This week, the City of Vancouver will consider staff reports in regard to the program of “gentle densification” and the creation of the opportunity to apply four to six units onto lots currently designated as Single Family. Key points of the full 125 report are:
- Consolidate the 9 RS zones into a single updated zone,
- Reduce the size of a new house from 0.7 FSR to 0.6 FSR,
- Increase the size of a laneway house from 0.16 FSR to 0.25 FSR.
The comprehensive report to the Council provides a great level of detail consistent with information shared through a lengthy consultation process with stakeholders including HAVAN and our members. We applaud the action taken by the City of Vancouver to provide legislation to support much needed “missing middle” housing, particularly consolidation of the current nine residential zones into a single Residential Inclusive, R1-1 Zone, which should reduce confusion, raise process efficiency, and support a wider range of housing choices.
The Government of BC is also in the process of implementing a province-wide approach to multiplexes, and we have repeatedly asked city staff to work with the province to ensure consistency between the City’s model and the developing provincial approach. The province is looking to introduce their program this fall and as the City of Vancouver will be first out of the gate, we are concerned that this model will not reflect the input HAVAN and our members have offered to both government bodies.
FSRs AND FLEXIBILITY
One of the principal concerns is related to the Floor Space Ratio (FSR) and the direct opportunity to embody as much flexibility as possible to allow for a variety of expressions and unit types with both laneway homes (LWH), and the development of separate units in purpose-built multiplexes, or in the creation of suites within an existing single dwelling. The current FSR for Single Family is .7 and under the proposed regulation this would be scaled back to .6 as a standalone, adding .25 for a LWH, totaling .85 for both.
Staff are suggesting the rollback to .6 FSR is to discourage the pursuit of a single-family home, but this may well compromise the opportunity for that home to support the introduction of suites under the multiplex program in the future. The opportunity exists to generate additional homes but without flexibility, the size of these new units may not be practical to serve the needs of couples and young families.
While not specifying maximums for a primary house or laneway home, HAVAN’s analysis points to a 1.0 – 1.2 FSR to achieve a flexible, viable opportunity to provide usable homes while still respecting the scale and character of a neighborhood. We appreciate that the proposed regulations allow for a density bonus of 0.30 FSR, to total of 1.0 FSR across a property, but with the outlined criteria, this may prove challenging to achieve.
To achieve a desired 1.0 FSR, a property owner would need to:
- Pay a set-rate floor area based financial contribution
- Provide one below-market homeownership unit
- Secure all units as purpose-built rental housing in perpetuity
The City of Vancouver’s commissioned report from Coriolis Consulting identifies that the ability to make a density bonus contribution will be different for each project, and smaller lots that accommodate a maximum of 4 units cannot support any significant contribution. Further, they noted that the inclusion of one below-market home is likely only viable in six-unit projects.
Our members who have been involved in the consultations are generally supportive of the concept and echo our concerns recommending that this initiative be coupled with changes to the approval and permitting stream to allow for realizing an immediate and meaningful difference. We have also recommended the City of Vancouver allow the stratification of lane-way homes, and or suites, with no upgrades needed for a primary home, if there is no change in use of the principal residence.
It is perceived by some that the designation to allow multiplexes on single-family lots will result in a wholesale conversion of single homes into multiplexes, but like LWH’s, it is more likely to grow organically and slowly, driven by ‘over housed’ existing homeowners seeking to create housing opportunity for family members or access the equity embedded in their homes to create homes and an income stream.
Developers will not be rushing to build such units until they see the outcome of sales, as there is uncertainty if the multiplex program will be successful because the units will be too small, and too expensive compared to condos and housing being built outside the City of Vancouver.
Others feel this program is coming too late, at a time when land costs, construction costs/complexity, lengthy approval cycles, and the cost of financing is the perfect storm that will limit implementation.
The issue of FSR and flexibility will have a strong influence on the potential success of this program and this concern is reflected in a petition being circulated by several member architects and designers. If you concur, add your name to the petition.
BARING THE COST OF ELECTRICITY
The other concern that has been highlighted and previously shared with city staff is related to the direction toward, and cost of, installing hydro pad mount transformers onto private lands to accommodate laneway and multi-plex housing compromising developable space, affordability, and parking opportunities.
