WIN: Vancouver makes room for duplexes
Vancouver votes yes to city-wide duplex zoning, paving the way for more missing middle housing.

After two days of public hearings, receiving hundreds of letters of support, and listening to a diverse range of views, on Sept. 19 Vancouver city council boldly voted in favour of allowing duplexes on most single-family lots.

While opponents fanned flames suggesting the move would destroy entire communities, we’re confident this is an ideal form of gentle densification that will help open up essential housing options, with solid merits for the young and old alike.

Special thanks are in order for

  • Abundant Housing Vancouver, who set up a slick online letter-writing tool allowing more than 200 people express their support for Making Room in Vancouver.

  • Gen Squeezers Amalie Lambert and Jonathan Bleakley, for your moral support and being the best cheerleaders ever!

  • And of course, Code Red organizer Craig Jorgensen, for joining me in speaking to city council.

Craig’s Vancouver community of Norquay was rezoned for duplexes in 2012. Here's what's happened to his neighbourhood since then, even during peak-flipping in 2017 (hint: not a whole hell of a lot).

Background


Last November the City of Vancouver released its
10-year Housing Vancouver Strategy, and Gen Squeeze was there to shape it, hold a training session, and see it through by speaking at the public hearing.

In May 2018, the Making Room Housing Program was released: a subreport from the 10-year strategy calling for city-wide rezoning in small increments, starting with several quickstarts such as permitting duplexes in most of the RS single-family zones, which intends to open up “missing middle” housing options.

Why we support Making Room


Making Room is not a complete answer to the housing crisis, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a critical component. Here’s why we think it’s an important step forward in a decade-long struggle:

  • Almost three quarters of Vancouver’s residential land is zoned for single family dwellings, which are financially out of reach for most young people. Making Room — even if only for duplexes at this time — is a significant step toward allowing inclusionary zoning across the city.

  • Young people — including renters — looking for a place to live shouldn't be relegated to the margins of neighbourhoods, crammed in towers, or only permitted along noisy roads (as is the current zoning practice). Instead, neighbourhoods should be inclusive and welcome renters, young people, families, and down-sizers alike.

  • This has the potential to add more housing for more people, e.g. current homeowners looking to downsize and perhaps add a unit for their family or renters. We need more options like this if we want to see young people and young families stay in our cities.

Clearing up critiques


With the city’s history of spot rezoning (changing land use one lot at a time, requiring an individual public hearing) and local resistance to neighbourhood density, the policy has been called ‘a chainsaw massacre’, ‘a wrecking ball’, and a ‘gift to developers’ by some.

A false narrative has emerged (accompanied by inaccurate, inflammatory pamphlets) suggesting that by allowing more people to live in single family neighbourhoods across the city, we will destroy them: capacity will burst, revealing chaos and confusion(!). Before heads spin, let’s consider a few things:

This isn’t making as much room as you might think

In the 1900s the average household size was close to six people. Today it is slightly above two (and dropping), meaning while we've built more single family houses since then, many of the rooms created remain empty.

The gentle density proposed by Making Room isn't a drastic departure from the population we used to house in these dwellings. While the proposed zoning is different, the density per lot isn’t.

There is no silver bullet solution

As we make room for people, we need to avoid generating additional unhealthy windfalls and wealth inequality between renters and owners, the young and old. To that end, we recommend doing economic modeling on the potential for this kind of rezoning to either exacerbate or mitigate housing wealth windfalls. 

We also need the City of Vancouver to put pressure on provincial and federal governments to help prevent and/or capture those windfalls by doing more to rebalance our tax system, e.g. by lowering taxes on local income and raising taxes on unhealthy housing values, including those contributed to by re-zoning. Check out our #TaxShift campaign. 

Public (consultation) means all of us

Reaching consensus through public consultation is no easy task, but it’s an important part of planning the future of our neighbourhoods.

Often, those who show up to public hearings own property or live in the surrounding area, and raise concerns over a specific development. Who we often don't hear from are those struggling to find rental or ownership in their city, those who don't have any concerns about the project moving forward, or those who (due to family or work obligations) aren't able to attend a three-hour-long (or more!) hearing on a weekday evening — and that’s why we’re showing up!

This isn't a handout to developers

There’s been some resistance in allowing denser forms of housing with the concern that it's a gift to developers, but it would most likely be homeowners or smaller, local developers with a vested interest in healthy communities building duplexes, which would provide market ownership or rental housing.

Media


Listen to Paul Kershaw break it down on CBC's On The Coast with Gloria Macarenko. Skip ahead to 1:27:35.

And I was quoted by Frances Bula in The Globe and Mail. How exciting!

Want to get involved?


We would love to have you on our team. Consider signing up as a Metro Vancouver volunteer!

Have an event idea, or project you think we should support? Let me, your new Metro Vancouver Housing Strategist know about it!

Rachel Selinger: rachel@gensqueeze.ca

See more wins


We’ve been on a roll lately. Learn about our recent campaign successes:

READ MORE

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Rachel Selinger
About
housing strategist @gensqueeze, artist, designer, affordable housing advocate, M. Arch, volunteers with @ahvancouver and member of @cohousingYVR
WIN! Vancouver votes yes to city-wide duplex zoning, paving the way for more missing middle housing, via @gensqueeze @araeofdesign @craigjorgens @ahvancouver #yvr #vanre
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