Vancouver mulls reducing maximum detached house sizes to boost density

Click to play video: 'Vancouver considers shrinking allowable size of new single-detached homes'
Vancouver considers shrinking allowable size of new single-detached homes
The City of Vancouver is considering shrinking the allowable size of a new single detached home as part of a series of reforms to help densify its neighbourhoods. As Global's Aaron McArthur reports, a new petition is concerned the proposed change would discourage multi-generational housing, wherein several generations of families live together under one roof. – Aug 1, 2023

The City of Vancouver is looking at potentially reducing the maximum size of new detached homes as part of a suite of zoning reforms aimed at promoting density.

The idea is included in a report presented to council in late July, prepared under direction from the city’s last council to explore ways to encourage more “missing middle” housing options.

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How interest rates may affect the housing market

The report proposes discouraging the replacement of detached homes with new, larger houses by cutting the maximum size from about 2,800 square feet on a standard city lot to 2,400. At the same time, it recommends increasing the maximum size of a laneway house.

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It further recommends allowing multiplex properties of between four and six units across much of the city, and rewarding builders by permitting a larger building footprint for such projects.

“Together, these regulations will increase the uptake of new housing options, minimize the impact on utility capacity, and minimize the risk of land speculation,” the report argues.

Andy Yan, director of the City Program at SFU, said the approach appears to reflect research showing a creeping growth in the size of detached homes.

“We’ve actually found over the last 20 years, single-detached homes in the city of Vancouver have actually gone up 28 per cent, whereas condominiums actually went down 15 per cent in terms of their sizes,” he said.

“So incentivizing the sizes is going to be one of the big questions in this forthcoming policy.”

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North Vancouver housing infrastructure concerns

The idea of capping house sizes is already facing some backlash from the development industry, including a petition from Vancouver-based architect Tillie Kwan.

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“Many households live in multi-generational and other co-living arrangements and larger homes are better equipped to support this,” the petition argues.

“Reducing maximum allowable area makes the single family housing stock built under these new rules less flexible and adaptable for future living … the reduction in allowable built area will negatively impact the flexibility and desirability of renovating older homes.”

Kwan argues the change would also negatively affect neighbourhood streetscapes, and limit the amount of space that could be dedicated to a secondary suite in a detached house.

Instead, the petition argues, the city should keep the current size limits and in fact expand them on properties that include a laneway house.

“From an urban planning and long term outlook for housing perspective, there is no good reason to reduce buildable area from the current standard,” it concludes.

The petition has so far attracted just over 370 signatures.

Peter Waldkirch, director of Abundant Housing Vancouver, argued the move would just roll house sizes back to where they were 15 years ago, and any housing it incentivized would be a “drop in the bucket.”

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Instead, he argued the city should go further with changes to zoning, allowing apartments in residential neighbourhoods across the city.

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“If the city really wants to encourage more inclusive housing options, all it needs to do is stop banning them, especially apartments,” he said.

“There is huge demand to live in the city of Vancouver, and there is simply not enough land for everyone who wants to live in the city to live on a giant plot.”

The proposed change comes as the province prepares to enact the BC Housing Supply Act, which is expected to press new minimum zoning standards for cities, potentially allowing three to four units on a single lot.

Vancouver was identified as one of the first 10 cities the legislation will target.

“This is just the beginning to watch as we begin to see how we can change housing in the City of Vancouver but also overall in the province of B.C.,” Yan said.

“I think overall this focus and discussion around sustainable means of having densification is critical towards the development of future housing for all British Columbians.”

The new housing policy is expected to go before Vancouver city council this fall.

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