Missing middle housing: three ways to help make home ownership more affordable
The supply of “missing middle” housing lags far behind demand across Metro Vancouver.
Missing middle housing includes ground-oriented, multi-unit homes that don’t stand out in single-family neighbourhoods.
Although they’re built to look like detached homes, they’re duplexes, townhouses, row houses, fourplexes, and stacked townhouses. Hidden away in back and side yards are carriage and laneway homes.
This strategically located density doesn’t detract from neighbourhood character or alienate NIMBY-minded neighbours.
In Metro Vancouver, most land is zoned for low-density, single-family homes.
For example, in West Vancouver 94.7% of land is zoned for detached homes. In Delta, 92.7% of land is zoned for detached homes. In North Vancouver District, it’s 85.4%, in Port Coquitlam it’s 81.8%, in Vancouver 80.9%, in Burnaby 80.7%, and in Richmond it’s 75.2%.
This inefficient use of land must change because our neighbourhoods are changing*.
Fewer households comprise two parents and children. Instead, more residents are living alone as single parents, as part of a couple without children, or as empty nesters, according to Statistics Canada. The number of multigenerational families is also increasing. This is creating a demand for much more diverse housing options.
In our land-constrained region, missing middle housing provides these options, creating more affordable homes in existing neighbourhoods for newcomers who might not otherwise be able to afford to buy, and for existing residents who might not otherwise be able to stay.
Green space, natural habitat and agricultural land are saved from development. Sprawl and vehicle use decline and transit use increases. Neighbourhoods are more sustainable, affordable, liveable, and inclusive.
Three ways municipalities can create more missing middle housing
1. Zone more land for fee-simple row houses
New row houses sold in BC are primarily strata-titled. But not every property owner wants to participate in a strata corporation, pay strata fees, or have a strata council develop and enforce rules on everything from pets to play areas. In contrast, owners of fee-simple row houses own their property just like fee-simple detached homes and are responsible for their own upkeep and maintenance. Benefits for municipalities include more efficient use of land and infrastructure, more housing options which keep residents in a community, and a larger tax base.
2. Allow infill homes for sale in Metro Vancouver municipalities
Metro Vancouver municipalities increasingly allow rental laneway housing and coach homes. Now Vancouver is taking this a step further by proposing to allow owners of pre-1940 character homes to densify by building infill housing and suites in their homes which they can sell as strata units. In return, property owners must preserve their character home. Municipalities across Metro Vancouver should consider similar zoning rule changes which would help save character homes, add additional gentle density lower cost family units to neighbourhoods, while adding value to existing detached properties.
3. Upgrade municipal rules to encourage smaller homes on smaller lots close to transit
Smaller homes are more affordable and municipalities such as Delta have changed development rules to allow cottage homes ranging from 800 to 1,600 square feet in the Southlands (Tsawwassen) area. Municipalities such as Richmond permit two homes on former single family lots on arterial roads and additional areas. Municipalities across Metro Vancouver should consider allowing similar transit-oriented density in single family neighbourhoods. Benefits for municipalities include efficient land and infrastructure use, more affordable housing options, and a larger tax base.
*In 1871 the average household comprised 5.6 residents. By 2016 this had dropped to 2.4 residents, according to Statistics Canada.