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Vancouver continues to “solve” its affordability problem by going littler and littler

January 4th, 2013 · 67 Comments

The little house, the little apartment — they’re all I’m hearing about these days.

Laneway houses continue to be popular. At last count, there were 600 that had been processed at city hall. Micro-suites have come to Surrey. Coquitlam is letting people build multiple-units on single-family lots.

Some of this is welcomed, I think. We’ve come to realize we don’t all need to maintain personal park spaces next to our houses.

But I do hear people worrying about how much little stuff is being built. Because little usually means that the housing is restricted to a single, a couple or at most a couple with a dog or youngster. And having such narrowcast communities is a worry. (Of course, suburbs and downtowns used to be, by definition, narrowcast. All families here. All singles, young and old, there. But that’s been changing slowly.)

That’s how I got onto this story about the shrinking condos and houses — councillors from Coquitlam worrying aloud about the impact of, for instance, the Fraser Mills development asking for an extra 1,000 units in the same four million square feet they’d already been allowed.

My Globe story here and below.

Rise of the incredible shrinking home


Published Thursday, Jan. 03, 2013 08:46PM EST

Last updated Thursday, Jan. 03, 2013 08:51PM EST

As the economy and changing mortgage rules squeeze Vancouver buyers, developers – and the municipalities that regulate them – are responding with shrinking homes.

The whole region, not just downtown Vancouver, is seeing experiments with smaller housing: everything from laneway houses to small houses packed onto a former single-family lot to ever-tinier condos.

“We have seen that trend the last 10 years to try to make housing affordable,” said Anne McMullin, CEO of the Urban Development Institute.

The trend accelerated last year in particular as the federal government changed mortgage-loan policy to make it harder for first-time buyers to get into the market.

The results of that policy have been evident, with house sales slowing and the assessed values for Lower Mainland properties dropping for the first time in years.

The drive to smaller and smaller is making housing more affordable. But it also sometimes worries neighbours and politicians, who wonder about the way massive complexes of small units are changing their communities.

Coquitlam, once a bedroom suburb of single-family houses, has seen that impact directly.

“We’re hearing this all the time now, that developers want to build more single-bedroom units, more small two-bedrooms,” Coquitlam Councillor Terry O’Neill said.

Last month, the Beedie Group, which is developing the Fraser Mills megaproject on Coquitlam’s Fraser River shore, asked to increase the number of units in its proposed development to 4,700 from 3,700 without changing the overall four million square feet of allowed building space.

That would mean shrinking the average size of the project’s units to 865 square feet from 1,100. It worried many Coquitlam councillors.

“The concern we heard was not about parking, not about extra population. It was about ‘What’s this going to do to the nature of the city?’” Mr. O’Neill said. “If it’s all small units, you’re just going to end up getting couples. We want to make sure there are a substantial number of units that will attract families.”

The city is holding public sessions later this month to gauge public reaction to the change.

That’s not the only shrinkage Coquitlam is seeing.

The municipality has also introduced a new “housing choices” policy that lets people build duplexes, carriage houses, or clusters of small houses on single-family lots in designated neighbourhoods.

One proposal that came before council recently had four small houses proposed for one lot. It was turned down because of concerns about lack of parking space, but Coquitlam is increasingly open to that kind of thing, Mr. O’Neill said.

So are other municipalities, which are increasingly experimenting with zones where they allow laneway houses and townhouses in single-family zones, along with permitting condo towers with smaller units.

That used to be the kind of development that was mainly seen in Vancouver.

The city still leads the way in smallness. Last year, developer Jon Stovell restored the Burns Block in the Downtown Eastside, once a residential hotel, to 270-square-foot micro-lofts.

At Intracorp’s MC2 project at the south end of Cambie Street, the one-bedroom units were scaled down to 462 square feet – the size of a large hotel room.

That shows that buyers are no longer looking at housing as the place where they want to sink a lot of money for space and status, said the project’s marketer, Bob Rennie.

“They’re buying more utilitarian,” he said.

Developers say new kinds of amenities are a trend along with the move to small.

Peter Webb, an Urban Development Institute board member, said places like MC2 include built-in headboards and side tables for beds.

Although his company, Concord Pacific, isn’t moving into micro-units, it has seen its average condo size come down in the 20 years it that has been building on the north shore of False Creek.

When the Concord project began, the average size of the condos was 1,200 square feet. That’s now considered luxuriously large in many Lower Mainland condo developments.

Categories: Uncategorized

67 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Higgins // Jan 4, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Going ‘littler and littler’ would only encourage and speed up the present Hong Kong-ization of Vancouver. Tell us something we don’t know. :-)

  • 2 PW // Jan 4, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    When developers pay too much for land they have to make up for it somehow. Prices obviously can not go any higher, so they need more units to sell.

