Pseudonymous housing wonk YVRYIMBY (Vancouver, Yes In My Back Yard) has created a wonderfully simple yet powerful, data-driven graphical view of Vancouver and its housing crisis.
Consider it a required backgrounder to the premise that land locked up in exclusionary, low-density zoning inflates the cost of land in higher-density zoned areas, due to scarcity. Rezoning more land for higher density should reduce land cost per built square foot and, secondarily, reduce the demolition of existing rental stock.
Needless to say, these ideas attract varying opinion. Sort of like bike lanes did in the bad, primitive olden days. Read on >>
Worth bring forward: Ralph Segal’s comment on “Special Density – A Vision“:
I’ll look forward to seeing (Vision Vancouver candidate) Diego Cardona’s six-home proposal on a single family (RS-1) lot. And whether it has any similarity to the four-unit idea for a 33-foot-wide lot I showed Neal Lamontagne last year which he then posted on Price Tags in April, 2016.
Be sure to peruse the 23 comments from some savvy folks such as Michael Mortensen, Frank Ducote, Thomas Beyer, jolson et.al. which are just as relevant today as they were last year. (Click here and scroll down.)
Of course, the number of units in that modest idea can easily be increased to Diego’s six homes by adding one more on top of each of the two structures shown, with just a few more feet of height added to today’s RS-1 height limit.
The key to any number of variations on this theme is to avoid getting hung up on density (FSR) as a number, increased from present 0.6 FSR to 1.5, 1.75 … take your pick … and then test it to arrive at an optimum but liberal maximum, recognizing the over-arching objective of delivering more housing supply.
And recognize that parking provision on site can and should reduced – no more than two spaces on a 33-foot lot (possibly three with a bit of a squeeze). Finally, anticipate and facilitate within the new zoning schedule the ability to strata title.
This article combines and adapts three articles by the Portland for Everyone coalition’s Michael Andersen. See the originals on this blog, and learn more about the group here. Portland’s approach shares similarities with the Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendation to allow small duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones without letting property owners erect buildings larger than currently zoned.
Growing cities across the US and Canada are grappling with the challenges of displacement and affordability in their housing markets, and many of them are looking to Cascadia’s innovative cities for answers. Portland, the smallest of Cascadia’s three major metropolitan areas, has perhaps one of its biggest and best ideas: the “residential infill project.” …
When a city gets more desirable but isn’t allowed to add more places for people to sleep, this is what happens: the old homes don’t stay affordable. They just get priced up and up and up. …
The residential infill project that went before Portland City Council November 9 and will again November 16 is an opportunity to make this happen. It’s a chance for the city to strike an anti-McMansion compromise and shrink the maximum size of new homes (which would reduce demolitions) while also legalizing duplexes, triplexes, and backyard cottages (which would mean that the demolitions that do happen would result in more small homes instead of fewer, huge, expensive ones).
Instead of allowing new single-dwelling homes to look like this:
To be clear, nobody is talking about requiring new homes to look like this. The overwhelming majority of residential homes would still have lots of space and yards of their own. But by making it once again legal to build these small homes in residential areas, Portland would make this an option for people who want something in between an apartment building and a freestanding house, which means fewer people would be competing for apartments and for freestanding homes.
There’s another possibility here: the city might decide to shrink the size of new homes but not make small multiplexes legal.
If that were to happen, it wouldn’t stop developers and landlords from finding ways to make a profit. It would mean that the only way they could make a profit is by replacing poor folks with middle-income folks and middle-income folks with rich folks. Lots more here.
This is the story of a single city block in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood … bordered by North 36th and 37th Streets and Burke and Meridian Avenues.
The city has zoned the block single-family, allowing only one detached home per lot (plus accessory dwelling units, should residents choose to build them). Under this zoning, this little block should only be able to host 24 households–one per parcel. Yet in reality, the block provides shelter for 37 households, more than one-and-a-half times its zoned capacity. …
To what do these 13 households owe their housing in this coveted neighborhood?
