In a bid to help fill the “missing middle” housing gap, Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart is looking to make changes to the city’s housing policies by creating an added gentle density option for the city’s single-family neighbourhoods.
The Making HOME program, short for Housing Options for Middle-Income Earners, is designed to enable homeowners to create up to four sellable market homes on a standard size lot — as long as up to two additional homes are permanently set aside as affordable to middle-income, working households earning $80,000 annually.
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For example, there could be three market owners, affordable for household annual incomes of $135,000 and with a $110,000 downpayment, as well as one middle-income owner with a household income of $75,000 and a $65,000 down payment. The option for renters is also retained.
Currently, a single homeowner on a single lot would need a $200,000 annual income, and a downpayment in excess of $300,000. Policies that exist today also allow a single basement renter and one laneway house renter, which have rents typically affordable for incomes of $60,000 and $75,000, respectively.
With the average price of a detached home in East Vancouver hovering at $1.4 million, a detached home is only within reach of the top 2.5% of incomes. But under the changes, ownership in single-family neighbourhoods would be within the reach of 50% of residents.
The definition of housing affordability is less than 30% of a household’s pre-tax income going towards shelter, but in Vancouver this proportion is clearly significantly higher.
“Vancouver can be a leader in making housing affordable to the middle class again,” said Stewart during a press conference this afternoon.
“Making HOME is an incredible opportunity for many renters who make a middle-income. But we have to be careful that in our attempt to give some renters more options, we don’t displace others.”
The mayor will seek city council’s approval on Wednesday for a text amendment and to direct city staff to develop a pilot program that would allow up to 100 individual pilot projects across single-family neighbourhoods.
There will be a relaxation of parking requirements, design, floor space ratio density, and various other city regulations to allow for smaller homes on a single family lot. As well, new homes under Making HOME will be limited to about the same height as a residential home.
All of these amount to relatively minor changes to existing allowable buildable forms, including the retainment of laneway homes.
The policy cannot be applied on properties for which development would lead to the loss of existing rental units or homes with heritage designation.
If the pilot program direction is approved this week, the guidelines for Making HOME could be ready for city council to consider by the second quarter of 2021, with the aim of launching the pilot in the third quarter of 2021.
“I see a future where families are no longer pushed out of town because their only two options are a condo or a multi-million dollar house,” continued Stewart, adding that this creates more options for younger generations to work and live in the city.
Based on a recent city survey, 71% of respondents left Vancouver because they were seeking housing affordability, while 51% left because they could not afford to live in their preferred neighbourhood.
A similar motion with a similar direction on offering more housing flexibility in single-family neighbourhoods is also being pushed by NPA city councillor Lisa Dominato.