Breaking news: Single family zoning no longer exists in Vancouver. Significant 2018-2021 uptake of duplex housing + 2 secondary (rental) units (total 4 units on a lot)

Above: Image from CoV staff presentation to Public Hearing 18-Sep-2018.

Contrary to popular belief, “single family” zoning does not exist in Vancouver. It’s actually old news but it may feel like breaking news to many.

The vast majority of Vancouver residents don’t know this — and even major media in BC and across Canada don’t seem to acknowledge it — but single-family zoning does not exist in Vancouver.

Recent high-profile coverage of New Zealand’s new moves to ban single-family housing has hit the headlines in Canada this past week or two, with local academics chiming in that it seems like a good idea. Meanwhile, current Mayor Kennedy Stewart has come out with a “bold” proposal he plans to bring to Council in early 2022, and make it an election issue (election 15-Oct-2022) to allow six units on each “single family” lot.

But we did not yet notice any of them mentioning the fact that Vancouver eliminated single-family zoning three years ago! The changes were made as the result of a Public hearing held 18 and 19 September 2018 (see link below).

How many applications were received, how many processed, how many approved? Can we see a map indicating the locations of the applications, and any analysis or commentary on the uptake? This would be relevant in the current context of the Vancouver Plan (vancouverplan.ca), as well as other crucial housing-related discussions coming forward about the need for more and more housing.

CityHallWatch attended a media event hosted by the City on October 27 for a technical briefing about the massive launch of Phase 3 of consultation on the Vancouver Plan, and had the opportunity to make the above points and ask the City for some numbers. On October 28, we received a very interesting reply from Susan Haid, Deputy Director of Planning, via communications staff at the City. We share the response received and graphs/maps below. This is just the first basic information. We’re sure the public and City Council look forward to a much more extensive report back and discussion as soon as possible now that we are in the midst of late-stage consultation on the Vancouver Plan.

More information is needed in order to evaluate the program and its prospects for the future. An interesting point to note is that because this duplex zoning is already in place in RS zones, applications do not need to go to a Public Hearing. They do not go to the Development Permit Board. They go straight to the desk of Director of Planning. Neighbours do have an opportunity to comment on applications. This can be a very quick and straightforward process if the City wants it to be.

“We’ve had significant uptake of duplexes since they were enabled in zoning in 2018. About a third (30%) of overall development applications have been made for duplexes since 2018 (about 450 applications compared to 1050 applications for new detached dwellings). As an option for new housing development, duplexes have been increasing in popularity. Check out the attached maps to see what this uptake looks like.”

(Susan Haid, Deputy Director of Planning)

So, that’s 450 applications for duplexes, among 1,050 applications. How many residents would that be in the duplexes? By rough math, that’s potentially 4 units per application, and at an average 2.2 residents per unit that’s 8.8 residents per application, or potentially housing for 3,960 people applied for over three years. Continued at that rate for Vancouver Plan 30 years, that would be about 18,000 homes or 39,600 potential residents. How does that fit into the City’s population targets?

Graph 1: The inset bar graph shows duplex versus single family dwelling applications, by month. Duplex applications are clearly rising. They may be about 1/3 of cumulative applications over the period Oct 2018 to Aug 2021 (not quite three years), but in Sept and Oct 2021, duplexes appear to be nearly half of all applications on RS lots. With the merits of FOUR dwelling units per lot, one might reasonable expect the duplex applications to move toward 100% over the next several years (our straight-line basic analysis of the trend line suggests duplexes would be 100% of applications by about October 2024). Again, each application could be a mix, being 50% ownership housing and 50% rental housing. Could this be the gentle density the City is looking for? The map shows by colour code the locations of the applications, blue/green for duplex and pink for single family. These are applications. How many have started construction? How many complete? How do the costs work out? What will the rents be in the completed apartments? More data is needed.
Graph 2: The inset pie graph shows the cumulative applications on RS lots in Vancouver over the period Oct 2018 to Aug 2021 at 30% duplex and 70% single family. As noted above, this is the cumulative number over the period. Uptake was slow at the start, naturally, but within less than three years, by October 2021, duplex applications accounted for nearly one-half of the total number of applications, and the trend line is rising. The map shows the same plot locations as Graph 1.

The City told CityHallWatch that it would take much more staff time to get information about the number of applications actually processed, but that they are considering making an update on the duplex topic in the not too distant future.

