Looks like you said, three people living in this massive house. When you densify, you go from having a bunch of people clustered to really being a community together. Can you talk a little about what that does as far as changing our communities and how we interact and relate with each other?
[00:09:12] Jake: It’s really interesting that you’d bring that up. One thing I’ll preface this comment with is that right now if we looked at houses being built in the seventies and eighties, we’re roughly looking at about 1200 to 1600 square foot for a family, and those families were, that were being housed in that environment where roughly about five people. Right now, our typical family house has gone up to over 2000 square feet. And they’re housing 2.5 people. So, we’ve gone through a whole timeline where we’ve been looking at bigger is better and our buildings have reflected that, and our design magazines have reflected that. And all that marketing that happens has reflected that. So, really what we’re really doing now, and when you look at neighborhoods, we’re trying to just repopulate the neighborhoods. If we start a few homes that might have four or even six units per block, we’re just getting back to 1970s population and neighborhoods. Right? We’re actually just repopulating the neighborhoods to what they were. So, I would argue what we’re really doing is fortifying communities to reinforce the very character that they have and we like about them.
[00:10:17] Jennifer-Lee: And we’re also bringing the idea that we don’t see too much in North America, but we do see in other cultures around the world. It’s the idea of family and family living together. Maybe you don’t need to live in the main house together, but now you have the option to put your parents in a laneway home or have a lock off suite in the basement for a family member. And it’s just creating more sense of family within your own community essentially. And that’s such a foreign concept to us over here. We think like, oh, you’re a failure if you have to have your family live with you, your mom and your dad, but now it’s getting a little bit more accepted. I think especially Covid made the push because it’s like, no, I wanted take care of my parents. I don’t necessarily want them in a home. I want to be able to live and grow with them and appreciate them before they go.
[00:11:01] Jake: Yeah. Oh, and our experience reflects that of the homes that we’ve built. I would say easily, it’s over 85% have been for multi-generational living, and I think that’s the big driver. Even when we’re looking at some more robust programs like Kimberly has or Vancouver’s now very seriously exploring of having maybe up to six units. This only works for somebody who already has a lot of equity in their property. This is not a development play. This isn’t somebody who goes out and inquires properties and then develop it and expects to make a profit off the land and off the construction project. This is fundamentally mom and pop facilitating likely their family and other community members to being housed in the community. And I think that fundamentally really will be the most inspirational part of this program. And the success of it is that we’re going to see across the province. As this takes up, and we’ve seen Victoria’s already passed legislation about this, this is where the program is going to really fly because it allows people who otherwise couldn’t get equity off their property to allow for that. It allows either their children or their parents to be in a safe environment that they can afford and the endeavor of the project, it’s somewhat self-financing.
[00:12:12] Jennifer-Lee: I’m glad you said that because that was my one worry when I heard, multi-family units being allowed on different areas of Vancouver was the fact that like one person’s going to own it and then they’re going to have six units and then they’re going to charge up the rent and it’s going to be not market value.
[00:12:27] Jennifer-Lee: And then again, we’re in the same cycle. And I think that’s a lot. Well, and a lot of people hear that it’s like one person’s going to get there and get many properties and just get rich and it’s another of getting more money in your pocket.
[00:12:37] Jake: Yeah, and I think it’s, again, when we’ve done the financial analysis and we’ve done it both independently and internally, it really seems to be that this is not a program for, you know, that what we consider the developer, this is a mom and pop program. This is something where a builder, ideally partners with a homeowner and jointly has a project that is reasonably beneficial for both parties. And I think the biggest part of that is as soon as we take away a land assembly, that really takes away land speculation. And when we don’t have land speculation, then that dynamic that you’re describing diminishes significantly.
[00:13:15] Mike: I think it’s part of a bigger shift in our society too. For the longest time as we age, we were expected to go to a retirement home or something like that. You know, we’re shifting to now we’re keeping our parents and our family members closer to us. The idea of aging in place, the idea of multi-generational living, and even the idea that densifying a certain area will have impact on schools and funding for social programs and everything else as well. So, in many ways, we are thinking about this in terms of construction, but this is really just a reflection of the overall shift in how we think about living at home in our society. And hats off to folks like yourself who really, we were able to spearhead and be those early adopters and do things when nobody else was doing.
[00:14:00] Jake: Well, I, you know, and I think there’s, the funny thing is there’s no real original idea. Like, and this is really interesting. We’re embarking in a fairly big project with CMHC around this type of density. And we’re like, maybe we’ll have a design competition, maybe. How are we going to find these, you know, these new approaches to land use? Or what we discovered is there’s examples of this throughout all our communities, there are structures that are like this. There are homes that have six and five units that are either protecting character retention or things that were done with the spirit of innovation in the eighties and nineties. And so those examples are there. These houses are already in our community. We just need to be able to let more people access it and in doing so, really address, you know, there’s that ubiquitous missing middle that people talked about. But fundamentally what it is, is we’re missing all those opportunities for people who need smaller housing. Somebody who may be an empty nester or families that are starting off that have either no option or are financially restricted from that opportunity.
