British Columbia

Grandview-Woodland plan no solution to housing affordability crisis, says resident

Kyle MacDonald, a 36-year-old father and homeowner, stands out against a chorus of Grandview-Woodland community activists and residents who oppose increased density.

Kyle MacDonald fears his Grandview Woodlands neighbourhood in danger of becoming 'Shaughnessy East'

"We're starting a movement, it's part of the worldwide YIMBY movement — Yes in My Back Yard — which is counter current to Not In My Backyard," says MacDonald. (Kyle MacDonald)

Vancouver has released its community plan for the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood, which includes proposals for thousands of new housing units and a number of high-rise towers, including a 24-storey tower at Commercial Drive and Broadway.

But one resident believes the plan falls far short in addressing the dual issues of affordability and lack of housing stock.

Kyle MacDonald, a 36-year-old father and home owner in Grandview-Woodland, stands out against a chorus of community activists and residents who oppose increased density.

MacDonald wants to see even more density than what's proposed for the East Vancouver neighbourhood — way more — and believes the viability of the neighbourhood depends on it.  

MacDonald is part of a burgeoning 'YIMBY' movement in Vancouver. YIMBY stands for Yes In My Backyard.

He also once traded a red paper clip for a house, but that's another story.

MacDonald spoke with the CBC's Stephen Quinn.

Q&A with YIMBY proponent Kyle MacDonald

How challenging is it for you and your family to live in Grandview-Woodland?

I'm not going to lie, it's not difficult ... because I already own a house. My challenge is seeing the neighbourhood changing so quickly.

Half duplexes on my street were going for $700,000 to $900,000 last year. They're  $1.3 - $1.4 million this year.

And these are places without any rental suite help, places that until recently were quite affordable for a family to move into.

YIMBY graffiti adorns a development notice sign at Napier Street and Commercial Drive. (@oneredpaperclip)

Pretty much the whole neighbourhood has been zoned for duplexes in the new plan.

What the plan doesn't acknowledge is that pretty much the whole neighbourhood is already at duplex zoning density. You have a lot of suites and a lot of garages with people living in them.

There's already significant density in the neighbourhood, but I think there's room for much more. I think the zoning could go to a four-plex or a five-plex. Why not up the [floor space ratio]? 

I think you could get young families maybe splitting a lot, forming little mini co-ops for each lot, things like that.

You've said Grandview-Woodland is at risk of becoming some kind of Point Grey or Shaughnessy East. What did you mean by that?

I think there's a lot of Italian days/hippies on the Drive vibe still there. The population of the neighbourhood has gone down by about 2,000 since 1995. It's the only neighbourhood in Vancouver to lose population.

And what's happening is the older residents, their kids have moved out of the house, and the population density is actually decreasing in the [current] single family zones. I honestly don't think the duplexes will save this neighbourhood. 

I would really hate to see East Vancouver turn into a new country club. I think the Westside has gone that way, what you're finding is families unable to remain in the neighbourhood they grew up in. I would love all my young friends who want to move to East Van and start families to be able to do so. The key is adding affordable supply and a variety of supply.

You say duplexes aren't creating enough density. What would?

Stacked town homes, four or five-storey townhomes with one home per level. I believe row housing is completely under-represented as stock. Four or five-storey apartment buildings. The middle is completely missing in Vancouver.

What about those who argue we like the neighbourhood the way it is, we like the scale of it, we don't want a 24-storey tower in the Safeway parking lot?

Protecting the architectural nature of the neighbourhood at the expense of protecting the ability for young people to live there will eventually turn the neighbourhood in to a snobby country club at the expense of children and young families moving in. I think it's a disaster waiting to happen.

A rendition of a 12 storey tower proposed for Commercial Drive and Venables Street in Grandview Woodlands. (Boffo Properties)

What about public amenities? What happens to the schools and parks and parking when you start to load too much density into the neighbourhood?

When you're shutting down elementary schools I think it's a moot point. And if you increase tax revenue we'll have the funding to increase public amenities.

Parking is the new long distance. In ten years no one will care about it. If you have an Evo or a Car2go it takes 19 cars off the road. We have self-driving vehicles in development that are coming and actually on the road in parts of the world.

Parking? I have four cars at my house, we don't use any of them. I'm totally incentivized to have vehicles out front on the street because we don't price it at all. I think the world is going to change real quick on the whole parking issue.

You're like the neighbourhood unicorn. Nobody thinks the way you do. 

We're starting a movement, it's part of the worldwide YIMBY movement — Yes in My Back Yard — which is counter current to Not In My Backyard.

If you go to #YVRYIMBY you can find an eclectic assortment of people around the city with different versions of what they would like to build in their backyard. 

Personally I would like to build a three-storey row house in my backyard. Right now there's two 1990s vehicles I don't need. 

The majority of people speaking out against the Grandview Woodlands community plan believe it will add too much density to the East Vancouver neighbourhood. But Kyle MacDonald (seen here with daughter Ione) thinks the plan doesn't go far enough. (Kyle MacDonald)