  • 3 Dan Cooper // Jan 4, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    “270-square-foot micro-lofts…one-bedroom units [ ] scaled down to 462 square feet…That shows that buyers are no longer looking at housing as the place where they want to sink a lot of money for space and status, said the project’s marketer, Bob Rennie.”

    No, that shows that people simply cannot afford decent-sized (or in many cases, simply decent) housing in the Vancouver area any more. I strongly suspect people do not want to live in shoeboxes and damp, cockroach infested basement suites, they have to unless they are able and willing to move far out of the city.

  • 4 Lisa C // Jan 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I’m curious as to why these developers assume that families wouldn’t consider living in a 800-900sf 2-bedroom condo. I know many families who live in that much space with one or two children. Perhaps the amount of square footage families expect is just going down toward what it *used* to be. As I’m sure you know, a couple of generations ago, the average family home was a lot smaller than it is today & I doubt people felt particularly cramped. It was just normal to share bedrooms with siblings & play outside more.

  • 5 Michael Gordon // Jan 4, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    I thought about this and I think here are some factors and trends that would encourage a decline in the average size of a dwelling in Metro Vancouver:

    1) Household and personal incomes grew significantly between 1945 and 1980. However, average household incomes have relatively stalled since 1980.

    2) The size of the average house grew dramatically from an average of about 800 sq ft. in the late 40’s to something over 2,000 sq ft. by the last decade.

    3) Average household size (something over 4 to around 2.5 people per household) declined while the size of houses increased. Birth rates have also declined.

    4) Single people living alone or with a friend are a growing part of households and families with children are certainly not the majority of households in the region.

    5) Noticing that average household incomes have stalled and average household size is declining, one could anticipate we would see a decline in the size of a home, be it an apartment or house.

    6) The Metro Vancouver housing stock in the lower mainland has shifted significantly away from single family houses since 1991. While the media focus on the cost of single family houses, they only make up 34% (2011 Census) of the Metro Vancouver housing stock. Apartments of 5 storeys or more make up 14% of the stock and then Stats Canada has this huge category of duplexes, tri- and four-plexes, houses with a suite, secondary suites, townhouses and 4 storey or less apartment buildings that make up 52% of the housing stock.

    7) One factor which will be interesting to watch will be the forecasted and documented decline of driving. The Economist published an article that showed people of mid-30’s and younger in developed countries such as the United States are driving less or do not have a license as compared to previous generations. Those that do not drive will probably be looking for a smaller dwelling close to transit or bike routes.

    8) The increased cost of land in growing urban regions attracting people from other regions of the country and from other countries is a significant factor. Land value increases have been particularly notable in Calgary, Metro Vancouver and Metro Toronto.

    9) In Vancouver, land value increases have been particularly noticeable in Yaletown where they increased from $20 a buildable square foot in 1991 to something over $100 and more or less a buildable square foot. In 2008 one site sold for over $200 a buildable square foot. Land value increases have also been significant in the Point Grey peninsula and West Vancouver, which would appear to be amenity-driven. But the very wealthy households attracted to these areas can afford larger homes than most people in the lower mainland.

  • 6 Richard // Jan 4, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Stuff is getting smaller taking up much less space than it used to.

    Even a huge flat screen TV can be hung on a wall taking up little space. Electronic downloads are taking the place of books, CD’s, records, DVDs, newspapers, magazines, tapes. Shelves and racks for them are not required. Space is no longer required for VCRs, DVD players, record players. Even high quality speakers take up less space than the used to.

    People use iPads and laptops instead of large desktop computers.

  • 7 Agustin // Jan 4, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    @ Lisa C: From what my friends and acquaintances have been buying/renting, I think that most families of 4 in greater Vancouver today would not prefer to live in a 2-bedroom apartment. Some would be OK with it, but I think that most would not. Maybe over time that will change…

    I think that the size of the dwelling is less important than the number of bedrooms. If cities want diversity of occupants (and I think they do), they’ll need a diversity of dwellings.

  • 8 Joe Just Joe // Jan 4, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Things might be smaller, but people are larger. :)

    Count me in as someone that feels the small units have a place but that we have been going overboard lately. A tiny 270sqft well designed rental loft downtown is more liveable to a hipster then a 680sqft 2 bd apt along Kingsway in East Van is to a family.
    I am a believer that the COV’s 25% Family friendly unit policy should be inversed outside the downtown and Broadway cores. Think the city would be healthier if at least 66% and perhaps even 75% of units outside the core were family friendly (2bd+) with at 25-33% being 3bd+.
    The market will pay what it can afford to pay. That means if developers are stuck selling 3bds in East Van for 600K because that’s the most they can get then the price they will offer for land will reflect that. Allowing smaller and smaller units have bid up land prices, the reverse is also true within reason.

