stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
A search for the 'missing middle'
space
Design competition elicits many development ideas, but affordability remains elusive
space
By FRANCES BULA
Special to The Globe and Mail
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Friday, May 25, 2018 – Page H3

VANCOUVER -- Canada's major cities, which used to consist of small apartment zones surrounded by vast swaths of single-family houses, are undergoing a major transformation.

In Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, apartments dominate as the main form of housing that developers are building. In 2017, half to three-quarters of all new homes built fell into that category, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation statistics. Many are in towers.

As well, Toronto also still builds a lot of suburban-style houses, while Montreal builds almost none of them and Vancouver is somewhere between those two.

But what every city is missing is something in the middle: the kind of not-singlefamily, not-condo-tower-apartment style of housing that provides enough room for a couple of parents and kids, has some kind of ground-level space outside and doesn't cost a fortune.

Only 14 per cent of the 22,000-some homes built last year in Vancouver were rowhouse-style. In Toronto, it was 15 per cent; in Montreal, the Canadian birthplace of this form, only 7 per cent.

That's a problem that a unique group of architects and planners in Vancouver decided to tackle this year by putting on a competition to see who could come up with the best design for that "missing middle" housing.

In particular, the Urbanarium group wanted architects to create a form that would fit into existing single-family neighbourhoods - something that local city councils could consider as a possibility for local densification, rather than following the usual planning route of segregating the single-family houses in one area, apartments in a second one and rowhouses in a third.

The competition got lots of responses. It also exposed one big problem.

While everyone came up with innovative, socially inclusive and occasionally beautiful designs, the judges for the competition observed one thing: None of them would be affordable to the average family in Vancouver.

"We went through all the schemes looking at construction costs and everything.

Our conclusion was that you can't just densify your way out of the problem," said Bruce Haden, an architect and one of Urbanarium's board directors.

He, along with many competitors, made the point that if Vancouver or any of North America's cost-squeezed cities are going to create this kind of housing, planners will have to figure out how to capture some of the high land values and put it toward lowering the cost of housing.

Otherwise, sixplexes or co-housing projects or rowhouses on former single-family lots will remain out of reach for many.

One solution that the competition's winning entrants came up with was to create a form of co-housing where a group of people develop a project with six or seven units of very different sizes using their pooled income.

"It would range from a unit for a student working part-time who could pay $800 to rent a studio to a family of four paying $1,800 a month for a three-bedroom unit," said Shirley Shen, a co-founder of Haeccity Studio Architecture.

Her company won first prize in the competition for the concept of a "micro-op" project that had included townhouse units around a courtyard on a standard lot in Burnaby, the suburb just to the east of Vancouver.

She and Haeccity principal Travis Hanks estimated that everyone living in the project could get by with paying no more than 30 per cent of their collective income.

They also calculated that the pool of owners, with that many units available on the site, could come up with enough money to be able to compete with any developers, especially since they wouldn't have to pay for the usual components of a market development, such as builder profit and marketing.

The design of the project itself is also different because it aims to help everyone living on the site have a chance to interact with each other in common spaces.

The three-storey townhouses are set in two rows, one facing the street, one facing the alley, with a courtyard in between.

Another entry - this one set in Surrey, the rapidly growing suburb south of Vancouver - took a slightly different approach because there are no laneways there.

Instead, Cedric Yu and his Altforma business partner, Shane Wu, came up with a design for a double lot that would include 16 or 17 townhouses and apartments. He wanted a bigger project so there would be enough people for "critical mass to create a community."

The four-storey buildings within the project have a lane running between them in the interior of the site.

"Surrey is so auto-dependent," said Mr. Yu, speaking from Sweden, where he works some of the time. "The front is a space for cars. So for us, the main thing was having a successful collective space [inside]."

Mr. Yu's financing model assumed $6.9million in cost for the whole project, or about $294 a square foot for buyers - a significantly lower price than the $1,000-plus a square foot that even new Vancouver east-side or Burnaby condos are selling for.

Mr. Haden said that, as innovative as some of the ideas were, cities will still need to make some significant changes to reduce land costs if they want to develop a form that can be built affordably in big, expensive city centres.

"They will need to make a big move and do it over the whole city at one time," he said. "If someone does [rezoning] just in pockets, then you get very high values in the middle of low value."

Another strategy cities could try as a way of inserting affordable housing is to allow a single-family-lot landowner to redevelop into something much denser, such as a sixplex, he said, as long as two of the units were rented out at rents geared to income for households making less than the median in the city.

The idea behind the competition was, along with ideas about design and cost, to convince city councillors that there are types of denser housing that can fit comfortably into single-family neighbourhoods.

At the moment, rowhouses and small apartment buildings are restricted to relatively small zones in the city. Mr. Haden and others in the competition say cities would be willing to rezone to allow these other forms into single-family areas.

One professional builder says that he doubts, in the current climate, whether any city council would be willing to do that.

"The general public from West Vancouver to Langley is very anti-development," said Rick Johal, the president of Zenterra Developments Ltd. He said councils and bureaucrats are fearful of giving approvals because of that backlash, so they delay or don't approve projects at all.

"The approval process is mind-bogglingly slow," said Mr. Johal, whose company builds about 175 townhomes and apartments in small wood-frame buildings every year ranging in price from $350,000 to $1.5-million.

"I could bring in hundreds more," he said, "if we could get through the process faster."

Associated Graphic

Concepts submitted to Urbanarium's competition present densification options that would fit into existing single-family neighbourhoods.

PICTURES COURTESY OF URBANARIUM

The competition's judges say none of the bids would be affordable for the average Vancouver family, although Haeccity Studio Architecture's winning bid, bottom, proposes a form of co-housing to lower costs.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Rex_Murphy Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page