Michael Alexander sends highlights from the recent Urbanarium discussion, provocatively titled “The Single-Family Zone Is Dead. What Next?”


Planner/developer Michael Mortensen gave every audience member a T4 tax receipt with their “income” shown – in proportion to income levels in Metro B.C.

He had the audience stand and, as he read off each income from low to high, those people sat down. At $200,000, the remaining few left standing represented the fewer than eight percent of Vancouverites who could qualify for a single-family home purchase, if they spent 40% of their gross household income on shelter.

If your gross income is $85,000 a year, you can afford a home costing $647,619. A typical Vancouver single family house costs $1.3 million. Double your income, and you’re still priced out.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, member and past Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Regional Planning Committee, worrisomely noted that while the metro region has an urban containment boundary, “many new councillors haven’t bought in” to the concept. He said that councillors in neighbouring Port Moody recently disapproved a 400-unit townhouse project next to a transit station. 

(Port Moody isn’t alone. The District of West Vancouver voted down, 5-2, affordable housing and a senior daycare centre on city-owned land, and essentially gave the planning decision back to the land’s neighbours.)

Lynn Roxburgh, New Westminster’s long-range Senior Planner, said that her small city (28,000 people in 15 square km) is 70% apartments. What’s missing in the 30% zoned single family is the “missing middle”:  laneway and secondary units. As usual, people in these areas worry about loss of parking. But Roxburgh thinks that those families’ priced-out children will gradually effect change.

Builder Jake Fry, owner of laneway housing specialist Smallworks, and a director of the advocacy group Small Housing B.C., condemned free street parking as a giveaway to those already wealthy. He said that a citywide policy of allowing duplexes on single-family lots isn’t enough He also proposed that people should join together to buy single family houses, and split the property. “That would be a good end-run around the Strata Property Act.”

Mortensen suggested that municipalities could increase density of properties adjacent to public benefits, like parks. He proposed a new Vancouver Special, but smaller, denser, taller, “and maybe cheaper:”

Panelists agreed with an audience observation that the banks are no help. They only score your ability to pay based on your income and the amount financed, so  “drive until you qualify.” They’re indifferent that you then need to buy an extra car for the commute, The exception is Vancity, which offers a location-efficient mortgage reduction to those who choose to live in a neighbourhood with a high Walkability score.

Finally, Mortensen elevated the lexicon of NIMBY’s and YIMBY’s: BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere, Near Anything), and NOPEs (Not On Planet Earth), to which Mayor Stewart appended NIM2 for elected officials: Not in My Term of Office.

L-R: Moderator Jane Koh; New Westminster Senior Planner Lynn Roxburgh; Smallworks’ Jake Fry; Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart; planner/developer Michael Mortensen


  1. The single family zone, including their huge extent, is unfortunately far from dead. It’s true that more and more folks are noting the inequity that’s been the ultimate result of the Euclidian zoning experiment – copied in Canada for the most part despite differences from the USA – that began early in the 20th century.

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