The Duke of Data Andy Yan, Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University has been reviewing the 2016 census data looking at who is renting accommodations in Vancouver. Andy Yan found some surprises that challenge the stereotype of what has been termed as “large single family home” neighbourhoods.  Originally expecting that maybe 10 per cent of  units were rental in these areas,  Andy found that “West Point Grey with its big, expensive detached houses, is 38 per cent renter households. Kerrisdale is 36.8 per cent renters. Shaughnessy, with its stock of old and new mansions, is made up of 30 per cent renters.” 

The Globe and Mail’s Kerry Gold observes that Andy Yan has found  that  “24 per cent of all renter households are living in the so-called “single family home” areas that provide an invisible affordability often ignored by development pundits.That means that in terms of planning, we should be sensitive to how people are actually using housing types.  Zoning changes can be the ruin of an established community. It’s not enough to rezone without examining how that housing is being used, and by whom – not if the goal is to create affordable housing while keeping people within the community.”

While 53 per cent of Vancouverites rent their homes, the findings challenge what has been viewed as “single family” homes. The term “single family dwelling unit” is a hangover from the 1950’s zoning terminology and should perhaps be changed to reflect its form, not so much its function. Families today are rarely “nuclear” (another hangover from the atomic age) but may house multiple families or unrelated people.

Andy Yan’s takeaway is that the so called “single family” zoning does not adequately project who is living there, and the importance of exploring data. While purpose-built rental housing is necessary ““We need to get over our zoning and form fetishes and go back to creating communities for people. You just can’t spray density around and pray that affordability will follow. ” The CEO of Landlord BC David Hutniak observes that secondary rental suites in large houses make up to 54 per cent of the rental market. He notes that Vancouver has a “very incestuous development community” that can make good returns preselling and flipping condo developments and has had no reason to build rental housing.  “After 40 years of no purpose built rental construction, and a lot of condos, there is a prevalence of the secondary market for rental housing. Thank God we have it, but in terms of security of tenure it’s never been to the same degree as purpose-built rentals.”

There is also a fulsome discussion from writer Melody Ma who has written a compelling article on the importance of the Vancouver Special housing form and the opportunity these large freestanding houses had to shelter multi-generational and extended families. Ms. Ma  notes that these “are densely populated homes that encourages multiple generations to support each other within close quarters. It is an affordable way of living and arguably even a model way of living for the future”. Her article is well worth reading.


Source: Andy Yan