Dan Fumano writes about the freshly-printed City of Vancouver 10-year housing strategy in the PostMedia outlet Vancouver Sun:

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. . . .
. . . 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.”

So if you oppose density, rezoning and so on — who gets your vote? If you love class divisions, exclusionary zoning, car dependency and poor doors — who gets your vote?
What’s a lonely confused voter to do?
Looking at the big Vancouver civic political parties, one is making a major commitment; the other has made a credible indicator of direction (without clear and public party endorsement).  All of this with around a year to go before the 2018 civic election.
Vision, Mayor Robertson, from CoV web site:

“We’ve heard loud and clear that Vancouverites expect us to address the fact that vast areas of low-density neighbourhoods are unaffordable for all but the very wealthy – with many of them seeing a decline in families and kids. With the new Housing Vancouver strategy, we can transform our low-density, single-family neighbourhoods with more duplexes and triplexes, more townhouses and rowhouses, and more low-rise apartments – and make sure every neighbourhood across Vancouver is filled with families and kids.”

And then there’s Hector Bremner, recently sworn in as NPA City Councilor, as discussed in earlier Price Tags material:

Touching the Third Rail
Is it now possible, if not imperative, that our Council consider fundamentally rezoning the single-family neighbourhoods in a way that would change their character . . .
. . .  Hector Bremner proposed a city-wide plan that would open single-family zones places to multiple dwellings.
Civic By-Election Candidates
Hector Bremner (NPA) is emulating what Gordon Campbell as mayor was good at: proposing something quite radical without being seen to.  He’d rezone the whole city at once as part of a big plan that would obviate the need for spot zoning.  And in doing so, make once-sanctified single-family zones places for multiple dwellings.  It’s what a lot of urbanists are calling for, but didn’t expect it to come from the NPA.
If those proposals were seriously undertaken, it would be the biggest change in the civic culture of Vancouver since the amalgamation of 1929 that created this town in the first place.  But they could be done.

Not a heck of a lot of difference between Vision and Bremnerized-but-not-official-NPA. Perhaps there’s potential for a new civic party to rise up and capture this lonely confused section of the electorate.


  1. The thing I worry about is the opportunity to capture the increased value that might result from the zoning for civic benefit- for transit etc.

  2. Gregor “Say Anything ” Robertson. Interesting to see how this will play out with his desperate Hail Mary plea last election to “listen to the people”. Who knows, maybe he’s gotten lucky again and speculators have bought up enough of our neighbourhoods that are aren’t enough people left to care. Apathetic or avaricious owners may be just what Vision ordered to pad the pockets of developers. Ironic that this would have been the exact opposite of what Jane Jacobs would have wanted, those who deify her might give some though to that.

  3. ” Ironic that this would have been the exact opposite of what Jane Jacobs would have wanted”
    Huh? Roberston’s comment seems like it would be exactly what Jacobs would have wanted, and her only objection would be that he isn’t going nearly far enough. Two of her four criteria for a healthy neighbourhood were high density and a mix of uses. I’d guess that would put her in the Bremner camp.
    What would be ironic is if the Green party captures the votes of those looking to preserve the (auto dependent) status quo.

    1. Funny, I read Jacobs as opposing the tyranny of government and planning departments bent on forcing it’s will upon a neighbourhood’s residents. You apparently share her flaw, called out in this review:
      “..for all that, the Village, the neighbourhood she loved so fiercely and immortalized in Death and Life, has died. It was not levelled by the planners; it was slowly strangled by the invisible hand. Of course, it does not look dead. If anything, it looks recently repainted. But the vitality is gone. Its rich new residents have closed in on themselves, and more businesses serve tourists than locals. Writing in Slate recently, Peter Moskowitz bemoaned its state: “The same neighborhood Jacobs lauded for its diversity in the 1960s and ’70s is today a nearly all-white, aesthetically suburban playground for the rich.”..
      .. Today the market has sorted everything out; the age of the master planner is long past, and the danger for some time has not been the imaginary opposition to Jane Jacobs, but the image of Jane Jacobs smiling from construction hoardings for new condos.”…

      1. Bob. In light of Bremner of the NPA also proposing a city-wide plan that basically agrees with Visions initiative. Do you not think comprehensive density is necessary?

        1. What I think is necessary before talking blanket density is wringing foreign buyers and speculators from the market. Once that’s done we can properly evaluate the need for density.

  4. There is a world of difference between a single family home on its’ plot of land and the collection of chimeras we call multi-family housing. Even the term ‘home’ disappears from the discussion, replaced by the phrase “the Housing Vancouver strategy”. The single family home serves a multitude of cultural and economic functions that multi-family housing forms simply cannot accomplish: it endures over generations, it morphs through renovations to contain rooms for rent, basement suites, laneway housing, it’s garages provide space for DYI projects and have housed numerous small businesses even start-ups like Apple Computers, it’s backyards have produced fruit and vegetables, it’s trees provide shade in the summer and piles of leaves for children to play with before composting, it is a place where tree houses are built and great dreams are conjured, where tents are pitched, where travel trailers are occupied by noisy teenagers. The single family home is home to inspiration, it’s garages give birth to rock and roll bands.
    All this can not occur in multi-family housing projects. It is a cruel vision to imagine otherwise. The destruction of single family neighbourhoods is nothing more than a zombification process wherein families become dissociated from each other and the world around them. We desperately need the single family home, if for no other reason than its enduring allure, so let’s limit our “densification” efforts to arterials, to edges, to in between places, to un-used spaces because they are still plentiful in the city.