[00:14:59] Jennifer-Lee: And you’re changing the mindset of people too. That’s the important part because like you said, a lot of these options have been around for a long time. Like I said, I’ve talked about this on the podcast for a while now. I grew up in a duplex when I was growing up in a duplex that my dad built people were like, oh, how could you live in a duplex? Like nobody saw it as a good thing. And now everybody talks like we’ve had different builders like, I need to build a duplex. Like it’s like the hot new thing. And it’s like when I grew up in it, people did not see it as a hot new thing, but it’s been there for a long time. And even before my father decided to join up with his friend, which again is a trend now, but it’s the only way he was able to afford a property and they were both builders and they built a duplex on the lot and raised their families.
[00:15:39] Jake: You know, I’m sure your experience was, I’m assuming, was like that growing up. That does not dismiss, you know, that’s something that’s not that attraction. Having neighbours and having closeness and having community is actually something that really fortifies a living experience.
[00:15:54] Mike: I’ve been doing this for a very long time and now it’s great to see it becoming commonplace. When you first started, what was the reaction of people in these communities? So, I imagine that, you know, we’re doing my neighbor’s house. What am I going to think? What are the people around us going to think and what was it like to be a pioneer? Did you face a lot of pushbacks from neighborhoods?
[00:16:11] Jake: Well, I think there’s two things that I would answer that question. One, I remember very distinctly there was, I think about four council meetings. It was open to the public to debate, and we had about 50% support. So, we knew there was, there was some demand. But what was really interesting and when we had started, Small Housing BC, which is sort of the advocacy part of my activity, we had contracted the Michel Group, which is a survey company to go out and interview the nine direct neighbors for the first 300 lane homes. If I was to be completely candid about it, there’s a couple of things that were huge take. One was, what was the biggest concern for people going in? Parking. Three years later? What was the biggest concern? Parking. Was there an impact about parking? No, but I’m still worried about it. And the other one was that about 30% of the people after the lane home had been in for six months were seriously considering one for themselves.
[00:17:02] Jennifer-Lee: Yeah. Well, you’re never going get everyone’s approval, but it sounds like you guys got a majority of people, because I was reading recently, a few months ago before the law was going in Burnaby to have a laneway. There were a lot of people being like, no way, not in my backyard. Like, not happening. And obviously it’s going to go forward now, but you know, you’re always going to get some pushback when things are changing because people don’t like change.
[00:17:25] Jake: Yeah. And that is a normal, understandable reaction. And I think where we have found, and I mean this in an with an open-hearted way, the way that we have found the biggest for these programs is the fact that people start to realize and we roll them out and we advocate for them. We rolled out, and this is an option for somebody. This is, something, if you need it, you should be able to do it. It’s your property. But more importantly, I think what happens is that people start to recognize this is an opportunity for themselves and not something that’s being pushed on them. Says if a six story concrete building was being put at the end of your block, right? That feels more imposing than, oh, Sally’s going to do this, and her daughter, Mary’s moving back with her kid and, and there’s going to be a couple of other people. That’s a little bit less scary when you really get into the weeds of the practical thing of something’s happening on your neighbor’s property.
[00:18:18] Jennifer-Lee: Well, it’s again, getting to know the people in your community and know their stories, because once you humanize them, then it’s less scary than like, oh, 50 people are going to move into my neighborhood and like destroy it. And that’s what I was liking. You’ve said it in the past, is gentle density. You’re not like going in and like throwing in a whole bunch of condo towers. You’re, you’re doing it gently and you’re, you’re doing it in a smart way.
[00:18:39] Mike: Well, these are families in the community walking past you. They’re not just people who ride the elevator, who you run into once. So, there is, there is some value to bringing people closer. Biggest issue you cited was people’s concerns about parking, just with the rise of ride sharing and car sharing and just better transportation infrastructure. Do you think that issue is going to relieve itself just as we evolve as a society, or is that still a main concern for, for many people?
[00:19:05] Jake: Well, I’m going to put forth a couple of things. One. What we’re looking at as these programs roll out is that there’ll be a slow uptake, right? We’re going to talk up just a few buildings the first year, and then if it’s successful, it will grow. Ideally, and I don’t think it’s a far stretch, the people who will be interested in these type of housing, as I said, there’s a principle of homeowner, maybe a child, but other people who might buy a property. Those are people who are looking to work and live close to where they are. That is the biggest thing we can do when we look at the environment and when we look at urban development, is to create opportunities for transit, to be efficient and for people not to require a car. Most people, if they could go without a car, would actually do it. You know? I think especially when we look at that younger cohort of house buyer people who would like to be a house. Late thirties, early forties, and younger. A lot of those people are not drivers. They’re not the same dynamic as somebody at my age who was like, okay, well I had to get a car at 16 because I lived in the country and I wanted to. Get around. So, I think that when we look at transit and when we look at this type of urban development, this is the most effective way and one of the most effective tools to make the transit. We have more affordable and more viable.
