After a summer break, Vancouver city council will be debating a wide variety of motions this week all centred around the city's housing supply. 

Three significant zoning amendments will be discussed at a public hearing Tuesday night:

  • One seeks input on temporary modular housing design guidelines, so the city can approve the construction of up to 600 modular housing units for the homeless before this winter.
  • Another would allow people who own character homes in RS-zoned areas of the city (primarily on the westside) to build and sell a laneway home on their property if they keep the original home.  
  • A third would permit people who own character homes in RT-zoned areas of the city (primarily in Mount Pleasant and Grandview-Woodlands neighbourhoods) to increase the number of units on their lots from two to three. 

It comes as the city begins to roll out some of the policies in its self-proclaimed "reset" of its housing strategy, which began around the same time its previous chief housing officer was let go.

"We've actually been producing a lot of housing in Vancouver, relative to other growing cities," said Gil Kelley, the city's chief planner.

"But what most of that has been is towards high-end housing. Most of it in stratas and single-family .... it's been satisfying the need for housing investors and relatively high-income people seeking homes."

Kelley is hopeful a number of bylaws and zoning amendments coming through this fall will create more dedicated supply for lower and middle-class housing in Vancouver.

"What we're trying to do is make sure through our policy levers we're able to begin to address much more of the rental housing needs ... and matching it to income levels."

Anne McMullin, president of the Urban Development Institute, said the rezoning policies were "good, positive first steps."

"Anytime the city is making steps to move in the direction of increasing supply on land that would have been traditionally single family, or in areas that wouldn't have seen additional housing, it's a positive step," she said.

"We're encouraged but perhaps we're a little cautious. This isn't the first time we've had an affordability task force or strategy. I'm hopeful this time we've got new leadership at city hall ... but we've got to make sure we do this in a timely way.

"If [new projects] take three to four years to get approval, we're not solving anything."

Laneway homes

The city is proposing a zoning change that would allow owners of certain residential properties to sell a laneway home on their land. (David Horemans/CBC)

600 modular homes for the winter

The motion on modular homes both gives design guidelines for future projects and reduces the number of regulations for building the structures.

"People are doing really interesting construction that is basically permanent with either pre-fabricated or modular construction. This is our first venture into that territory," said Kelly. 

Earlier this month, the provincial government announced $291 million to build 2,000 new modular housing units in the next two years. The city wants to make it easy for 600 units to be built in Vancouver for the winter, which would last for five years, with a possible five-year extension.

"It gives enough time for people to get in there, use it, and then get more permanent places for them to go ... given the setup costs and the takedown costs, that's the right amount of years to amortize that cost," said Kelly. 

Kelly said the units would be in areas where social housing is already located and that private companies might choose to build their own modular housing, "if [they're] interested in having some kind of interim use that's socially helpful while they're in the middle of the application."

NPA Coun. George Affleck agreed that it could be "an easy win" for local government.

"I think the provincial and federal governments want to take part in constructing affordable homes, truly affordable homes. If this modular home process works, that's great. We put in very little taxpayer dollars and use land that is under-utilized.

"It's all good stuff."