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Vancouver approves first laneway apartments in the West End

It’s no secret that Vancouver is way out in front of Toronto and many other cities when it comes to laneway housing. 

Good luck trying to get a laneway house approved in Toronto. They’re only allowed under rare circumstances where there is already an existing house in the lane and/or you’re willing to fight it all the way to the province.

But in Vancouver, it’s a different story. And they’ve even taken it a step further according to this recent Globe and Mail article by Frances Bula. The city recently approved small scale laneway apartments in the West End:

“The city, which created the possibility for laneway apartments when it approved a new West End plan last year, has approved the first four buildings with 47 units in total. Three are in this particular alley between Nelson and Comox on either side of Cardero, around the corner from Cardero Bottega and Firehall No. 6. Others are in the pipeline. Many more are expected.

They’re the first of a new kind of infill that planners hope will produce 1,000 new small homes in this popular downtown neighbourhood.”

Here’s a rendering from the article to give you an idea of what these laneway apartments might look like:

Readers of this blog have argued that Toronto doesn’t need laneway housing. There’s enough room for intensification elsewhere. 

But what is clear to me is that Toronto is continuing to build less and less ground-related housing. There’s little to no room for that. And what is left of our low-rise stock is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

So if we believe that social diversity is important for building a great city – which I do – then I think it behooves us to figure out how to not only increase the supply of new housing, but also increase its diversity. This is something Andrés Duany argued for in yesterday’s video post.

The biggest hurdle is community opposition. But below is how one of the neighbours in Vancouver responded to the proposed laneway apartments. He gets it.

“Dean Malone, who lives across the street from one of Mr. Sangha’s three projects, took the trouble to go to city hall to support it because the laneway apartments provide a way of creating new housing that isn’t a tower and isn’t a luxury development.”

What this also does is allow the private sector to do more before the public sector needs to step in with affordable housing subsidies. I believe that laneway housing will help, but not solve, the affordable housing problem happening in most of our cities. 

But every little bit helps. And this is one solution that many cities are simply ignoring.

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