[00:20:18] Jennifer-Lee: My generation, I do feel likes a car, but like the younger ones, like Mike’s, maybe teenagers and even the early twenties, they’re not getting their license. They’re not like, I know so many people, they’re like, I begged my parents to get my license. And they’re like, the kids are like, Nope, I don’t want it.
[00:20:32] Jake: Yeah. And that’s been my experience. You know, anyone in my office who, you know, who might be under 35, they certainly don’t own a car and it’s not a, a key driver for them.
[00:20:40] Mike: Right. Well, I think what’s really exciting is under the auspices of affordability, first of all, we’re creating more affordable homes. The barriers to entry are being removed. But also think about how much a car costs each of us on a monthly basis. And that’s probably the conjunction of having to buy a home and a car makes both of them prohibitive for a lot of people. So, now we’re able to work and live closer together. We don’t have to carry the burden for the car, and all of a sudden it’s created a pathway to ownership for that younger person who may not have otherwise thought about it, because we’ve reduced all those. Like even buying a condo, how much does it cost to buy a parking spot in a condo downtown? Right.
[00:21:21] Jennifer-Lee: a lot of condos are not giving you parking spots somewhere. No. You have to pay extra for them. Or they’re not building them either.
[00:21:26] Jake: Yeah, and, and I think it, this all ties in because the idea’s not to restrict this. Nor to tie in this type of development without having one, because it will obviously be some sort of parking allocation but you look at the Laneway House Program, which now there’s, I think getting close to six or maybe a little over 6,000 built. We haven’t had a dramatic parking outbreak in Vancouver. And what we’re looking at normally in those structures is three residential spaces with one parking stall. Right? That’s all you have. We already, we’re already kind of at that, so if we keep that equation the same and you had a couple of parking stalls, or even three on some of these developments where we’re looking at, we’re actually increasing offsite parking. And then the other part of this too, and I hope our conversation goes in this direction. Environmental impact and greenhouse gases and construction, because that’s another big topic that kind of goes hand in glove with these smaller living areas.
[00:22:21] Jennifer-Lee: Yeah, I guess in Vancouver we do have some areas where it’s more congested with cars. Like I used to live up in Dunbar and there’s a lot of basement suites and it was hard to find parking. It was like bumper to bumper. But again, we have got to take one step to change it.
[00:22:36] Jake: Yeah, no, it’s, it’s a valid point. I mean, there’s no point in saying that it’s not. But again, we are in a bit of a sea change. Things are happening and, you know, and probably the biggest thing, and it’s, it’s the overarching driver through all our activity should be guided is what are we going to do to help the environment and how can the construction activity that we do and the type of planning and type of health building that we do benefit the environment as opposed to being a detractors.
[00:23:01] Mike: Well, living in smaller spaces, endemically causes that instead of having three families each living in 2,500 square feet, you’re may be having three families living in a much smaller space. There’s much less footprint as a result of that. Like we talked about, less vehicles as a result of that. And hopefully it’s a longer-term investment as well. It’s not going to be torn down in a few more years and paved over with something else. So, there’s all these things that add up. We did want to chat about the environmental impact of that at some point as well, but I do want to ask before we get off on too big attention about environmental impact because I think that’s a discussion that I want to follow on its own because it’s such an important discussion. But one of the challenges that I think people read about all the time are short-term rentals concerns about, they’re going to build all these units, but they’re all going to go on like Airbnb or something like that. What are you seeing out there as far as a concerns about that. What’s the actual result of the, the behavior after those units are built? Because you’re not just in the planning stages, you’re seeing these people years after you built their dwellings as.
[00:24:07] Jake: What specifically to the short-term rental? I mean, I am a full supporter that those type of programs, be it Airbnb, they have a place to have, be restricted in residential communities, right? I mean, the intent of that was you have an extra bedroom in your house and you had the opportunity to rent that to somebody who might be coming to go to the Vancouver Folk Festival. When we start to look at, and it’s been restricted, the idea of doing it laneway house and then someone turned it into a mini hotel. That’s been pretty successfully curtailed as far as I know. There of course may be rule breakers out there, but legislatively it’s been, it’s been addressed. I think the other one that’s really worth reflecting on too, though, is that I really feel that as we talk about these multiple units on a single lot, whether it’s a strata titled lane home or maybe up to sixplex that we really look at as an owner. Opportunity, and I think it’s more successful as an ownership or opportunity than a rental one, because what we’re really missing when we look at what is the housing stock that’s out there and what is a compliment that’s available to people in the housing spectrum, it is that starter home. Which is crucially missing those younger people who are starting a family. They’ve gone out, it’s test driven. They’re golden retriever that’s ready for, to have children, you know, they have no opportunity. And when I think of my generation, certainly my parents’ generation, home ownership is so important. We just don’t have that type of public housing that we have in Europe and that and that sort of way to really stabilize a family and to stabilize equity and to build equity is in home ownership. And we have to create those opportunities and we need to do that at a ground orientated structure. You know, we, we need those in sort of in neighborhoods where kids have playgrounds in schools. And this is why we’re really passionate, not only that we should have this type of housing available, but that some of it is even, more importantly, sold below market.
