Byline: Ron Rapp, HAVAN CEO, first published in the HAVAN Monday Morning Briefing Members-only email, February 6, 2023
Connect with Ron on Twitter @havan_ceo
Last week, City of Vancouver staff introduced Adding Missing Middle Housing and Simplifying Regulations in Low Density Neighbourhoods which would see the opportunity to introduce multi-plex housing in single detached RS zones throughout the city. The proposed changes allow up to 4 units on a typical 33-foot city lot, and 6 units on a 55-foot lot, subject to two rounds of public engagement, with a final report and public hearing to be brought before Council in the fall of this year.
This initiative follows similar changes recently approved in Victoria “ … designed to encourage medium-density housing options such as houseplexes, small apartment buildings and townhouses rather than the extremes of the housing spectrum: detached single-family homes and high-rise apartment buildings.”
The Victoria proposal was criticized for having been “rushed through,” but was subject to over two years of engagement, and a three-day public hearing including over 12 hours of deputations from both sides of the issue under the previous council.
Both the Victoria and Vancouver proposals mirror similar efforts adopted in California, Oregon, and Washington state, and are being considered in many other jurisdictions including Burnaby and other metro municipalities. Often referred to as “inclusionary zoning” these changes would replace the existing “exclusionary zoning” that has characterized our urban land use policies to date and sees as much as 75% or more of city land reserved for single-family use, and drives lengthy and expensive “spot re-zonings” on a lot by lot basis.
Under the proposed changes, staff will be empowered to expedite or even approve applications that conform to the new regulations and avoid the repeated lot-by-lot decisions that tie up approvals and drive up risk and costs adversely affecting affordability and availability. The link to the Vancouver proposal includes opportunities to provide direct feedback, participate in a survey, and attend a number of open houses.
OBJECTIONS AND CONCERNS
The objections to such zoning reform are framed around the typical objections that have impeded the move toward “gentle densification” and the now widely accepted laneway homes” – parking, traffic, safety, utility capacity, the “go to” erosion of community character, and other NIMBY tropes.
The problem is, in not adopting a posture that facilitates the densification of our single-family zones we perpetuate the continuing rise in costs for such properties and drive the push for more housing into higher densities, and smaller footprints of high-rise applications that meet with exactly the same objections if not more, are more costly and take significantly longer to deliver.
It is noted, that revised zoning is to be applied in many of the neighborhoods such as Kitsilano, Marpole, and Mt. Pleasant that already host a strong presence of rentals in secondary suites, with some neighbourhoods seeing over 60% of households being rental.
There is concern that people may be displaced from these rental suites and face higher rents in newly redeveloped properties. However, the fact remains most of the single-family areas in many municipalities need to embrace a higher level of density with increased housing supply, or prices for such properties will continue to be even less affordable forcing younger people (our workforce) out of core areas that need their service and labour resources.
There are arguments that “developers” will jump on the opportunity to raze whole neighbourhoods and take advantage of the higher densities to reap huge profits and jack up rents. In reality, such properties, which are still relatively small-scale projects, will not attract the large production developers/builders but will be undertaken by many smaller professional builders that make up our membership.
Changes driven by such land use reform will evolve organically, much in the same manner as laneway homes did after regulations were altered to support this housing opportunity. The change will progress over time, and if supported by regulations that seek to expedite instead of inhibit, can provide more housing, affordable choices, and financial opportunities to property owners.
CHALLENGES – YOUR FEEDBACK IS REQUIRED.
There are real challenges involved in delivering such housing supply including the capacities of services, especially in regard to hydro and sewers, and the basic logistics of construction inside of established neighbourhoods where even deliveries and parking through the build can be serious issues. It is also noted that a Floor Space Ratio of 1.0 is being proposed which could limit the provision of practical, livable units and falling short of permissible yields. If the zoning and regulatory environment can be addressed to support this gentle density it would remove major obstacles that impede what are relatively accessible means of optimizing land use and extending affordability.
HAVAN will seek to provide input to the request for comments sought by the City and we encourage all members who would like to participate in what can grow into a growing opportunity to also engage and respond. If you do not wish to communicate directly with the City of Vancouver, please send your comments to email@example.com. We also encourage members to acquaint themselves with the substance of the proposal to ensure it can be a model for opportunity in Vancouver and other jurisdictions that will likely soon see similar programs.
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