  • 9 Michael Gordon // Jan 5, 2013 at 12:16 am

    I would also add that based on personal experience of living in a couple of smallish apartments in Yaletown what was missing for me was an outdoor space and an indoor space where you could have a dining room table for at least four people to sit and be hosted. I like to cook a great meal and host. So I think for a single person that is essential if one is to stay in a place for more than a few months.

    The first place I lived in was a bachelor apt. about 400 square feet and it was cramped. The second place was at the Spot at 933 Seymour with a loft but still no good dining area, and it was about 500 square feet. The great thing about the Spot was that it had 4 nicely sized outdoor common areas and I met a lot of my neighbours and developed some good friendships.

    I also agree that we should be ensuring that there is a diversity of apartment sizes and be encouraging well sized one, two and three bedroom homes. I and a friend made a documentary “through a young lens” where we interviewed 12 teenagers who live in apartments with their families in the West End and Yaletown. Many of them commented on the need for them to have a good sized bedroom to call their own and host their friends and that was missing in many of the places they lived.

  • 10 Glissando Remmy // Jan 5, 2013 at 1:13 am

    Thought of The Night

    “You know what “they” say, 40 is the new 30… oh, wait, strike that, 280 sqft is the new 820 sqft!”

    It appears to me that some fashionable hard hatted undertakers are providing valuable Real Estate advice to our development establishment, our civic leadership and to the citizenry at large.
    Location, location, location.

    Hey, screw the size. Choose cremation instead. That way one could comfortably fit in a safe deposit box.
    Solving housing affordability by reducing the size and keeping the same $$$$/sqft Ratio is moronic and ill conceived.

    As the ad says:
    “You may not have 1$ Million for 1,000 sqft condo in the … Village, but you’ll always be good for a 270 sqft @ $270,000 a pop” … if you catch my drift.

    And yes, I have news from you.
    This MO is not new. It’s been employed already in mics. retail. The new marketing BS is hard at work. There are New Ways and Tricks to distance you from your money, in a painless and guilt free manner.

    Look around you. Stop at your trusted local grocery store for example.
    Check the packaging. The size of the can/ box/ bag is the same, the price feels right… only thing that’s missing is… the ‘product’ inside, which for some reason, have shrunk 10-30%!

    I for one am fed up with all these schmucks saying condo shrinkage is a good thing because…

    “Stuff is getting smaller taking up much less space than it used to… or because … People use iPads and laptops instead of large desktop computers.”

    That’s stupid… on so many levels.

    People don’t like to be caged. People don’t like to be told that caging is hip. (For goodness sake I have seen better and fairer campaigns on behalf of our darling Free Run Chicken…)

    I’ll say it again.
    People don’t give a shit about the skinniest Flat Screen TV, IPhones, or Murphy Beds when given the choice to have at least a small window in the… kitchen.

    Last I’ve heard we live longer, we are getting taller, we are becoming heavier… some condo buildings are already projecting the unhealthy feel of a Safeway lobster tank.

    I for one will never accept to be treated like a declawed – defanged bear in a Zoo… a 6′ by 6′ by 5′ enclosure, generous bars intervals, fresh water pool in the center, throw me a horny sow now and then… even when Artie Shaw is playing in the background… even with free Umbrella Martinis…


    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • 11 Duncan // Jan 5, 2013 at 8:45 am

    One thing that is often overlooked is the design of the living space, rather than the actual square footage.

    Walk in closets and large ensuites appear to sell well, but they use up a huge amount of space that could be used for another bedroom, etc.

    Spaces seemed designed for the initial sell to singles or empty nesters, rather than to families (who would probably prefer another bedroom rather than another bathroom.)

    However, our propensity towards double loaded corridors (which is not the norm in Europe), makes it hard to make small 2 bedroom apartments (as they require windows- hence the large number of 1 bedroom +den, which don’t have windows).

    I once lived in a highly liveable 585 sq. ft 2-bedroom apartment in Zurich- it helped that it had windows on 3 sides and access to a small patio. The previous tenants were a family of 3 who had lived there for 17 years. It was small, but will small furniture and an European lifestyle (buying groceries daily on the way home from work, etc.), it was quite pleasant.

  • 12 brilliant // Jan 5, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Laneway houses, at $300k a pop, aren’t solving any affordability problems. But tbey are helping to drive up the cost of housing as nominally single family lots become multi-unit money generators rather thsn homes.