[00:26:02] Jennifer-Lee: but how do you guarantee that it’s going to be sold below market? Because that’s a thing I feel like, you know, we still have a lack of supply here. And so, if people are going to stratify these and start selling them, then you’re going to get 10 different bids of families. And we knew last few years people were going over their budget, they were stretching just to get their foot in and now we’re seeing some repercussions of that with the interest rates going up. So, like how is what drives me nuts sometimes. Everyone talks about fair rental pricing, fair market value. I am the missing middle. Mike’s the missing middle. But like, what is it, how can we guarantee that these things are going to be fair?
[00:26:41] Jake: Yeah. No, and that’s, I’m so happy to ask that question. So, what this started off with a feasibility study that I had initiated Small Housing BC for Vancouver going back about five years ago. So, we had, you know the tenant or what we had looked at as a guiding principle is how could we create affordable housing and we were doing it on a single lot base, as sort of that that was going to be the cornerstone and what would we need to do in a community to create enough density on a lot and enough living units on a lot that what we could do is to take the extra land value and then prescribe that one unit. To get that built form, you’d have to have one unit on the property sold below market with a covenant that then held that below market in place. Now land value’s gone up a lot. And we know that when we look at a Vancouver model, we can do that. We know legally we can do it. It’s a simple mechanism that doesn’t even really require a third party beyond a lawyer to regulate it. But the interesting thing is, you know what, today maybe we could only get that three or 4% below market, maybe a little better. Certainly it wouldn’t be as much as 10%, but the house built today, Say, let’s call it 4% below market, five years from now is going to be eight to 10% below market, and 10 years from now is going to be 25% below market. So, we’re building in future affordability as well as some affordability right now.
[00:28:06] Jennifer-Lee: So, if someone was to sell that, it still has to be below market.
[00:28:09] Jake: Yeah. What we’ve done is we worked out a mechanism where it’s basically, it’s on and that condition has to be met. And there are there’s legal mechanisms that were readily able to vet a client. It can be done by a lawyer, it can be, and it’s done by the point of sale. So, this is something that we think is so important. And what’s fundamental to this program, from my perspective, is that if we want this to happen, we have to make sure we have some level of accountability as the outcome. Even if it’s one unit. and that is the most effective use of that dollar. If we develop something on site and we create that at obtainability in site, we extract that profit and we embed it in. At that point, that is the most effective use of that dollar. If we were to take that money and put it into the city coffers or send it to the province and then somehow gets put into another project somewhere else, that transaction and that exchange that ha will happen two or three times the opportunity if we embed that into the neighborhood, whether we should have some at obtainability and that subsidy, for lack of a better term, is that not at the cost of any administration among the province nor the treasury of the province. That is this. I think that’s a linchpin to making a really successful, meaningful program.
[00:29:27] Jennifer-Lee: Jake, for Mayor.
[00:29:29] Mike: I was going to say Premier, actually. Because what it really sounds like, and this is exciting, Jake, is that decisions we make today are going to help long-term affordability for people getting into the market, but also affordable housing. The way we try to think about affordable housing now is we’ll put a block of houses up here. I’ll make a few of them affordable, but they’re not really affordable for most people, and this is the challenge we face, is that the price of land keeps going up. So if we’re, if we’re building based on today’s prices, that means we don’t have to be underwater to afford them. We don’t have to ask people to take a, a hit on their value of their property and their land for it to maintain affordability for future generations.
[00:30:09] Jake: I couldn’t agree more. And another way to look at this too is that we’re using the most expensive building techniques, both for building and for environmental impact, and we’re asking those buildings to be intensified further, which is adding more money to the cost and adding more environmental impact. And I’m thinking of specifically like a concrete high rise to deliver some quote, unquote affordable projects, which are, one would argue those are, if they’re rented, the rent’s still high. It’s affordable, but it’s in comparison to high rent or if it’s an ownership base. We’re dealing with things that are speculative, like the BC Housing and their hub money, which allows something to be affordable once, but doesn’t require to be affordable and perpetuity. And so we’re asking the most device for construction in our construction toolkit to deliver the most affordable housing, and what we want to do is use the most readily available tool, which is the techniques used by home builders to then enhance what they’re already doing. By this, adding a little bit of work to a project and that delivers the affordable housing that is a much more effective.
[00:31:18] Jennifer-Lee: Thank you. You’re like the first person that can break it down, because that’s the one thing that annoys me, and I was saying this even through election time, is nobody can define the word affordable. Nobody. They throw it out around as a buzzword, but nobody knows what affordable means.
[00:31:32] Jake: What, what is what. First of all, we can’t use the word affordable unless we’re dealing with deeply subsidized housing. We have to use the word attainable and our work, what we do is what is a wage of teacher or a paramedic, and if they can afford this, maybe not at 30% of their income, but below 40% of the income, that’s attainable.
[00:31:49] Jennifer-Lee: There we go. And that’s the difference. Is the word attainable? Because that’s the thing is in this missing middle, we don’t qualify for affordable housing. We won’t have it, but we can’t afford to buy anything.