      1. Norman Rockwell 1894-1978 Painter
        I recommend for your study Rockwells’ painting “Freedom from Want” 1943 based on FDR’s 1941 State of the Union Speech in which the idea of the right to an adequate standard of living includes the right to housing at an adequate level, an idea which in 1948 was included in resolution 217 adopted by the UN as the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (UDHR).
        We may debate what is an adequate standard of living for families, but it is obvious that adequacy for families is lost as density increases.

    1. I can’t remember the last time I saw a car garage that had enough room for a band and all the crap that people keep in them. The Beatles did OK starting out in George Harrison’s family council house. I think there’s some flaws to this position, or at least the example being used. Tin Pan Alley fostered one of the greatest explosions in popular music ever. No car houses needed.

      1. In the mid 1960’s the term ‘garage rock’ was coined to describe the thousands upon thousands of young musicians who took up rock and roll in the family garage following the North American tour of the Beatles.
        The garage is always found as an ‘accessory use’ to some other land use, in this discussion: single family residential use. The term garage first appeared in 1906 along with the invention of the automobile, the garage is a place to park the family car. It’s uses have since evolved to serve many other purposes from storage, to small businesses, to small manufacturing, to offices, to dance studios, to arts studios, to laneway housing.

        1. In Australia a huge and growing movement about Men’s Sheds has led to studies that show that men need a place to go and be themselves. It has now gone international. Any Google search on this brings up various studies and features on the benefits of these important and creative-generating sanctuaries.

    2. 0% of future population growth in the City of Vancouver will be accommodated in single family houses.
      The majority of families in Vancouver live in multi-family housing. The majority of children in Vancouver live in multi-family housing. Ever larger percentages will in the future.
      Reserving all but the noisiest and least desirable spaces for single family houses is saying that most families in Vancouver should have to live in those places. I’m not ok with that.
      We can have parks and schools in the centre of leafy neighbourhoods surrounded by row houses and low rise apartments with a corner store and coffee shop thrown in for good measure. We can have housing for people who’ve been here for a long time and housing for people just arrived. We can have housing for rich people, poor people, and everyone in between.
      We can have these things, and it can be wonderful. Or we can have houses for rich people in hollowing out old neighbourhoods, and everyone else shoved onto arterials.
      I know which one I’d choose.

      1. The proposed 10-year housing plan has set a target of 6,000 new laneway homes and secondary suites. These units will be affordable family oriented rental units constructed in Vancouver’s RS-1 neighbourhoods. Your first statement above is not supportable by the facts or by housing policy.
        Please provide data for your assertion that the majority of families live in multi-family housing as it does not appear to be based on evidence.
        “Reserving all but the noisiest and least desirable spaces for single family houses is saying that most families in Vancouver should have to live in those places.” This is a nonsensical statement that no one else has made. Arterial locations are desirable for their access to public transit, they are being transformed from houses to apartment blocks (Cambie Street for example), what is lacking in the transformation is affordable rental ground oriented units with in these projects.
        Row Houses: Vancouver neighbourhoods are founded on the ‘Garden City’ urban design plan (a house on a lot with yard space all around). Row Houses are actually large building footprints with demising fire walls typically built in European Cities during the previous century. Theoretically row houses can replace single family houses, but why bother? Row houses even if they are market properties will not replace single family houses (unique cases excepted) because of the difficulty of land assembly and the cost of property.
        Only rich people live in houses? The ‘asking price’ of a house carries no information about ownership (rental corporation, co-operative, individual, couple) and no information about gender, family status, age of occupants, income levels or individual wealth. The ‘sale price’ of a house likewise provides no information about the party making a successful bid.
        We cannot conclude that only ‘rich’ people live in houses! We can only conclude that poor people can not afford to buy houses, which is why the city housing strategy is aimed at increasing the number of rental units in all types of building typologies in all neighbourhoods across the city.