  • 13 Tessa // Jan 5, 2013 at 10:48 am

    In Europe you also notice a lot of larger apartments, too. In Germany especially you find a lot of older apartments that are four, five, six bedrooms and a kitchen with a large hallway. In some ways I think this would be preferable for the single and student sets as shared housing tends to be cheaper, and people live a more community-focused life when they’re not separated into little basement suites. Of course, those suites aren’t likely to sell very well. They’re fine for rent, but not condos.

    I think a lot of the problem is that developers are building condos and they’re thinking only about the first sale, not about the long-term uses or needs of the area or the people likely to live there for a long time. It’s an investors market. I think a lot more varied apartments would be built if we built apartments to rent, and if the tax code made that more profitable, especially for smaller, three- to four-storey walk-ups.

    I once asked a developer about the lack of three-bedroom condos and he said simply that the price of a three-bedroom condo is too similar to the price of a stand-alone house, and at that end of the market they couldn’t compete. I don’t know if that’s as true as he believed, I think there are a lot of families that would be happy to rent newer apartments, but certainly condo developers have that impression.

    That’s not to say however that some increased supply of small apartments isn’t a good thing. In many cases we’ve overbuilt the big in the last few decades, and with the changing demographics and increasing numbers of seniors and empty-nesters, maybe it makes some sense that these types of buildings are the ones getting built. Certainly laneway houses help to balance the already existing and usually quite large single-family house on the same lot. So it’s not all doom and gloom, but I still feel that the pendulum has swung a bit too far the other way, and we simply never have built enough multi-family units designed for families.

  • 14 Ben // Jan 5, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Frances says that 600 laneway houses have been processed at city hall. Does anyone know how many have actually been built?

  • 15 gman // Jan 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Yep,stack em and pack em,take away their parking and put them on the tube.Throw out the family photos they have no wall space anyway,throw out the ski equipment,camping gear,no need for all those special Christmas dishes and silverware unless your guests want to line up in the hallway,throw out most of your clothes and the family keepsakes along with your connections to the family history,don’t keep any food in the pantry cause you wont have one,Costco wont like it but what the hell folks its an emergency they tell us,there just isn’t any more room to live,we have to do it for the good of the collective,it doesn’t matter if Ma has to leave her walker in the hall.
    If you think this is a good idea you can try it out for a while in one of the many that already exist,they call them SROs.

  • 16 Everyman // Jan 5, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    One point frequently overlooked: Vancouver scores highly on all those liveability indexes because it is medium, rather than high, density. it’s a point mentioned by the surveys’ creators. So it would seem things like microsuites are eroding liveability, not enhancing it.

  • 17 Frank Ducote // Jan 5, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    A couple of observations based on earlier postings: $300k a pop for a laneway house – or anything else, for that matter – sure looks affordable to someone whose next best option is $600k or more.

    Like Duncan, I also bemoan the lack of new single-loaded corridor formats on offer in Vancouver. I live in such a building, an 8-storey mixed use one, and it or ides a second exposure to daylight (as well as ventilation and quietude) that simply cannot be matched in the typical double-loaded arrangement. Even the den has operable windows.

    I wonder if there could a zoning incentive to stimulate development of such highly livable and middle density forms of “through units” to offset the higher cost of construction and lower efficiency by, for example, counting the FSR at a lower ratio than a double-loaded building type?.

  • 18 Frank Ducote // Jan 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Oops – “on two sides” has exposure …

  • 19 brilliant // Jan 5, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    @Frank Ducote 17-except you have to own the single family lot first in order to build the laneway house. Is the $300k to create one 600 sq ft rental unit really affordable? What rent has to be charged to recoup investment?

  • 20 Frank Ducote // Jan 5, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Brilliant – the day will come when the laneway house will be a strata ownership opportunity, much as infill units now are in, for example, the City of North Vancouver. Yes, they won’t be cheap, but they will offer a less expensive way to own a piece of Vancouver. Gentle densification,, as it were.

  • 21 waltyss // Jan 5, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    I think I prefer the gentle densification of laneway houses and basement suites over rabbit warrants. Laneway houses are designed for family members and usually they serve that function but realistically over time that will change. Laneway houses offer access to the outdoors.

  • 22 waltyss // Jan 5, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    rabbit warrants.

  • 23 Everyman // Jan 5, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    @waltyss 21 & 22 – did your iPhone autocorrect stop you from typing in warrens? ; )

  • 24 waltyss // Jan 6, 2013 at 12:03 am

    It wasn’t my iphone but my imac. On another thread it changed dotage to dorage. I thought it was me mistyping until I saw it actually change.
    Damn you, Steve Jobs!

  • 25 gman // Jan 6, 2013 at 12:59 am

    Waltyss is right thats what he called me on another thread right after FBs call for civility.


