There are many reasons to love Vancouver, BC. It is a great international city with tremendous cultural diversity. Some of us truly see Vancouver as a bold leader in accommodating growth in sustainable compact communities. Personally, I like the fact that the Queen is on their money and they call the Mayor, “Your Worship.”
Now there is one more reason to admire Vancouver—especially all you density devotees out there: secondary suites in apartments. Here is how a backgrounder on recent legislation passed by the Vancouver City Council in July describes them:
Similar to secondary suites in single-family homes, the secondary suite in apartment buildings is a self-contained dwelling unit (with a kitchenette, bathroom, and living room/bedroom area) designed within a larger primary suite. The secondary suite is able to be ‘locked-off’ from the primary suite and a separate door is provided for the secondary suite to either a corridor or to the outside. Together the secondary suite and the primary unit would be approximately equal in size to a two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment.
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You read that right. This means subdivided condos or apartments. Compared to the Laneway Housing (Vancouver’s term for backyard cottages) discussion of this measure was rather non-controversial, maybe because it’s somewhat more difficult to do. But it is a great idea and allows the kind of flexibility I wrote about in single family neighborhoods for multiunit housing.
Not everyone could or would want to subdivide their apartment or condo. But allowing people the flexibility for their condos is important for many of the same reasons backyard cottages are, including creating additional density, revenue and options for aging parents. And more units also, arguably, create more housing supply, reducing housing costs overall. At least that is one of the major reasons that Vancouver is trying secondary suites.
And it has already been done—successfully—at Simon Fraser’s UniverCity Community Housing in nearby Burnaby. In fact, Vancouver’s measure was inspired by the Burnaby City Council’s legislation.
Vancouver passed secondary suite legislation as part of its EcoDensity initiative, an effort to maximize density, livability and affordability in the city. I will be writing more this week on the progress of backyard or laneway cottages on single family lots in Seattle, Vancouver and Portland.
Hello? Grass? I’d like you to meet my friend Mr. Green.The proliferation of 400 sq. ft. apartments isn’t generally seen as a positive development here. We’re officially reaching some kind of saturation point. A queen size bed is about 34 sq. ft: almost 10 percent of your living space just for sleeping.Sure, I could use a single instead but I’d like to _think_ that I might need the extra room…one day.Vancouver has a lack of high density “family” housing. 3 bedroom condos are exceedingly rare (parents + a bedroom for each of two children) leading to a substantial gap between the cost of living for a family with one child and a family with two.Focusing on smaller and smaller has its drawbacks. I don’t mind _small_, but as a single person I think anything less than 600 sq. ft. is just too small. Of course I have a fleet of three bikes that get used much more often than my car…
Matt the Engineer
This is a very common concept in the hotel world – I just haven’t seen it before in the condo market. Even the 7000sf serviced apartments I worked on in a Dubai job had splits to be able to break them into smaller pieces (for those cheap vacationers that only want 3500sf rooms with its own maid quarters).[Darcy] This idea seems to solve your problem. It consists of a large condo that can split off a room if it isn’t needed. Some day when you need more than 600sf, end your renter’s lease and expand. I can imagine them even building larger condos with more than one break (just mirror the blue area on the other side).
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I agree with Darcy. We need more family sized units in our “dense” city. Along with schools, safe streets, open space and ammenities suitable for families. Otherwise our dense areas will be just for single, well paid, urbanites. And we will continue to sprawl in order to build ‘homes’ that people want. The rest is just hype to allow for upzones and accommodating a class of developer that builds something that isn’t really solving our problem…
Since I live in about 160 square feet in Toronto I find it difficult to be horrified by 400 square feet. I’m sure more family sized units would be nice too. I would assume that if people want to buy them, developers would be happy to build them.
Having been a city dweller in Chicago, Copenhagen and Seattle for the past 16 years and now a parent living in a 880sf loft (plenty big enough for family of 3) in downtown Seattle neighborhood, I have to say that small is not a crime. There are lots of places in the world (outside of North America) where families and couples live in small units. I think the problem we have in the US is that we expect or feel entitled to space. The reason that more developers don’t build 3 bedroom family sized units is that once a family is large enough to need 3-4 bedrooms, they opt to buy a large house outside the city center with a big yard. Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a society that valued “experiences” over “things”. Our family has a fairly edited amount of kids toys because we like spending time at playgrounds, coffee shops, the aquarium, and childrens museum. Between these activities, daycare and playing with friends our daughter has plenty of toys to play with – as evidenced when her friends come over to play with her. Americans need to be willing to give up their stuff so they can stop “needing” larger homes to store it all in.