November 20, 2015

UDI: Townhomes might be one solution to our affordability crisis

In Metro Vancouver, they are an attractive option for buyers priced out of single-family properties


urban development

BY ANNE McMULLIN

Owning a townhouse in London, Paris or New York is considered a luxury. In those cities, highly desirable neighborhoods are comprised entirely of this housing type.

In Vancouver, we sometimes struggle to place townhomes in the dream-home category because the large detached homes that make up most of our neighbourhoods still represent the ideal. For new home buyers, the detached homes of Vancouver might as well be holograms because they are not a reality except for the very wealthy.

But townhomes can be attainable, especially if we start to build more of them. This housing style comprises a small segment of the total housing stock in the Vancouver area. In the city of Vancouver, for example, only three per cent of housing units are townhomes. Richmond, Surrey and Langley have a greater proportion of townhomes, up to 30 per cent of their total housing supply.

Townhome construction in Metro Vancouver has been slow but steady over the past decade, with an average of about 2,500 starts per year, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. That may seem like plenty, but our current regional population grows by about 3,000 people per month, so demand is far outpacing supply. It is anticipated that we will need half a million new homes by the year 2040.

The Urban Development Institute encourages zoning for more townhomes in single-family-detached home districts. The institute also encourages townhomes that stack units to double the density. Stacked townhouses are common in Toronto, but they are relatively rare in Vancouver. These types of units cost a fraction of the price of a detached house in the same neighbourhood and make much better use of the valuable land they occupy.

Townhomes are eagerly sought after by families with children. The separation of bedrooms and entertaining spaces on different levels of the home is a huge part of the appeal. Another attractive feature of townhomes are street-level entrances, which anyone who has dealt with slow elevators can appreciate.  While townhomes could very well be the solution to our housing affordability crisis, building them does not come without challenges. Land-assembly issues, community opposition and parking requirements are all barriers for developers and city planners to overcome.

As neighbourhoods throughout Metro Vancouver evolve and adapt to urban infill, townhomes might become the new ideal for housing.

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

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