    The period of life in which a person is old and weak: “you could live here and look after me in my dotage”.
    The state of having the intellect impaired, esp. through old age; senility.


    Such a kind and caring person that he is has every right blaming his imac for missing an insult to elderly people…..what a guy!!!

  • 26 Tessa // Jan 6, 2013 at 2:39 am

    @Everyman 16:

    Most of the city is hardly medium density at all, but rather very low. Vancouver competes in “liveability” rankings against cities like Vienna, which has much more density than Vancouver does outside of the downtown core. Paris fits all of Greater Vancouver’s 2.2 million people into an area the size of the city of Vancouver, and quite comfortably with few buildings taller than six feet. There’s a lot of space for Vancouver to grow still.

  • 27 IanS // Jan 6, 2013 at 8:04 am

    @Frank Ducote #20:

    Are you aware of the time frame for when laneway housing will give rise to a separate title? Until that happens, it’s difficult to understand how laneway housing will have anything but a negative affect on affordability, at least for property ownership.

  • 28 PW // Jan 6, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Now that we are clearly into the post-property bubble era, it will be most interesting to see how attitudes change. Planners and other urban utopian types like to think they are out in the lead on theses things, but I have my doubts. Over the next couple of years, in the absence of the investors/speculators, we will get a much clearer understanding of what the market – the people who have to live in these places – actually want. I expect the prices of some of these places will change dramatically (downward).

  • 29 brilliant // Jan 6, 2013 at 9:53 am

    @PW 28 – Well said. A lot of people don’t grasp the sea change about to hit Vancouver’s RE market.

  • 30 F.H.Leghorn // Jan 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    waltyss uses an imac. Why am I not surprised? Might as well have “sucker” tattooed on his forehead.

  • 31 richmond // Jan 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm


    In Richmond there has been no attempt whatsoever for laneway housing to be anything but towering two story backyard infills.

    All it has done is add a couple hundred thousand onto the sale price, and allow the builder bonus density at the expense of greenscaping

  • 32 waltyss // Jan 6, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Ah, Foghorn Leghorn, I am thrilled to see that Christmas has not mellowed your pointless nastiness. Happy New Year, and keep up the “good” work.

  • 33 DW // Jan 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    I’d like to chime in here and offer a Gen-Y/Millennial perspective.

    I have owned a 2-bedroom condo in a near-burb by a Skytrain station for over 5 years. It’s roughly 870 square feet, features a modern open floor plan, is 2 bedrooms, has floor-to-ceiling windows, a huge balcony (~110 square feet alone), and all of the usual refinements of a box that was marketed by Rennie. When I was in my 20s, it was an awesome place to live – I had enough space for my things and the women I brought home were impressed.

    But, now that I’m in my third decade, I’m wanting more space. I want a larger kitchen to store food and so that my partner can bake her delicious treats. I want a walk-in closet for my collection of sport coats, my Italian fabric dress shirts, and my growing collection of Goodyear-welt Oxfords. I want a private garage so I can store my tools to service my sports coupe instead of paying $100/hour for a simple service. I want a place for my bike that is not my balcony. And if I ever decide to start a family, I want my child to have his/her own room.

    I think urbanists are too quick to point out that the Millennials have less stuff and are willing to trade smaller spaces for lifestyle. In my opinion, their sentiments are presumptions and premature. I want the same things my parents had – a private entrance, a place for my ‘manly’ things, a kitchen to store a variety of pots and food, and so on. I’m not saying that we should all own detached homes, but municipalities should look into encouraging more sane housing options.

  • 34 Roger Kemble // Jan 7, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Well said DW @ @32.

    But until the people we elect find the gumption to take a hard look at borrowing money, i.e. the stuff created out of thin air and loaned to us at interests, the ponzi will continue until it busts.

    One day soon Vancouver’s RE will do a nose dive but so will jobs and our means to pay the bills . . .

    All the on-line gossip from here to China, all the smooth talk by ridiculous little people who tell us they know best, all the helpful advice from those who enjoy cozy lunches deliberating affordability (building in the middle of the street, for God’s sake), their bums lodged firmly on their comfortable cushions, nowt (as they say in Yorkshire), absolutely NOWT , will change . . .

  • 35 Peter Ladner // Jan 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

    How much do the appetites of investors (vs residents) define what’s being built today? I lot, I suspect. It’s not about building what the city needs; it’s about building what the real estate investment market needs.

  • 36 teririch // Jan 7, 2013 at 11:14 am

    @DW #32:

    I agree with your post 100%.

    I live in a 1 bedroom, 650 sq ft apartment which was great when I first acquired it roughy 20 years ago, but now I have ‘stuff’ that I don’t want to part with, but have no where to keep it.

