A new pilot housing project has just received the green light in Vancouver. Over the next three years, Vancouver homeowners will be allowed to convert their garages into small living spaces. Once the three years are over, or 100 of these small residential units have been built, City Council will review the success of the project, and determine what (if any) changes should be made before letting everyone living in single family zones build these suites.
These living spaces are known as laneway houses, and have become part of the landscape in several cities, including Toronto and Montreal. Approved laneway units must be less than 750 sq. ft, and can be up to 1 1/2 stories tall. There must also be 16 feet of space between the back of the house and the front of the laneway suite.
Proponents of laneway houses argue that as Vancouver real estate prices continue to rise beyond most people’s means, innovative housing strategies like laneway suites will soon be necessary. This is particularly true in the current economic climate, with people losing their jobs and struggling to pay their bills.
Retirees and students are in particular need of affordable housing options, and laneway housing could offer one solution. Aging parents for instance, could move into their converted garage and rent out the main house to family members or tenants. This would not only help them out financially, but would also reduce the amount of upkeep they have to perform around the property. In addition, there’d be the comfort of knowing that if anything happens, there’s someone close by to help.
Parents of college-aged kids could build a small home on their property and offer it to their children. This would greatly reduce their living costs, while still offering privacy to both parties.
Not only does Vancouver sorely need affordable housing options, but there also needs to be an increase in the available inventory. Particularly in the downtown core, where there’s nowhere left to build, there are very limited rental accommodations available. Laneway housing could be one answer to the vacancy problem.
Opponents of the proposal argue that laneway housing would have a negative impact on the neighborhood landscape, and would result in areas that are too densely populated. Many neighborhoods consist primarily of single family homes, and many residents want to keep it that way. They also believe that there’ll be much greater demand put on resources such as water and electricity if every house has a suite attached to it.
The next three years will be an interesting experiment to see how effective laneway housing is at tackling Vancouver’s residential woes.