        1. I should clarify, 0% of additional housing will be in single family houses as traditionally constituted. That is, a dedicated lot with 1 house on it with 1 family living in it. We can and should allow suites and laneway houses which can densify these neighborhoods. If a miracle occurred and 100% of the roughly 42,000 single family houses in the city had suites and laneway houses they would provide an extra 80,000 housing units or so. That is enough for maybe 10 years of population growth. Obviously not all will. Even 50% over 10 years would be extreme, so we can’t satisfy all our housing needs that way. There another 60,000 or more duplexes, houses with existing suites and so on which are still ground oriented and could have a laneway house added to them, though likely not a suite.
          As to ‘most families live in multi-family’ I don’t have a reference handy stating exactly that, but you can do the math from the census. According to the 2016 census there were 160,855 ‘census families’ living in the City of Vancouver and 41,330 single family houses. If 100% of single family houses are occupied by ‘census families’ then that leaves 119,525 families, or 74%, who don’t live in single family houses. We can start adding more types of ground oriented housing like duplexes and suites which give us around 60,000 units or so. At that point we can have a majority of families living in ground oriented housing, but not in single family houses as such.
          Re: least desirable on arterials. You said “let’s limit our “densification” efforts to arterials, to edges, to in between places, to un-used spaces”, and that is the most common form of development of multi family housing in Vancouver. The cambie corridor as a recent example. Being near transit is a benefit, being near noise and pollution and cars is not. All forms of housing are cheaper when they face an arterial because they are less desirable. Given a choice most people would rather live in an equivalent unit not facing a busy street, I don’t think that is really controversial.
          I don’t understand why row houses would require land assembly, I rather think the opposite. Zero lot line row houses should be able to be built on most RS1 lots in the city, but I’m not a developer so maybe I’m wrong on the economics.
          Not only rich people live in houses right now, but that situation is rather rapidly changing. There are many house rich cash poor families in houses right now, but as they sell for whatever reason they are replaced with people who can afford the new normal, or at least afford to rent the new normal. To some degree right now this is due to a unsustainable asset bubble. In the long term we have an increasing population and a decreasing supply of single family houses. As long as they are a highly desirable form of housing with few competitors that short supply and high demand will reserve them for the wealthiest. So lets build lots of desirable multi-family housing in good locations with suites large enough for a family of 4 or 5 to live in and make real competitors to single family houses, and keep their prices down.
          City of Vancouver Housing Facts: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/housing-characteristics-fact-sheet.pdf
          2016 Census Profile for Vancouver: http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CSD&Geo2=PR&Code2=01&Data=Count&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&TABID=1&B1=All&Code1=5915022&SearchText=vancouver
          Discussion of ‘quiet streets’ premium: https://twitter.com/vb_jens/status/748748603762413572

        2. Great comments, David. The maps on land value and density by Mountain Math in the last link are especially informative.
          People are having a helluva time letting the obsolete dream of a detached home on a large lot go. Yet that bloc of tens of millions of square metres of land — roughly 80% of the residential zoning in the city — has been frozen in place for decades in the face of population growth — until now.
          The supply of the non-renewable land resource cannot be dismissed in the debate over the causes of the affordability crisis.

        3. Re: families in multi-family housing. The downtown schools are overcrowded, and the newest school (International Village) had a waiting list before it was opened.
          Kids in high rises. Go figure.

        4. Alex Bota:
          Residential land in Vancouver valued from 2.5 to 3.5 million dollars per lot (your numbers) will remain as ‘garden city’ land for the foreseeable future. Your 80% narrative is based on an arbitrary boundary called the Vancouver city limits, ignore that artificial boundary and you will see that the dream of the single family home on a plot of land is alive and well everywhere across the lower mainland with the highest values closest to the downtown core, always has been that way, always will be that way.

  5. Vancouver is reawakening, maybe, to allowing town-houses/row-houses to be built where a couple can have a home with a small piece of a garden and the whole place is their own. Only certain people want to live in condos in a few rooms accessed through corridors. There is still a large desire for a house and that does not have to mean a large detached house on a large lot.
    The outer municipalities are allowing the building of this style of home. Tradespeople must be also buying them, judging from all the pickup trucks around them. In Surrey they seem to average around $450 a square foot. With land prices in Vancouver and the city grabbing a chunk of the potential uplift value, there is no way that these prices can be matched.
    Langley and Surrey and Coquitlam will continue to grow. Traffic will increase.

    1. Current land prices in the City of Vancouver would make $450 a square foot impossible to achieve. The City of Vancouver don’t grab any of the uplift value (in terms of a CAC) for projects under 1.2 FSR, so townhouse projects, like those on Oak Street for example, haven’t contributed to the City for the land lift, and so the City hasn’t ‘forced prices higher’. The developers only pay the standard DCL that every construction project in the city pays, irrespective of scale.
      Doesn’t the development market works the other way round in reality? The market determines the value of the land – if new Oak Street townhouses can sell for $1,000 to $1,200 a square foot (which they do at present) then developers can pay more for the property they’re going to replace. If house prices fall because fewer people can afford those sorts of prices, or are unwilling to pay them, then either developers will be squeezed on their profit margins, offer less for future development lots, or wait and see if the market adjusts back to previously prevailing conditions.
      That will all take quite a bit of time, but with ‘stress tested’ mortgages and rising rates, along with empty homes tax and foreign buyer tax, the next year or so may indicate how ‘sticky’ current market values are, and howm much more people are willing or able to pay to live in Vancouver rather than Surrey (or most other municipalities).

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