    And like you, I value my patio which is also 110 sq feet. I couldn’t live in a place that had no outdoor acess.

    I am looking at renovating the kitchen, but if I blow out the one wall to open it, I lose 50% of by storage – which is already a challenge in itself.

    To even consider 270 sq feet as ‘liveable’ space is a sad joke.

    I’ve been in hotel rooms that are larger than 270 sq feet.

  • 37 IanS // Jan 7, 2013 at 11:34 am

    IMO, there’s no “one size fits all” solution. Different people like different things. (To which I would add, based on DW #32 and teririch #35, people like different things at different times of their lives.)

    By way of example, we’re a family of four living comfortably in a condo that’s just under 1100 sq ft, with a decent sized balcony. That’s plenty of space for us.

    After the kids move out (hopefully in the next few years), my wife and I plan to downsize to a small one bedroom or studio. Depending on the design, 500-600 sq ft should be ample.

  • 38 Frank Ducote // Jan 7, 2013 at 11:39 am

    IanS2@7 – my crystal ball isn’t that clear on a timeline for strata laneway houses here in Vancouver, but such tenure is fairly common elsewhere in Metro so I think it could be sooner than later. I don’t see this form as so totally different from the very common front-and-back duplex, which are strata titled.

    On another note, housing needs change throughout one’s lifespan, and also as household income changes – up or down. Why would that be a surprise? I can’t see a political interpretation of that fact, despite the attempt of some to do so. (Btw, the 30’s is the 4th decade of one’s life, not the 3rd. Sorry.)

    Peter@34 – I agree that investing – aka flipping – has a profound but not clearly understood impact on housing prices and likely choices as well, as you suggest (I think). Requiring residency for some reasonable period of time by a purchaser, say 2 years, might be one step forward to mitigate if not eliminate this practice.

  • 39 Ned // Jan 7, 2013 at 11:49 am

    “I for one will never accept to be treated like a declawed – defanged bear in a Zoo… a 6′ by 6′ by 5′ enclosure, generous bars intervals, fresh water pool in the center, throw me a horny sow now and then… even when Artie Shaw is playing in the background… even with free Umbrella Martinis…”
    Count me in on this, Glissy @10
    You are not the only one. Read DW @32, and I think Roger agrees with it too!
    As for Peter’s @ 34 “How much do the appetites of investors (vs residents) define what’s being built today? ”
    Unfortunately when the majority of investors are from… Hong Kong, hmm, everyone knows how small and crowded they are. A 300 sqft all inclusive in Vancouver = paradise!

  • 40 DW // Jan 7, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Mr. Ladner:

    Is it incredibly naïve to think that there are still some financial analysts or real property experts who are willing to work on contract for muncipalities to create the incentives for developers to build housing that is more conducive to the lifestyle of your typical active Vancouverite (mini sport ute or station wagon, and a host of camping, hiking, and skiing gear) or growing families?

  • 41 IanS // Jan 7, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    @Frank Ducote #37:

    ” such tenure is fairly common elsewhere in Metro so I think it could be sooner than later.”

    I’m sure you’re correct, though I don’t think we’ve seen any sign of it on the current governments’ radar. Perhaps that will change after the next election.

    I remain skeptical that the laneway housing will have much impact on affordability once that does happen. I guess we’ll see.

  • 42 Frank Ducote // Jan 7, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    IanS@41:”I remain skeptical that the laneway housing will have much impact on affordability once that does happen. I guess we’ll see.”

    If the number of such housing remain in the 100s rather than 1000s you’re probably right. However, they will still be a cheaper if not cheap (no such thing) form of home ownership, due to their limited size, than other alternatives out there, at least for ground-oriented forms.

  • 43 IanS // Jan 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    @Frank Ducote #42:


    In addition to the gross number of such units, I wonder if all homeowners with laneway houses will want to convert to a strata title form of ownership. We don’t know what that will look like, exactly, and I suspect that a number of people who built laneway homes for renters and/or family will balk at converting their ‘single family dwelling w/ laneway house rental suite’ into a strata lot.

  • 44 boohoo // Jan 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    I’m not sure how laneway housing is considered a form of home ownership? You can’t buy a laneway house.

  • 45 IanS // Jan 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    @boohoo #44:

    That’s what Frank and I were discussing. When (or if) there is legislation creating strata titles for laneway housing, you will be able to buy one.

  • 46 Mark Bowen // Jan 7, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Although market forces are certainly responsible for the smaller and smaller developments we are seeing, I think we are also seeing a bit of a generational cultural shift towards lifestyles that fit these spaces.

    The idea that more stuff = better life I think has lost some of its appeal, at least with some portion of the population.