[00:31:58] Jake: We won’t have it. We will not have affordable housing and in the context of what the CMHC looks at in an environment where the land is at disvalue. But what’s interesting too is that we also, the opportunity is that, and when we look at people who’ve been involved in land speculation on that single family lot, the other opportunity is we’ve hit the wall, right? It’s a bit of a Ponzi scheme where one person’s passed a property onto another, into another, and now the land is so expensive, people can’t extract the from that property at a reasonable rate. So, if we give them an option of something else to do with the property where they make a reasonable income, but other families are all of a sudden able to have a home, multi more than one family, this is another device to look at and to break that cycle of speculation around the single-family lot.
[00:32:42] Mike: How many of these units or development projects do you anticipate over the next 10 years? Because that’s really going to correlate to how many affordable housing units are available? How many more families can live in different neighborhoods? What’s the ramp up for this, in your opinion?
[00:32:56] Jake: Well, I have to draw upon my experience of the laneway house. So if we look at that, there was, you know, a handful of first year, two handfuls the second year, and then probably at the peak year 400, which kind of paralleled. About the normal 1% redevelopment of single-family laws. I suspect what we’ll see is something similar, but we will be looking more of a province-wide lens. So, what I think is, if the program is successful, which I really hope it will be, I would anticipate like thinking of somewhere like Vancouver, we might get four thousand. But when we look at what that means, it’s four times six. All of a sudden it’s 2,400, you know, properties, or, sorry, even more than that.
[00:33:36] Jake: Fundamentally what we’re looking at is we can deliver more attainable housing units and more appropriate size ground orientated living units than any of the high-rise developers, because we’re going to do it and we’re going to spread it across the city in a modest way, in the sense that it’s not every block is going to have five of these or seven of these, but the city. Be in a situation with tens of thousands of housing units that cost the city no money, that is accommodated by the current infrastructure and it’s permanently attainable.
[00:34:05] Mike: We understand the part about taking six families on a single-family lot and densifying that way, and that’s one way to do it. And it sounds like an effective way to do it. The other way is to take four or five of those buildings, tear them down and put a big giant tower up. So, whether we’re talking about a thousand units over, say a two or three kilometer area spread, or a thousand units clustered in a big concrete high rise, it’s still the same number of families, but we were talking earlier about environmental impact to spreading it out the way you are doing it offer a better environmental impact than putting everybody together in a tower and all the costs that are associated with the tower and the maintenance and the heating of the hallways and the cooling of hallways. What’s the better choice from an environmental footprint and stewardship point of view?
[00:34:47] Jake: I’m going to answer that definitively. Awesome. Someone will contradict, there are a couple of things that we have to unpack in that one is that the activity that you’re describing is fundamentally when we’re dealing with a tower. Even a fiber based tower, but primarily a concrete one, you cannot begin to imagine the impact that concrete has. So, if there’s not a single thing in construction that has a higher impact on the environment than the use of concrete, it is remarkable how much greenhouse gas is emitted in that. Okay, so then directing it to the other one. There is an opportunity, and I think we’re increasingly seeing it in a number of communities where we’re really looking at embedded carbon. We’re looking at how do we build, and there is an opportunity, even when we look at net zero homes, we can use the right materials in conventional construction that will have lower impact on the environment than even a net zero home. So, we have the opportunity in this more modest gestures of construction techniques to actually have less environmental impact per square foot than anything other building techniques. So fundamentally, right there answers your question. The other one is land use and land value. When we start to have land value somewhat, what I’m going to call captain a way, when we look at this modest amount of densification as opposed to a speculative venture that has an environmental impact around the culture of a city, right? And the culture of a community where housing starts and land value starts to really reflect, not a speculative value, but a use value. The use value being people in the community and housing and shelter, which should be a right. Everyone should have that right to shelter. Getting back to your question, we’re looking at apples and oranges insofar as that single home construction and those techniques are the best to deliver low impact, especially when we look at embedded carbon as our benchmark, rather than this building envelope performance. I would also argue there’s going to be lots of opportunities to reuse a building, renovate a building, and the greenest building is building that’s standing right. Period. And you think when we look at that recycle, reuse, reduce, reusing those buildings where we can and trying to keep them as intact as possible, there’ll be opportunities for a house to have three suites in it and a coach house in the back, or even just maybe that front house goes into the back and it’s for one family and the new structures built in their front. Those are the things that we have to be very vigorous in our analysis of what is good.
[00:37:25] Mike: This is such an enlightening conversation, talking about really rethinking about how we build modern communities. But before we get too much deeper into it, specifically some of the environmental impact and some of the other exciting things we have to talk about, like efficiency, we do have to take 30 seconds quickly to thank our amazing sponsors and have a quick break. So, we’ll be back in just a few seconds.
[00:37:48] Jennifer-Lee: Measure Twice, Cut Once is grateful to our podcast partners FortisBC, Vicostone Canada Inc, and Trail Appliances. Support from our partners helps us share expert knowledge and resources with families looking to build, design, and renovate the home right for you.
