With single-family homes becoming increasingly unattainble for many, planners and developers are looking at other options like tiny homes, co-housing and other multi-family development.
A few years ago, I decided I was tired of living with roommates and wanted my own space. I started looking at one-bedroom and bachelor apartments, trying to find something that was both private and affordable.
It wasn’t easy.
I got lucky. I saw an ad on the Stoke List for a small cabin close to downtown. It was an older home, probably about 350-square-feet in size, but it sat along the lane way, on its own 5,000 square foot lot on Fourth Street. I negotiated a year-lease at a reasonable price and moved in. With a bit of creativity, I was able to fit everything I needed, and there was a shed that was big enough for my toys.
If there were another house on the property, it would have been characterized as a laneway home — one of the new housing-types being experimented with to alleviate housing pressures in some cities like Vancouver.
Laneway homes, carriage homes, tiny homes, co-housing — these are all ideas being brought forward to address one of the biggest issues of our time: affordable and attainable housing. As the dream of owning a single-family home on its own lot becomes either out of reach or undesirable for most people, new ideas are being explored.
In Revelstoke, housing was the subject of an informal workshop held by the Mountain Co-Lab and led by Greg Hoffart of Tree Construction last Monday.
About 75 people came out to talk about housing issues and explore possible solutions like those mentioned above. Most of it involved a shift away from Revelstoke’s traditional single-family lots, to a denser future, with multiple people sharing a lot, but living in their own spaces.
“The policy writers have to allow you to densify yards,” Hoffart told me afterwards. “Instead of covering 40 per cent of the lot, you cover 60 per cent of the lot.”
It could mean co-housing, where people would have their own living spaces, but would share a kitchen and other common spaces, or it could mean the type of medium-density development David Evans is proposing to build off Nichol Road in Arrow Heights, with more than 1,000 units clustered on a 35-acre lot.
“Affordable housing projects like the Oscar Street project only address five per cent of the affordable and attainable housing issue in the community,” Dean Strachan, the city’s manager of development services told me, referring to the 12-unit affordable housing project that opened this winter. “There has to be market housing that addresses that other 95 per cent. You need to construct units that are in a different format such as townhouses or duplexes.”
Photo: David & Shelley Evans proposed Mackenzie Landing could potentially add a huge number of smaller units to Revelstoke’s housing stock. ~ Image by Selkirk Planning & Design
For the city planning department, tackling the issue means first figuring out what exists in Revelstoke already. The city received a $20,000 grant from Columbia Basin Trust to conduct a population and housing inventory as part of its Official Community Plan review. The inventory will be conducted this fall and will be combined with 2016 census data in order to project what housing types will needed in the future.
“In order to figure out how much land we need for different housing types, we have to know how many of those housing types we’re going to need,” said Strachan. “How do you know what you’ll need in the future if you haven’t figured out what you’ve got now?”
In Revelstoke, the big issue is that while most people can afford a home that costs $200–400,000, there are very few single-family homes in that price range, and much of what exists needs a lot of maintenance. In other communities that price range puts you in a duplex, condominium or townhouse, but there is also very little of that here.
“We’d like to see more multi-family homes,” said Strachan. “We think there’s a real need in the market place for that.”
The OCP update will likely involve adding more multi-family land to the city, and an update to the zoning bylaw will clean up the regulations around multi-family development.
At the Co-Lab workshop, other ideas were explored, like the aforementioned co-housing and laneway homes, and novel concepts like clusters of tiny homes.
Other city’s are experimenting with housing density. In Vancouver, the city has allowed laneway housing, which allows homeowners to build a second living unit on their property. Micro-suites are another phenomenon growing in popularity. They consist of small studio apartments 300 to 500 square feet in size.
One person eyeing a solution is Anna Minten, who is trying to start a tiny-home construction business. She built and lived in her own 200-square-foot home for several years and says it afforded her the ability to buy a house later on. She wants to open up that same opportunity to other people by building and selling tiny homes that the owners can then place on a lot while they save to build or buy something bigger.
“I see it as something that can move with economic society, environmental disasters, where people are in their life,” she said. “Most people don’t want to live in 200 square feet their whole life, but they do want to own a home some day, and you have to make some sacrifices for that.”
Minten is finding there’s numerous hurdles involved with her plan. For one, there’s the question of whether they’re actually homes, or trailers. If the latter, that makes them a campground, said Strachan.
“They want to put them on trailers, so they become a campground,” said Strachan. “If you’re going to put them on a slab of concrete, they become a building.” The differences between the two definitions are substantial when it comes to zoning.
To address those issues, Minten said she’s exploring a new bylaw that would make her homes possible. Her proposal is for people to get a permit that would allow them to place a tiny home on a lot for a period of a few years, provided the neighbours approve and it passes a safety inspection.
“It would meet the need and demand for smaller spaces and more affordable spaces,” she said. “This is a good valuable, quick option that isn’t necessarily permanent, but helps everyone.”
Greg Hoffart says a tiny home or co-housing development could help alleviate housing pressure in Revelstoke. He pointed to a friend’s house that at least six people live in. Instead of cramming them into one house, why not build multiple units on the same lot so they each have their own space, with a central shared space.
“You have four people that own individual units. Even if each person buys one for $150,000, you have $600,000 in available credit to buy the land, service it, pay development cost charges, pay an architect and design team, and pay a builder,” said Hoffart. “You’re providing jobs, more tax structure and you’re getting people out of living in squalor and putting them into quality spaces.
“The only problem is our conceptualized model of what a community and the housing is supposed to look like on a traditional sense.”