    Personally I find myself trying to reduce the amount of “stuff” cluttering my life. I find an excess of stuff to be a burden, an unnecessary mental and financial expense. To have less stuff feels liberating, not suffocating. (Can’t do much to reduce the bins of sports / outdoor equipment though, this is Vancouver after all!)

    The idea of wanting a walk in closet to store collectable jackets and luxury shirts/shoes just strikes me as absurdly wasteful. But, to each their own there.

    Of course, if it’s extra space for raising children someone needs, that is a whole different ball game.

  • 47 IanS // Jan 7, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    @Frank Ducote:

    This is off topic, but I felt I should let you know that the estimate I gave you in an earlier thread for the Ford appeal to come to hearing was completely wrong. They must have obtained some kind of order greatly expediting the matter, as it was heard today (January 7). The Court reserved, so we don’t know the result yet.

  • 48 teririch // Jan 7, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    @Mark Bowen #46:

    Is it a ‘generational cultural shift towards lifestyles that fit these spaces’ or is it a forced shift, because that is your only option?

    If you only have X space to store your goodies, then you can only have X goodies to store, whether that is your plan, or not.

    Sorry, but as a ‘grown-up’, living in 270 sq feet where my ‘bed’ folds out of the wall does not appeal to me.

    That would make me claustrophobic.

  • 49 PW // Jan 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    @Mark Bowen 46

    Is it part of this generational cultural shift that people should also pay twice as much for half as much space?

  • 50 IanS // Jan 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    @teririch #48,

    I’m not arguing in favour of 270 square feet, but the existence of digital media saves a lot of space. As part of our ongoing downsizing project, my wife and I have disposed of racks of CDs (all on my computer and IPOD now), a big stereo (small IPOD dock suffices and actually sounds better) and a massive bookshelf of books (the ones I really want are on my kindle now).

    In the three dimensional world, TV’s and computers are a lot smaller than they used to be.

    Again, this is not a complete answer or the only possible approach, but, these days, you can store a lot of goodies in some pretty small places.

  • 51 boohoo // Jan 7, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    I’m a thirty something, I got an apartment, now I have a house–and I’m finding it’s too big. I have rooms I barely ever go in. We’re looking to downsize now.

    I agree, and I know I’m not alone that the ‘whoever dies with the most stuff wins’ bumper sticker lifestyle is diminishing (no, that doesn’t mean everyone nor am I saying it is better or worse) and the housing is a reflection of that.

    But a more basic fact is we’re running out of room. Yes, there’s plenty of room in Chilliwack or Prince George, but we’re running out of room where people want to live. The only options are stop people from coming here (not possible) or build smaller spaces to house people. I don’t think this is as catastrophic as people make it out to be. We are a looooooooong way away from any dystopian 200 storey 100 sqft apartments that some people try to scare us with.

  • 52 Higgins // Jan 7, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    “But a more basic fact is we’re running out of room. ”
    By far the stupidest line I read this first week of 2013. Where, Boohoo? Here in Vancouver? Helloooo, we are not in Lichtenstein or Monaco!
    We barely populate the stretch bordering the US. Cut the spin, will you?

  • 53 boohoo // Jan 7, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Ok Higgins, assuming you’re not planning on building housing in the ALR, you fill up the valley with tacky boxes, and then what? Build islands in the ocean?

    Besides, the vast majority of people don’t want to live in Whonnock or Hope, they want to live in Metro Vancouver. So assuming you have to accommodate these people in Metro Vancouver, where do you put them?

  • 54 boohoo // Jan 7, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Just to follow on this–I don’t understand this line of thinking…that because there’s ‘developable land’ we should cover every square inch of it before we do something different. Not to mention the millions upon millions required to service it initially, and then maintain it.

    Do we really have to go all the way down that path before we do something different?

  • 55 Frank Ducote // Jan 8, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Mark@46 – couldn’t agree more. The typical post -WWII “starter home” was about 800sf, good enough to start and raise a family, plus add onto or convert the basement when and if needed and afforded. Today, in the hinterland of Metro Vancouver the “typical” sfr is over 2000 sf. That, plus parking for 3 cars.

    Is that need or greed talking? I’m personally happy to hear that a generational shift is underway if it means less space or land consumption per person on the planet in general and Metro in particular. (Agreeing with Boohoo here.)

  • 56 PW // Jan 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    To think I thought homes were being shrunk because it was more profitable. I stand corrected. It was pure urbanist altruism. The millions they stuffed in their pocket was purely incidental.

  • 57 Bill Lee // Jan 8, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Selling Laneway rabbit warrens!?