To Seattle’s zoning history. The block includes 5 duplexes, a quadplex, and a 6-unit apartment building, which together host these 13 additional households.
Here’s the catch, though: none of these structures could be built today. They are remnants of the neighborhood’s more flexible zoning history, which permitted a greater diversity of housing types, making room for more people to enjoy and bring life to this corner of Seattle. …
Why does this all matter? Because Seattle now has the chance to once again open its single-family zones to a broader mix of housing, including duplexes and triplexes. Returning the city to its more flexible zoning past could provide housing for thousands of additional families. Full article here.
Greater Buenos Aires is a big urban region. Over 13 million people.
In the City of Buenos Aires, however, there are about three million porteños (people of the port) – a population which has stayed steady since the Second World War.
Why not much growth in the city’s population? Low birth rates and a migration to the suburbs. Indeed, the surrounding districts in the Province of Buenos Aires have expanded five times over.
So: three million in the City; 10 million in surrounding suburbs. That ratio is not far from Vancouver’s: 600,000 in the city; 2.5 million in the region.
The population density in Buenos Aires proper is over 14,000 per square kilometre (in an area just under one and a half times the area of the City of Vancouver, with its population density of about 5,000 per square kilometer).
Our West End, by comparison, is about 44,000 people in its two square kilometers.
So think of the City of Buenos Aires as almost one big West End, plus Kits and downtown.
Lots of it looks that way too.
It’s been a decades-old commitment to add density along the major arterials of the city. (Residents of low-density and single-family neighbourhoods tend to support the initiative because it keeps higher density along the edges and provides a buffer from the busier routes – though most people would prefer to live on the quieter inside streets. See the West End and Kerrisdale on either side of 41st.)
Still, as examples emerge, the results are looking good. For example, along 41st across from Oakridge:
Many voices in the housing conversation cry in various ways and loudly about the detached single-family home, who’s buying, and how to stop “them”, how to preserve fond memories of washing the Buicks on Saturday morning. All as if this is both the norm, and an absolute entitlement for any person who chooses to live in Vancouver.
But there are rising voices of those looking in other directions.
Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail writes about people who support increased density.
Their group, Abundant Housing Vancouver, is an unplanned participant in what has become an almost overnight social movement in dozens of American cities, where advocates have banded together to demand population density, more housing projects and less militant protection of single-family neighbourhoods.
. . . Mr. Dawe and others would like to see municipal councils be brave enough to start allowing denser development in the huge areas of land now set aside for single-family housing.
Danny Oleksiuk, a 31-year-old labour lawyer, said he was motivated to join up when he saw a map showing that 31 per cent of Vancouver’s residents live on 83 per cent of the available land.
“My interest is really in the single-family neighbourhoods, where it’s now a $2-million entry price. There’s a lot of land there and not a lot of people, but it’s illegal to build affordable housing.”
Single-family lots in East Vancouver are gradually densifying through city bylaws that allow legal suites and laneway houses, but builders say the ever-increasing cost of Vancouver real estate is making it harder to find properties and turn a profit. …
Properties increase in value by around $900,000 when a builder tears down an older bungalow and replaces it with a larger house with a legal basement suite and a laneway house.
The trend pushes the price of the built-out property into the $2.4 million range, the kind of hefty price tag once reserved for Vancouver’s west side. …
The rapid price acceleration, combined with the City of Vancouver’s lengthy permitting process, has led to another layer of deal-making: it’s common for builders to buy a house, tear it down and begin the permitting process.
They then sell the lot with the permits in place, but not yet paid for, to another builder. Selling the lot with the new house not yet started allows the second builder to avoid paying GST on a new home. …
The densification trend is largely not happening on the west side, Atwal said, characterizing buyers in neighbourhoods like Dunbar as wealthy people who would rather use the garage to house an expensive car than build a laneway house.