CityHallWatch comment: Vancouver is currently considering the citywide Vancouver Plan, which it hopes will become the City’s Official Development Plan. Work is going in internally at City Hall, and they are also seeking public input. It would seem to be important to have detailed analysis of the results of these duplex zoning changes from 2018 to 2021. This would be crucial information to consider in the current planning process. What has worked? What has not worked? What was successful, what was not? What are projections for the next five, ten, twenty, thirty years for the potential of this rezoning option?

What are the City’s targets for each type of housing under the Vancouver Plan? What’s the quota? How many people does Vancouver need to accommodate over the life of the plan, and seriously, what are the various scenarios to accomplish that?

The duplex zoning allows up to four units on a single lot (two units of attached homes, which could be owned by different owners, plus one secondary rental suite for each of them). Total, four. Mayor Stewart has come out with great fanfare with his idea of six units per lot. What are the similarities and differences from the current duplex zoning that allows four units per lot, versus his idea? Has he tested it or seen the concept tested elsewhere? Have three years of the City’s experience with the duplex zoning inform his proposal, if at all? (He is hosting a town hall meeting on November 10.) Let’s see some more explanation and analysis.

The slide show below shows selected images from the staff presentation to the Public Hearing of 18-Sep-2018.

******

REFERENCES AND LINKS

Public Hearing 18 and 19 September 2018

REZONING: Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law for Most RS Zones to Allow Two-Family Dwellings (Duplexes) to Increase Housing Choice. Link – https://council.vancouver.ca/20180918/phea20180918ag.htm
Minutes of meeting – https://council.vancouver.ca/20180918/documents/phea20180918min.pdf

*****

GOOD EXPLAINER BY CBC (paraphrased and excerpted)

Vancouver’s new duplex rules explained:
What’s changed now that duplexes are allowed on single-family lots? And will it make the city more affordable?
(Karin Larsen, CBC, 20-Sep-2018)
Link – https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-s-new-duplex-rules-explained-1.4831741

Summary by CityHallWatch

On September 20, 2018 [at the end of the previous Council term], Vancouver city council voted 7 to 4 in favour of allowing a vast rezoning of the city’s low-density, single-family (RS) neighbourhoods to allow duplexes.

It permitted duplexes (two houses attached to make one building) on 99 per cent of what previously were “single-family” zoned properties. The change made it legal to build up to four housing units on an RS lot, instead of the maximum of three previously allowed. Previously, a single-family zoned lot was allowed to contain a primary residence, a secondary suite and a laneway house. With the bylaw amendments, each duplex unit can have its own secondary suite. The amendments affected 99 per cent of the 68,000 single-family properties in the city. Each half of a duplex can be sold separately.

The CBC article asked, “How will this impact the affordability crisis in Vancouver?” And the answer was: “It won’t impact it much, and the city acknowledges that. With Vancouver duplexes ranging in price from about $1 million to $2 million, [then chief planner Gil] Kelly says the duplex change wasn’t made to address the “hardcore affordability problem… “This was really meant to address options for owners, although with the ability to do [secondary] suites which typically are rented out, we could see a bump in the rental supply as well.”

CBC asked: How will this impact housing stock in Vancouver? Not by a significant amount… According to a planning report by city staff, about 800 houses are demolished and replaced with a new house or house with secondary suite annually. The report states, “if patterns continue and half of the homeowners who are planning to replace a house in the coming year chose to rebuild using the new duplex option, we could see about 400 duplexes built over the course of a year.”

How many properties are we talking about? The city says the new duplex zoning affects 99 per cent of all the single-family lots in the city or about 67,300 of a total of 68,000 lots.

Point: As of 2018, most RS-zoned lots in Vancouver can have up to four homes. More specifically, a duplex (two attached units) plus two secondary suites (rental, one with each duplex). Even veteran municipal reporters and professional urban planners get it wrong.


The End of the Single-Family House is Underway (Updated) 25-Mar-2021 (Gordon Price)
Here – https://viewpointvancouver.ca/2021/03/25/the-end-of-the-single-family-house-is-underway/

Excerpt: As PT [Price Tags, predecessor to Viewpoint Vancouver] readers will be quick to point out, RS-1 is no longer about a single family. That kind of zoning technically doesn’t exist, given that secondary suites, lane cottages, duplexes, etc. are pretty much buildable anywhere…

RECENT MEDIA

Could New Zealand’s radical new housing law help Canada curb its skyrocketing real estate prices? New Zealand is currently plagued by a real estate market that is even more unaffordable than Canada’s
By Tristin Hopper, National Post, 21-Oct-2021
Link – https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/could-new-zealands-radical-new-housing-law-help-canada-curb-its-skyrocketing-real-estate-prices

[CityHallWatch note: This article misses the point about Vancouver too.]

