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  • How to live in Vancouver without breaking the bank

Vancouver’s Backyard Beauties

Laneway houses offer an alternative in an unaffordable market

Last year, the average price of a detached house in Greater Vancouver reached $1.77million, close to double the going rate in the Greater Toronto Area. Homeownership is daunting, or even impossible, for would-be homeowners who aren’t millionaires. But Vancouver also leads the continent in the creation of laneway houses, a modest but eminently practical solution to the challenge of housing more people in a finite amount of space.

Back in 2007, Vancouver started to explore sustainable ways to increase residential density. “One of the ideas that came up was a little house that could be built in the backyard of a property with an existing house—that would retain the character of the neighbourhood and add a little more density. I think a lot of people were thinking of it as a property that could be used for an aging parent or an adult child, or as a mortgage helper,” says Heather Burpee, a Senior Planner with the City of Vancouver.

In 2009, the city began allowing the construction of laneway houses no larger than 900 square feet. A year later, contractor Bryn Davidson’s LaneFab Design/Build erected the first one. The floodgates were opened.

“One hundred permits were issued in the first year,” says Burpee. “We’ve had over 2,300 permits issued now. We have about 400 permits a year.”

Some are built on existing lots; others are new builds, which sometimes include a basement apartment as well. “We estimate that about a third of laneway houses are used for a family member; about two-thirds are built for rental,” Burpee says.

The City encourages single-storey dwellings (for “neighbourliness”) and limits second storeys to 60% of the main floor. Within this small package, creativity reigns. Some homes mirror their larger partner house; some are designed to push the envelope in terms of sustainability or accessibility.

The next step? Burpee foresees the creation of new mini-neighborhoods in Vancouver, as more additions fill in the gaps between existing houses.