Vicostone Canada’s showroom and warehouse are located on Broadway Street in Port Coquitlam. Specializing in the manufacturing and distribution of superior quality engineered quart SLS for all residential and commercial countertop requirements.
Trail Appliances make everyday life better with the best selection in western Canada. Hassle-free delivery and a price match guarantee. So, you’ll always get the best deal. Trail Appliances. Make sure you’ll love buying an appliance as much as you’ll love using it.
And we all need reliable and efficient equipment for better comfort, health, and safety of our homes. Whether you want to adopt some energy saving habits or take on a major energy efficiency upgrade no matter what your budget, FortisBC can help you save energy. Be sure to visit FortisBC.com/rebates where you can also find amazing tips on low and no-cost ways to save energy, plus buying advice for energy efficient products.
Competition alert. Listen, and like this episode, for your chance to win a Napoleon Prestige P 500 stainless steel natural gas BBQ valued at $1,649 compliments of our podcast partner, FortisBC. Details at havan.ca/measuretwicecutonce. Now let’s get back to our guests.
Okay, we’re back. And this is a question I want to ask you, Jake, because we’ve been talking for the last few seasons, all about this is passive homes, net zero homes. Can you make your laneway homes to these standards, and if so, why or why not?
[00:39:45] Jake: Well, I’m going to be the trend breaker on this one. I’d mentioned it earlier in our conversation, and which is that I’m a key supporter and really believe that fundamentally less is more. And when we look at why we have these passive codes or net zero and why we focus on building envelope, it is the low hanging fruit. Around how do we make a more energy effective home? But it’s only part of the story. And in fact, I would argue it’s, it’s not really the most interesting part of the story. The interesting part of the story is what and how we build our homes around the material. There’s an opportunity to use using the right selected material, which is not the most expensive material, that we can actually create a carbon neutral building. And that carbon neutral building is far more effective over its lifespan at having a modest impact on the environment. And here’s a really good example. I’ve always been dumbfounded by this. We did a study with E3 Eco Group tech, analyze what’s our sweet spot? Because I was feeling that some of these dynamics were over building. So, a couple of things we learned. One is that currently we’re building to meet the energy standards, a much thicker wall. And it turns out we could build about 30% less we would have less impact in the environment than the energy savings we have on the wall. Another one, which I was dumbfounded by, so we, this is a pretty robust story. We looked at three different buildings of different sizes. We looked at all the material that was used and trucks that came and how long that idled in job. We looked at everything in the cycle. A building to go where is our carbon thing? And then, and of course the concrete, as I mentioned, is the biggest one. So, this fact sticks with me to this day is dumbfounding. And literally when we look at the time it takes to dig a hole for a laneway house, just to put a slab, and rate in where that material goes and it’s trucks too, the material that comes back, the process of making concrete, getting concrete there after we fill up the hole, the steel that’s used. All those things to get us a flat surface, to build the carbon impact of doing that work exceeds 60-year operational burden of a laneway home.
[00:42:10] Jennifer-Lee: That’s huge. I’m like whoa, I never even thought about that.
[00:42:14] Jake: So, there are other foundation systems that we’ve been exploring. We’ve tried and we’ve been experimenting. We haven’t hit the sweet spot yet, but we’re going to get there. So, the opportunity is, and when we look at building more intensely, let’s say four or six units on a property. We can use those devices that we’re learning right now and mixing offsite construction which we do. We do penalize build buildings, mixing that found with a new foundation system so forth. We can get a building that is going to outperform in net zero home and will in the sense of what we’re trying to get to. But really what we want to get to is we want to be in a place where we can build communities and we can use a building one that doesn’t have that. Erosive and impactful, negatively impactful way on the environment. And we can get there, but we have to abandon the building envelope as our only tool to get there. And we have to focus on how are we putting this together? What makes sense? Less is more with long as the outcome is in the end clear what we want to get to, which is creating a community with a modest impact on the environment.
[00:43:20] Jennifer-Lee: I’m so glad you said that because I think sometimes as a consumer and people that are not necessarily involved in the building industry, like I’ve been fortunate because my family’s company’s involved. I’ve been able to belong to Havan for a long time, so I understand some of this stuff. But for the average person out there, they’re just here. Get a heat pump. It’s good for the environment. Have a passive home. Do this, do that. They don’t know what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t be doing. And it’s like everything. You don’t know what is truly beneficial or not.
[00:43:47] Jake: What happens, I think there’s a couple of things that happen. One is I think we have well meaning, I’m going to say these individuals are well-meaning, but we have consultants that come in, they usually come in an area where they have expertise. You know an offsite is that they’re also involved in that community. So, they have a perspective and a viewpoint around their economic gain as well. What we have is we have very focused conversations, and those focused conversations tend to advocate for something that’s important to that individual or their perspective. And then what we end up having is we end up taking both regulation and approaches to building, and we get complicated on complicated. Uncomplicated, uncomplicate. We don’t get any more sophisticated, right? We’re not having sophisticated conversations. We’re having layered conversations, which are adding and become accumulative. And what we really need to do is we need to, as an industry, stand back, allow the industry and allow more dynamic conversations that really go, what are we trying to get to? And having more sophisticated conversations, and also having conversations. In this case we do this because this makes sense and in this case, we do this because this makes sense and that making sense in the context of our discussion right now is how do we deliver a housing unit that has a modest carbon impact and it’s not going to be detrimental to the environment.