B.C. takes note as New Zealand moves to ban single-family zoning in cities: New Zealand will allow three homes on formerly single-family lots in five major cities, a move B.C. should consider, say housing advocates.
By Derrick Penner, 21-Oct-2021, Vancouver Sun
Publishing date:Oct 25, 2021
Link – https://vancouversun.com/business/real-estate/new-zealand-housing-move-attracts-attention-in-b-c

[CityHallWatch note: This article misses the point about Vancouver too.]

Vancouver mayor again proposes allowing six homes on single-family lots: Kennedy Stewart unveils proposal to allow up to six homes on a single lot, a year after a similar pilot failed to launch
By Dan Fumano, 20-Oct-2021, Vancouver Sun)
Link – https://vancouversun.com/news/vancouver-mayor-again-proposes-allowing-six-homes-on-single-family-lots

Excerpt –

University of B.C. associate professor Tom Davidoff, who also appeared Wednesday to endorse the mayor’s proposal, said “it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t be a pretty key topic in the election.” After the new conference, Davidoff said, “This is a pretty concrete example of the kind of thing that could be acceptable to a lot of people. … Debating whether we want to have absolute status quo, or this logical, incremental step seems, to me, like absolutely the right way to discuss housing in the election.” While Stewart’s proposal is likely to be opposed by some members of the public and political opponents, Davidoff said, “it would be very wise for him to make this a wedge issue.”

[CityHallWatch note: No mention that RS lots already permit four units or the single family zoning does not exist in Vancouver.]

Vancouver mayor makes pitch to allow up to 6 affordable homes on a single-family lot (Kenneth Chan, Daily Hive, 20-Oct-2021). Link: https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/vancouver-making-home-kennedy-stewart-revised
Excerpts: A new proposal by Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart aims to create up to 10,000 new, more affordable homes for middle-class households in single-detached neighbourhoods across the city…. It would permit up to six ground-oriented units on a single-family lot. Property owners would be given the option to convert or redevelop their large, single-detached houses into multiple stratified homes. This initiative, named “Making Home,” would start with 2,000 lots….It would permit up to six ground-oriented units on a single-family lot. Property owners would be given the option to convert or redevelop their large, single-detached houses into multiple stratified homes. This initiative, named “Making Home,” would start with 2,000 lots…. Existing policies permit up to three units on a single-family lot — a main residence, one basement suite, and a laneway house.

[CityHallWatch note: This article seems to be wrong on two counts. FOUR units are permitted. And “single-family lots” no longer exist.]

2 thoughts on “Breaking news: Single family zoning no longer exists in Vancouver. Significant 2018-2021 uptake of duplex housing + 2 secondary (rental) units (total 4 units on a lot)

  1. “By rough math, that’s potentially 4 units per application, and at an average 2.2 residents per unit that’s 8.8 residents per application, or potentially housing for 3,960 people applied for over three years. Continued at that rate for Vancouver Plan 30 years, that would be about 18,000 homes or 39,600 potential residents. How does that fit into the City’s population targets?”

    This calculation is misleading. Many of the houses that are demolished to enable duplexes to be built would already have a primary suite and a secondary suite, so the four new units that you are talking about would be replacing two existing units, and providing two new units.

  2. “Graph 2: The inset pie graph shows the cumulative applications on RS lots in Vancouver over the period Oct 2018 to Aug 2021 at 30% duplex and 70% single family. As noted above, this is the cumulative number over the period. Uptake was slow at the start, naturally, but within less than three years, by October 2021, duplex applications accounted for nearly one-half of the total number of applications, and the trend line is rising.”

    When a small builder buys an existing house with the intention of tearing it down and building a new speculative house in its place, there is a period of time spent arranging construction financing, getting designs done, getting sub-trades lined up, and obtaining permits.

    I wonder if there were cases where builders were waiting for the new as of right zoning to be put in place, and then they changed course from building a new spec house to building a duplex with secondary suites (a defacto fourplex) instead.

    If this were so, the boom in duplexes might be a case of opening the floodgates and pent-up demand, rather than a trend for the future.

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