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Backyard cottages, coach houses, laneway houses: They’re a trend

October 31st, 2010 · 20 Comments

As council comes up to a vote on where to go with laneway houses this Thursday, my look here at their popularity in Vancouver and elsewhere.

There are many issues I didn’t address in this story that I have elsewhere (complaints about the sizes of some of the larger ones, the outsize city fees that are essentially pushing people into building bigger because of the investment they have to make and more) and some issues I didn’t address that should be addressed sometime, somewhere.

As one reader wrote in an email, because all municipalities only allow these small houses to be rented rather than strata-titled and purchased, the laneway-house phenomenon doesn’t really allow first-time buyers to use them to get a foothold in the city.

The likely effect, my reader said, will be to make the cost of a single-family lot even more expensive, since prices will rise to account for the fact that a lot may now have three separate residences on it.

It’s difficult to believe it won’t have an effect on prices since everyone in Vancouver who looks at real estate for a second soon comes to realize that a house with a basement suite sells for more than the identical house next door without a suite.

However, for a lot of homeowners, the laneway houses are proving to be popular — not just in Vancouver, which is just getting started, but in Surrey, where there are already nearly 700 “coach houses” — because it does give some very attractive flexilibility.

Several close-to-retirement couples or singles I know are considering building them to live in, while they rent out their main house and use the proceeds to subsidize their travels or other retirement activities.

But, as Lance Berelowitz pointed out in my story (and Tsur Somerville from UBC did in a conversation), we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this does anything to create a large stock of affordable housing. It’s the Prius of housing solutions — nice and filled with good intentions, but very limited in what it can accomplish.

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