[00:45:10] Mike: So, how does our industry get past this knowledge barrier to help people understand what is possible? Because I think one of the mistakes, we make is we look at the price today, not the long-term ownership or the impact or anything else. How do we cut as consumers and homeowners cut through the clutter? To get to what you were talking about because I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people have no idea these conversations are taking place and that number one, they’re affordable to them, and two, they can make a huge impact just by making a few simple decisions and talking to the right people. Mike: How do we get this out there?
[00:45:41] Jake: We’re starting right now, right? This is, this is the point of this. This is a point of having small, say Small Housing BC is we do a lot of public outreach, and it’s also our job. Really educate and focus those legislators and those regulatory bodies that they need to take this type of perspective. And there’s an appetite for this, right? I mean, let’s face it. You know, we have a very successful, successful program happening, um, on our electrical provider in this province, which talks about talks. It’s a bias perspective. You know, it has things that they’re advocating that may be not in the greater scheme of things, um, really accurate. And so, a good example is when we look at Vancouver and they look at, uh, using natural gas, which I, I’m natural gas has some significant problems, but when they were looking at hydro, They were looking at the output of hydro, but they never looked and they dis completely discounted. The methane that’s generated in Hydro projects as being valid, uh, uh, are part of the equation. So, when you looked at, uh, what was called the Ashray uh, analysis, and you looked at City of Vancouver analysis, Ashray didn’t give some initiatives as higher rating, and we would ask, why is that not scoring as high? And they’re like, well, that equation that’s being used as bias.
[00:47:09] Jennifer-Lee: Well, we also don’t know, and correction if I’m wrong, the overall impacts of a lot of these innovative ideas that we’re doing, because a lot of them are fairly new still. And yeah, maybe they’re happening in other parts of the world, but we don’t really know down the road what the impacts of the stuff that we’re doing now, if it is going to be totally beneficial or we’re already going to be on to plan eight of like, okay, well now we’re going to do this instead.
[00:47:30] Jake: Yeah, and I think part of that too is that we really need to look and we need to start to set guidelines that look at that. We need to look at outcome-based assessments, right? Because not everything’s going to, there’s going to be more than one path to get to where we want to go. And a heat pump in a 3,200 square foot house in Whistler may be great if it’s the right heat pump. You can’t take that heat pump and stick it in downtown Vancouver for a thousand square foot building and expect it to be efficient. It’s not going to be, it’s going to be more of a burden than an asset.
[00:48:01] Jennifer-Lee: But see a lot of these green initiatives, that’s what I hate and sometimes they’re promo as is like, it just feels like everyone’s like, I’m going to get this and it’s going to solve global warming tomorrow.
[00:48:10] Mike: We’ve been doing that for years. Like we thought compact fluorescent bulbs, were going to save the world. Now, LED bulbs, like the thing we have to remember is this is science, and science is always evolving and changing. Our knowledge is always increasing and that’s the value of these conversations. People like yourself. I use the term all the time, nail it and scale it. Well. You’ve been nailing it for years and now we’re at the scaling part.
[00:48:31] Jake: Well, and coming back to sort of maybe the, one of the focus of our discussions, this is where we look at, and again, there needs to be a number of solutions and there is a wide spectrum of what has to happen from house production, car production to what we’re using. But you know, for me, a guiding principle and where I feel we sit well in that spectrum is really advocating and focusing on the less is more. Right? And how again, looking at housing within communities, we need to add a little bit to what’s already there and it needs to be sympathetic to what’s there. And in doing so, that’s where we’re going to have the most impact. And it’s going to be the most attainable, the most readily attainable, and it’s going to have the lowest impact on carbon, and it’s going to have the highest impact on things like at obtainability.
[00:49:22] Jennifer-Lee: I feel like you need to do a commercial. Like if you said that to everyone, I’d understand why I’d have to buy all this stuff instead of when it comes to the thing of, they just make it salesy, and I don’t understand it. So, can you just do like an infomercial?
[00:49:34] Mike: I, I think he just did.
[00:49:37] Jake: Yeah, I think we just did.
[00:49:39] Jennifer-Lee: And talk about less as more. Jake, what are your thoughts on tiny homes?
[00:49:44] Jake: Well, Tiny homes were such an important discussion. They were the start of the discussion. We saw those reality shows. We saw every other Dwell magazine had a tiny home. We see them around in the neighborhood. I mean, I think it’s important because it really started that first shift. It was that vanguard movement in no pun intended to really look. What do I need? Let’s reflect on what we’re being sold in the marketing of housing that we had been, which is bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger. You know? And, and all we were getting bigger rooms, bigger couches. We weren’t getting a better lifestyle. And so, I think that sits paramount in when we look back at this time going, oh, That’s where that conversation started.
