August 28, 2015

Making room for families


The market is hot for small, affordable homes, but Lower Mainland municipalities need to plan ahead to accommodate growing households

urban development
By ANNE McMULLIN

Planning for a thriving city involves attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. In Vancouver, we have the attractive part covered — Vancouver is one of the most desirable places in the world. The retention bit will be our challenge in the coming years.

The lure of this beautiful and livable city has created a hot market for small studio and one-bedroom homes in Vancouver. Location, lifestyle and affordability are the driving factors behind the demand for small homes. Micro-lofts, for example, are an excellent option for the single first-time buyer who would otherwise be unable to afford a unit in the city.

Micro-lofts and one-bedroom condos provide an entry point for home ownership in the city, but what happens when the current occupants of tiny homes outgrow these spaces? Not all singles remain single forever, and the upgrade from a micro-loft to a family-friendly two- or three-bedroom unit is often financially difficult. This is why many municipalities, in particular the cities of Vancouver and New Westminster, are considering policies to increase the stock of family-sized units in new developments.

Much of the new construction of family-sized units is in the form of luxury penthouses and high-floor units with big views and big price tags. The aim of the proposed policies is to start integrating family apartments on lower floors at more affordable market rates and to increase the total housing inventory for families.

City planners are also recognizing the importance of building more ground-oriented housing such as townhomes, duplexes and triplexes. These housing types are increasingly popular with families and they make more efficient use of valuable land than a traditional detached home. The Urban Development Institute encourages municipalities to update current zoning to allow for an increase in ground-oriented, multi-family developments throughout existing urban neighborhoods as another means to address affordability and the supply of family housing.

By building a healthy mix of housing options for people in all stages of life, we will avoid becoming a city of singles. We will retain our skilled and creative workforce by allowing them to remain close to their jobs as their families grow. At the same time, we will alleviate traffic congestion and carbon emissions as urban families generate a carbon footprint that’s on average 50 per cent smaller than those of suburban families.

As a partner in community building, the Urban Development Institute is committed to working with communities and governments to create and achieve the vision of balanced, well-planned and sustainable communities.

Anne McMullin is president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute.

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