Vancouver’s Laneway Homes

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Laneway homes in Vancouver (Source: Citiscope)

Many cities in this region have goals to provide a greater variety of housing, but struggle to spur development of new housing types. An article on Citiscope profiles how Vancouver, BC has found some success with “laneway homes”, a variation on the familiar ADU typology – small housing units, typically built behind existing single family homes and, in the Vancouver twist, oriented to alleys.

In the six years they have been allowed, more than 2,000 applications for laneway units have been submitted, and around 85% of those have been built. Vancouver’s affordability challenges are so acute that demand for these homes could be seen to be a given in any circumstance, but, as outlined in the article, the City has been actively engaged in facilitating their success. For more detail on how this has been accomplished, click below:

Why provide this typology?

The rationale for laneway homes is the same as the rationale for any ADU – this is a method to inject density and a greater diversity of housing types into existing neighborhoods without substantially changing the character of the neighborhood, particularly in single family zones. These units can be particularly well suited for housing seniors, including allowing for multi-generational family housing on one lot. While they are not guaranteed to be more affordable compared to other market rate units of a similar size, these units support overall affordability by increasing supply and providing a greater variety to suit individual households.

What has contributed to the City’s success?

There are several possible explanations as to why Vancouver’s laneway program has been more successful than similar programs in other expensive cities. The City does not have certain requirements that are often included elsewhere, such as requiring owner occupancy of one of the units or seeking neighbors’ permission. Each laneway unit is required to have one off-street parking space, however. Another crucial factor is that the units are permitted almost anywhere in the city.

Lessons learned

The program was not free of challenges. As to be expected of any new type of development, it took some time for the permitting process, utility providers, and development community to catch up, and for the City to ease neighborhood concerns. Utility hookup costs were initially outrageously expensive, along with other development costs. Costs have come down, but are still not cheap, at around $258,000 USD/unit, including design, permitting, and construction. In Vancouver, this is still more affordable than building a traditional single family home. Rents for these units fill the same niche – more expensive than apartments in older buildings, but more affordable than rents for single family homes.

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