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Canadian cities need diverse housing stock

Affordable, varied housing stock is essential for Canadian cities to be diverse and inclusive to all. 

Woman pushing a stroller in front of brick apartment building.

Published on April 29, 2019

By: Michelle German

Across Canada, we are seeing innovations in housing, from type of homes being built to how they are being financed.

Laneway suites are one of the new housing typologies being developed in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. These units seem to be just the tip of the iceberg on the introduction of new housing types to neighbourhoods that have historically been comprised of primarily single-family homes.

As cities continue to densify, affordable and varied housing stock is increasingly seen as an important foundation for supporting growing populations, and to ensure our cities become diverse, inclusive and prosperous.  We are starting to see new innovations through zoning as Canadian cities explore options such as single-lot strata, multiplexes and other options for adding in gentle density so that more housing is built where people can live near where they work and play.

But as we continue to drive to make our cities more inclusively built, from the way public spaces are designed to the languages on wayfinding signs, how does zoning for housing come into play?

When it comes to housing, we believe that in order to achieve a healthy housing ecosystem, we need to scale solutions that provide safe, affordable and suitable housing options for everyone.

Healthy Housing ecosystem glossary graphic

This conversation is taking shape in Metro Vancouver right now, as two municipalities grapple with how to address housing affordability while maintaining existing neighbourhoods’ “character.”

In September 2018, City Council in Vancouver voted to allow duplexes on 99 per cent of single-family zoned properties. A standard lot could now hold up to four properties – two main residences and two secondary suites. The decision was controversial enough that after the election of a new City Council in October 2018, duplexes were one of the first items up for discussion on the Council agenda. Ultimately, the Council decided to keep the existing zoning, re-assessing it under a planned City-Wide Plan process.

In the District of North Vancouver, a proposal emerged to build 80 affordable housing units and a seniors’ respite centre on a District-owned parking lot in the Delbrook neighbourhood. Delbrook residents had vehemently opposed the plan put forward by the previous Council, arguing it would change their neighbourhood’s character and allow unwanted density.

Despite an award-winning engagement campaign, the new District Council voted against the development and are now restarting consultation, beginning with a session exclusively for the Delbrook Community Association.

The average cost of a single-family home in Vancouver, according to MLS, is $1,063,264 (source). According to Statistics Canada, over 18,000 people left the Lower Mainland for other, presumably more affordable, parts of British Columbia (source).

Without diversified housing stock, urban areas such as Metro Vancouver and the GTA have become less and less accessible. Exclusionary policies focused on the development of single-family homes impacts diversity and inclusion, and prevent our neighbourhoods from truly flourishing.

Through our work moving the needle on laneway suites, exploring areas to pilot Transit Supportive Development in the GTHA and working with new cohousing developments in North Vancouver, we’re helping healthy housing ecosystems form across the country.

Affordable, varied housing stock is an important foundation for supporting a growing population and ensuring a diverse, vibrant city.

Michelle German is the Director of Action Labs at Evergreen.