    See Melbourne’s “granny flats”/”granny cottages’ for sale such as

    They’ve had them (in a horrendously tight rental market) for years.
    Prices are much cheaper than the Dunbarites want for theirs (selling in two years to escape the real estate capital gains tax?)

    “Given a lack of affordable housing in Melbourne, Mr Elsom said more and more renters tended to lock into another 12-month lease rather than go month to month at the end of their first year in a property to secure their home.
    “It’s nothing like it was a year ago where people lined up around the block, but there is still demand,’’ he said.
    “There is not as much turnover in properties, people are signing 18-month to 2½ -year leases.’’
    “In regional Victoria State, Bendigo is one of the toughest places to find a rental home in the state, with only a 0.6 per cent vacancy rate.”

    Australian Financial Review (daily compact-sized major biz paper)

  • 58 Frank Ducote // Jan 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Frances – the title of your piece could more accurately be “The Rise of the Incredible Shrinking Suite (not home)”. Are there stats to show that suburban sfr homes are shrinking? Maybe the lots are getting smaller – as at Imperial Landing in Steveston and elsehwere – but not the floor space, I think. I stand to be corrected, if someone has more up to date facts about sfr house sizes.

    PW@56 – if sfr houses are getting bigger, which they have been for decades in Vancouver and the burbs (aka McMansions and monster houses), is there no profit in that? I don’t get your point, if there is one. If they are declining in size, isn’t it about time?

  • 59 boohoo // Jan 8, 2013 at 1:41 pm


    Certainly true in some areas of Metro–check out Surrey’s RF-9C zone. The lot is 9m wide by 30m deep, with a principle dwelling of almost 1900 sq ft (with secondary suite of course) and a coach house up to 500 sq ft.

    So at least 6 people if not more on a lot smaller than your typical urban Vancouver lot.

  • 60 boohoo // Jan 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Google map 69A Ave and 191 St or around that neighbourhood to see what that looks like on the ground. You’re lucky if you can see a blade of grass much less any trees!

  • 61 Kenji // Jan 8, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    When I was in a loft — hipster douche! — one of our neighbours had an approx 300 sq foot cube, but because of the high ceilings, he could build all sorts of niches, platforms and cubbies into it, so that it was liveable, even desireable.

    So I think that tiny square footage, in itself, could work for some people, particularly if they are like IanS and micronize their entertainment media.

    What truly bothers me is not that people live small but that they live in the sky.

    The ladder on a fire truck is about a hundred feet long. I searched “fire safety” and “apartment tower” and that merely affirmed my skepticism about the inherent risk of living in tall structures. Frankly I’m not that trusting in the technology. It’s one thing to work 8 hours in a glass spire but quite another to bed my family down for the night in one.

    Accordingly, I’d like to see more mid-rise developments, say five to eight stories. Put them in places that need a visual/economic refresh, I think they would do well.

    Now, how to get the developers to want to do it? One thought is that smart developers should be seeking good relationships with the City, relationships of years and years not project by project. Maybe the developer is not as jazzed by getting to build a hundred units instead of two hundred, but what if that hundred unit project was not just a one shot but a contract for, I dunno, ten years worth of projects?

  • 62 teririch // Jan 8, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    There was a report on Global BC during the holidays – a young woman had (blog site)compiled the worst properties for 2012 (Vancouver) and their price tags.

    I couldn’t believe how some houses even passed any type of inspection – there were ‘shacks’ built on top of flat roofs and honestly, kindergarten kids could have done a better job with lego.

    Then there was a pretty little house in the West Side priced at $650K…. which sounded reasonable, until they mentioned that the $650K was the cost of the basement suite only.

  • 63 Boohoo // Jan 8, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Hmmm I’m not sure how you purchase a basement suite?

  • 64 Duncan // Jan 8, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    There’s a number of houses that have been split up into Strata titled suites- one I can think of (a friend used to own the bottom suite) was a typical Kits Bungalow split into 3 strata units on 3 levels. Not sure when that was approved, or if you could do that now.

  • 65 Cheezwiz // Jan 9, 2013 at 11:20 am

    @Kenji : Yes! Yes! a thousand times YES!

    I’m not necessarily opposed to new development, but I hate the stack ‘em and pack ‘em high-rise model the city seems intent on following. It only benefits developers and no one else.

    What we need is more variety in the types of developments that are being built: low-rise, mid-rise, townhouses, rowhouses, coops etc. There have to be ways to incentivize this. If I had a choice, I’d much prefer a Paris cityscape to Hong Kong.

  • 66 boohoo // Jan 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Guess not hey higgins?

  • 67 Bill Lee // Mar 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Map of laneway houses, built as well as permits for 2012, a few months ago on Page 47 of this housing report.

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