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.


    Density Suite Density UniverCity

    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.