British Columbia

Affordable housing in Vancouver within reach: Michael Geller

Architect, planner, and developer Michael Geller says that with some innovative thinking around design and financing, Vancouver could add more affordable options to the housing stock.

Michael Geller says innovative design and financing ideas are key to creating more affordable Vancouver homes

Vancouver has one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, and prices only seem to be going up.

But architect, planner, and developer Michael Geller said with some innovative thinking around design and financing, Vancouver could add more affordable options to the housing stock.

"With good design you can actually keep the character of the neighbourhood, despite the fact that you're increasing the number of homes on a particular lot," he said.

While Geller believes there are ways to make housing in Vancouver more accessible, he said in a city with limited space to build, affordability is a relative term.

"Vancouver, like many other cities, is always going to be more expensive than Winnipeg or Regina, but we can at least try to reduce the cost of housing by providing new alternatives — just simply allowing a single family house to be divided into two, provides a new affordable option that you wouldn't otherwise have."

Here are some of Geller's ideas on making housing more affordable, as told to The Early Edition's Margaret Gallagher:

1. Get smaller

Loosen zoning restrictions to allow smaller units, including smaller houses on smaller lots.

2. Spread out the density

Build smaller apartment buildings throughout neighbourhoods, rather than concentrate high-rises on main arterials.

Geller says stacked townhouses allow multiple units to be built in compact space and would cost a fraction of the price of a detached home in the same neighbourhood. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

3. Stacked townhouses instead of single family homes

Construct townhouses that stack units together, allowing each unit to have its own street entrance. These cost a fraction of the price of a detached house in the same neighbourhood.

While stacked houses are a standard form of housing in Toronto, they are still relatively rare in Vancouver, but Geller predicts that will change. 

"I think we're going to see more and more developers building these as the market demands them."

4. Creative financing

Consider a variety of financial arrangements including cooperative housing and shared equity plans, where homeowners initially buy in for half the unit, and as their earnings go up, later increase their ownership share. Geller said shared equity is common in England.

5. Loosen parking restrictions

An underground parking space adds up to $45,000 to the cost of an home. Geller suggested creating more "sustainable units" in which buyers acknowledges they do not own a car and agree to join a car co-op as a condition of buying a unit without a parking spot.

6. Laneway housing for rent...and sale

Vancouver allows laneway housing for rental purposes only, not for sale.

"With proper construction and fire separation, there's no reason we can't allow a laneway house to be sold," said Geller.

"Not all of them, but maybe those on larger corner lots for starters."

7. Be flexible

Allow suites within a suite and basement suites. For example, a three-bedroom condo designed in such a way that one could rent out a self-contained one-bedroom suite as a mortgage helper. Alternatively, Geller suggests considering making well-designed basements suites available for sale.

Michael Geller will share his ideas for making Vancouver more affordable in a free lecture at SFU tonight.


Margaret Gallagher is the reporter for On the Coast and the host of Hot Air on CBC Radio One.


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