Current electrical load requirements need to be reviewed and verified, as our members’ experience points to much lower service thresholds in fully electric homes currently in the field. The cost of upgrading hydro infrastructure and service to meet loads specified by the City of Vancouver to serve mandated electrification has been recorded in the tens of thousands of dollars and in some instances well into six figures and these added costs should not be burdened onto individual property owners seeking to provide affordable housing.
If zoning is going to be universally applied to support and incentivize ADUs in Single Family Zones, and the current extremely high load specs stand, then the cost to upgrade the capacity should be borne by BC Hydro allowing the overall expense to serve gentle densification through all RS Zones, versus spot upgrades, and with hydro plant components and equipment often situated in existing right of ways. We believe that the use of public lands to accommodate an additional or upgraded transformer is a more effective, efficient, and appropriate solution. This is pertinent to the City of Vancouver but also needs to be considered in the rollout of a multiplex program by the province.
The proposed multiplex program from the City of Vancouver and the Province is a bold initiative to increase the supply of affordable housing, and we must focus on enabling this opportunity while providing maximum flexibility and opportunity. Members have indicated to us that the density (FSR) and hydro issues as proposed by the City of Vancouver are too focused on restriction and limit opportunities for genuine creativity, and that alignment between the province and the municipalities is essential to mitigate complexity, control costs, and avoid unnecessary delays.
Please make your voice heard by signing the petition and contacting the mayor, council, and or staff, expressing your concerns and asking that this matter be referred for public input, or direct staff to consider the concerns of industry.
HAVAN continues to work with CHBA BC and CHBA to advocate for all levels of government to work together to address the challenges of the housing industry including zoning restrictions, density limits, and NIMBYism.
Looking to stay up-to-date on Metro Vancouver’s residential housing industry? Sign up for Ron’s weekly Monday Morning Briefing and other HAVAN emails here.
QUICK BITES …
- The number of starts and permits is down significantly year over year, but June did see a rebound in the number of permit applications. However overall, the higher interest rates reinforced by the Bank of Canada in the last two weeks and the high cost of labour and materials are causing industry to pause and reconsider introducing projects at the very time we need to expedite supply.
- In an unusual turn of events, the City of Vancouver will defer an 8.4% increase in development cost levies for 2023 until the end of September 2024. This may be a small token but is still better than nothing and a sharp contrast to the Township of Langley seeking to push through an average increase in DCCs of 83%.
- It is becoming increasingly clear that the availability of electrical power to support broad-based electrification to reduce our carbon footprint is a real uncertainty. It is suggested that this shift could require tripling of our existing capacity. Looking at Site C, which commenced in 2015, it is suggested that the expansion of this capacity will already be lagging well behind demand on its operational date in 2025.
- When looking at the scarcity of developable land in our urban areas, are golf courses the next opportunity to provide a land base that supports more housing and public availability to green/park spaces?
- Please see this CHBA-BC information sheet speaking to the opportunity to Build a Career in the Skilled Trades. We have previously reported that CHBA-BC has acquired a million-dollar grant from the province to support trade choices as a career and develop training opportunities.
- The Township of Langley, in conjunction with HAVAN member Streetside Developments, and BCIT invites the building industry across the Lower Mainland to register for a series of free cutting-edge, Step 5 On-Site Workshops and learn all about the design, construction, and permitting of a ground-breaking townhouse project that targets compliance with Step 5 of the BC Energy Step Code, CHBA’s Net Zero Energy Ready Standard, and EL-4 of the Zero Carbon Step Code. The targets this project is committed to exceed the provincial 2032 targets for energy and emissions, today. The three unique workshops (each held twice) will include lessons learned from the project, a tour of the home mid-construction, and a mid-construction air tightness test. For registration and details about the event, see the following link: https://tol.ca/gbworkshops. CPD points are available, and dates are August 1 – 3, 2023 at 6951 204th St, Langley, BC V2Y 1P8 For questions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- How did those ancient Romans build the monumental structures that we still marvel at today? Well per this article from Science Alert it seems the mystery has been revealed.