Cities across B.C. look to building more laneway and infill housing

The housing crisis extends far outside Metro and some cities are looking for innovations to promote in-fill housing, such as providing pre-approved house plans

As the housing crisis spreads across B.C., more and more municipalities are encouraging construction of laneway houses and infill homes on existing, single-house properties.

Population growth, housing price increases and stagnant incomes were some of the main reasons identified by officials from Kelowna, Victoria and Nelson, who attended a seminar this week held by Small Housing B.C., a B.C. non-profit that works to promote the building of laneway and infill homes.

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“There’s a lot of folks who have moved to Kelowna from Vancouver and we’re also seeing a lot of young folks coming here. We’re relatively affordable, but we certainly have major affordability issues ourselves and are among the most unaffordable communities in the country,” said James Moore, infill and housing policy manager for the City of Kelowna.

The City of Vancouver first allowed laneway and infill homes over a dozen years ago to encourage so-called gentle density to neighbourhoods of single-family homes without dramatically changing the look of them. There are now about 5,000 of these homes in different neighbourhoods.

Recently, other cities have been making it easier to build these homes, said Jake Fry, CEO of Vancouver-based Smallworks, which builds laneway homes.

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He said North Vancouver and Burnaby have in recent months presented new regulations to allow more duplexes and laneway houses.

In Kelowna, the city ran a contest this year to ask designers, architects and developers from across North America to submit plans for a laneway or infill home.

A panel chose three top designs, plus some honourable mentions. Each received a cash prize and the city came away with a set of plans that have buy-in from the building industry.

“We’re looking at a major pre-zoning infrastructure-and-zoning analysis and process changes, and so on,” Moore said.

The goal is let builders bypass the long and risky process of rezoning a single-house property to allow up to four units of infill or laneway housing.

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A survey of municipal planners in B.C. found one of the most common challenges for infill housing is the “lack of a strong business case for homeowners or developers to do gentle density projects.”

By bringing in pre-approved plans and zoning changes, Kelowna hopes to make construction of laneway and infill homes more appealing for developers.

In Nelson, a growing population means rising home prices. And, the city’s remote location means the cost of construction is high because transporting materials is very expensive.

The city held it own design competition in 2019 and now sells, for $1,000, pre-reviewed plans for three different laneway homes, with the goal of simplifying the process.

In Victoria, city council is considering using pre-approved designs and replacing single-family zoning with zoning that allows six-unit homes in the middle of streets, 12-unit townhomes on some corner lots and some infill homes on larger heritage properties.

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