[00:50:26] Mike: But I think it, we should differentiate, because we did have this at the beginning of the conversation, there’s a difference between a small home and a tiny home. Correct?
[00:50:32] Jake: Well, a tiny home. I think a very simple definition is a tiny home is usually home-built or some someone’s built it, and it’s movable. It’s on a trailer, tends to be, you know, under eight feet and width and at some sort of length. That’s reasonable. What we’re talking about. Regular, conventionally built homes or modular homes or whatever they may be, but they’re built homes that are permanent. They’re on some sort of foundation system, and they’re connected to civic infrastructure.
[00:51:05] Jennifer-Lee: Yeah, because you teased us at the beginning saying that we’d get into it. So that’s our tiny home versus small home discussion.
[00:51:12] Mike: But it’s a good point of clarification because I think there’s a lot of these terms going around. It’s so easy to get inundated by everything, and so to hear it directly from you is how you approach it, I think helps a lot of us understand it at, pardon the pun, on a bigger scale. Hey, before we finish up, and I mean, I feel like we could talk all day about this, if we’re talking about redeveloping existing property, and repurposing them, what impact does that have on our heritage properties, those houses built in the early 1900s? Because there’s restrictions under what you can and can’t do. So, does that impact those neighborhoods and the ability of those neighborhoods to grow, to grow and progress?
[00:51:50] Jake: Oh, I think to the contrary, I think, you know, we’ve seen of these type of developments have been, and our best examples are really amplified in those heritage conservation programs. Be it character retention or something more robust in some neighborhoods that are like really about proper heritage retention. But the repurposing of those buildings, often we’ve seen more than one large, large, large old, storied building turned into like six or seven units and, and really sympathetically done so with that heritage lens. And, and that’s not only in Vancouver, that’s happening across a province. And those are some of the best-case scenarios in regard to best examples to go. We’re not talking about a square box with a bunch of old balconies. These are tastefully done opportunities that exist and we are beginning to see more of that in the Vancouver and New West as well, I believe. Where we’re looking at more what we’re sort of a, just a large, a large old home.
[00:52:54] Jennifer-Lee: See, and I thought I’d be more restrictive because I grew up in Queens Park in New Westminster, and that’s where all the old heritage homes are, and I knew back then it was restrictive what you can and cannot do. So, I would think that they wouldn’t allow an extra property on there. But you corrected me yet again today, Jake. I’m learning something new all the time.
[00:53:14] Mike: This has been a very good episode for learning new things. I have a lot more questions. Unfortunately, we are starting to run out of time but you know, I mean that’s the value, Jake, of you coming in. We really appreciate it because you really do such a great job of breaking it down and making it so it’s easily digestible for the rest of us.
[00:53:34] Jennifer-Lee: Yeah. Thanks again, Jake. I learned so much from you today. I learned my new favorite phrase now it’s not affordability, it’s at obtainability. So, thank you for that and uh, again, a lot of wealth of information and thank you for being a guest on Measure Twice, Cut Once. It’s been a great conversation, like always.
[00:53:50] Mike: It really has been, and I think you’ve peaked a lot of people’s interest as well to think about the future of how we as landowners can shape our communities. And we talked about some really great information about how to create modern communities, starting with a single-family home as a solution. We’ve discussed high performance building and the importance of carbon load. You’ve reminded us the importance of building a smaller footprint and the idea of countering bigger is better. And finally, that we have to have sophisticated comp conversations versus complicated conversations. And that’s probably one of the biggest takeaways is just how to break this down and unpack it all.
[00:54:29] Jennifer-Lee: I know I’m still thinking about him unpacking in this whole conversation. But that being said, do you have, I know you said a lot to us today, but do you have one more tip to give our listeners? Just one extra piece of advice?
[00:54:42] Jake: I think if I was to think about, one thing that I would really want somebody reflect on when they’re contemplating these ideas is to really look at what they want as a homeowner. What would make them happy, and I think we very quickly get logged into ideas about how to achieve something. If I do this, this will happen. And I think it’s more important to look at what I would like at the end product and then be open-minded about how to get there.
[00:55:05] Mike: That’s awesome, Jake, what an inspiring conversation. And we really appreciate you taking the time to come by and visit us again because the second time’s even better than the first time. To our listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast or Jake’s previous podcast in season two, please like, follow and share with your friends or families. The more followers we have, the more people will find our podcast and excellent resources like Jake has share.
[00:55:26] Jennifer-Lee: And for notes and links to everything mentioned today’s episode, including resources shared by Jake, you can go to www.havan.ca/measuretwicecutonce and you can also learn more about Small Housing at www.smallhousingbc.org. Next week we’ll be in studio with Joe from Naikoon Contracting and Allison from One Seed Architecture reviewing a duplex, each with a lock off suite built to passive house plus standards. It’s going to be a really interesting conversation. See you next week.