Opinion: Gentle densification needed in Burnaby's single-family neighbourhoods for housing affordability

Feb 24 2022, 11:55 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Burnaby city councillor Mike Hillman. Over the decades, Hillman has served in a wide range of roles in committees and boards, and worked closely with federal, provincial, and local governments on numerous projects, including in public transit and major event hosting.

In Burnaby and across Metro Vancouver, a lack of housing options is causing significant strains on families. Many younger residents who grew up in Burnaby are increasingly looking to move further east in search of reasonably affordable accommodations. My family is no exception.

Twelve years ago, we built a multigenerational house in Burnaby. At that time our daughter and her husband, both young professionals, lived on the sixth floor of an apartment in Burnaby with their two-year-old daughter. Part of their dream was to live in a home with a backyard in a safe, family-orientated neighbourhood.

We started talking. We all wanted to keep family close. Housing prices were more affordable in the Fraser Valley but made travel to work in North Vancouver a heavy burden. It also meant that family would not be close. We explored how we could help and eventually found a solution that worked for us all.

Today we are blessed that our daughter, her husband, and two granddaughters can walk freely into our space – if the door is open – which it is 98% of the time. We share two sides of one house, each with our own kitchen, and it has become one home for us all.

This solution made housing affordable for them and for us. Most importantly we are together as a family, enjoying our grandkids as they enjoy their grandparents, and we can now retire and stay in place for as long as possible. When we pass on, the family can continue to stay together for a few generations.

It is a family affordability story upon which we can build.

My personal family experiences now guide me as a newly elected city councillor in our discussions about housing in Burnaby. I know that other families share similar stories to mine, including having a secondary suite that provides modest revenue to make ends meet and enabling owners to stay in place longer as they age.

In the years ahead, demand for housing in Burnaby will continue to grow and prices will continue to rise. The latest projections show that over 100,000 more people may be living in Burnaby and some 48,954 dwelling units will be required by 2050.

How can the city do its part to keep housing “affordable” while so many other factors impact the cost of housing?

mike hillman burnaby city council

Burnaby city councillor Mike Hillman. (Mike Hillman)

I am a strong supporter of laneway housing as one affordable solution to keep families together.

We don’t have to choose between sprawling single-family neighbourhoods and dense skyscrapers as housing options – there is a middle ground. We can implement and improve laneway options with the goal to gently densify our single-family neighbourhoods without the hysteria recently seen in Vancouver.

We could start with a small number of laneway pilot projects in each of our four city quadrants. This pilot approach allows all of us an opportunity to assess the benefits and impacts of laneway housing.

The pilot projects would be open only to families that specifically want to stay together and will commit to a no-sale term of five to 10 years. This will set a framework that can limit speculation and the flipping of properties that simply drives up costs.

Burnaby could also consider having a preapproved set of laneway designs that families could choose from. Select your favourite design — job done. Yes, there are other items that will need special consideration and permits, including siting elevations, foundations, electrical, plumbing, rainwater and sewage drainage, and gas hookups. Those costs will be unique to each site.

The bottom line – it’s time for Burnaby City Council to take a real step forward towards providing options for the next generation of families to stay and thrive in our community. We can keep families together and make laneway housing an affordable housing option that is easy to build and can last a generation or more.

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