Vancouver’s housing strategy aims for “transformation” of residential neighbourhoods

Vancouver’s housing strategy aims for “transformation” of residential neighbourhoods

Vancouver’s new 10-year housing strategy, a plan more than 14 months in the making, covers a lot of ground.

The Housing Vancouver Strategy, unveiled Thursday less than a year out from a civic election in which housing is expected to be the top issue, touches on everything from creating affordable housing and taming speculation, to expediting the approval process and combating homelessness.

Of particular interest to observers is the city’s proposal for the “transformation of low-density neighbourhoods,” which would see parts of the city zoned for single-family houses — almost 80 per cent of Vancouver’s residential land — opened up to other housing options such as townhouses and row-houses.

Gil Kelley, the city’s general manager of planning, said the new housing strategy includes “big moves” that haven’t been done before in Vancouver.

Among them is the idea of setting home production goals based on local income levels, Kelley said, “So we’re actually meeting the needs of Vancouverites, and not only for investors. That’s a big shift.”

“The underpinning here, philosophically, is to make sure that Vancouver remains a place for all people, all incomes,” Kelley told reporters Thursday at city hall.

“That’s why we have this fairly ambitious number of 72,000 new units over 10 years.”

To compare that “fairly ambitious number” of 72,000 new Vancouver homes over 10 years, just the day before the federal government unveiled its own national housing strategy, with dual events in Vancouver and Toronto, setting a goal of 100,000 new housing units over 10 years across Canada.

Vancouver’s target of 72,000 new homes over 10 years represents a 50 per cent increase in supply over current trends, according to the city’s numbers, and that number is almost a quarter of the roughly 284,000 total dwellings in the city as of 2016.

Of the 72,000 new units, Vancouver aims to add 10,000 ground-level homes such as townhouses into single-family neighbourhoods over the next decade.

“That’s a good chunk over the next 10 years,” said Nathan Lauster, an associate professor at UBC whose recent book The Death and Life of the Single-Family House examines Vancouver’s changing neighbourhoods. “This is more ambitious than we’ve seen them do before in terms of densifying (single-family neighbourhoods).”

For context, last year the city had 109,260 ground-oriented dwellings, according to city statistics. That means the 10,000 new ground-level homes proposed by the city Thursday would represent a 10 per cent increase over the current number.

“I’m encouraged by this, opening up what is a lot of city land for more diverse sorts of housing that will also hopefully become much more affordable to a much wider range of people,” Lauster said Thursday after reviewing the city’s plan.

The city, Lauster said, is trying to fill in the so-called “missing middle,” medium-density housing types that can add people and vibrancy to an area, without drastically changing the feel of the neighbourhood. “The whole idea behind this is not to see towers everywhere … I don’t think we’re looking at turning into Tokyo overnight.”

Still, neighbourhood changes on the scale proposed Thursday would have been hard to imagine in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s when Gordon Price was a Vancouver councillor, Price told Postmedia Thursday.

“RS1 was untouchable,” Price said, referring to the classification of zoning for single-family houses. “So this is a big deal.”

But Price believes it has taken the city “way, way too long” for both the densification of single-family neighbourhoods and the release of such a comprehensive housing strategy.

“Maybe there’s going to be some debate and conflict here,” he said. “But you might as well have had it five years ago.”

Mike Harcourt, who worked on several major Vancouver housing initiatives between 1973 and 1986 first as alderman then as mayor, told Postmedia Thursday: “The dream of single-family house ownership in Vancouver, that hasn’t existed for a long time.”

Harcourt believes that even in neighbourhoods like Dunbar, West Point Grey, and Kerrisdale — which he considers the staunchest “defenders of the single-family neighbourhood” — residents are more open to change and density now than they were only a few years ago.

“I’ve noticed a shift of mood in people in those neighbourhoods, just over the last few years,” Harcourt said. It’s possible, he said, that perspectives are changing in those neighbourhoods because older homeowners looking to downsize want more diverse housing options, as do their adult children with young families.

Dunbar and Kerrisdale are both cited in a release Thursday from the city, as examples of neighbourhoods in need of “revitalization,” where this year’s census data showed declines in children and overall population.

“We need to restore the vitality to a lot of those neighbourhoods in a creative way, but not just bulldoze everything down and build three- and four-storey apartments,” Harcourt said. “There’s a way you can do these changes that don’t destroy the quality of life and livability of these neighbourhoods, but make them energized.”


Story Credit: Vancouver Sun