British Columbia

Micro-lofts promise Vancouver renters a break

A Vancouver development company thinks they may have a solution to the high rents many downtown residents are paying — 270-square-foot micro-lofts that will rent for about $300 less than the average bachelor suite.
Reliance Properties says the suites will include fold-down beds and other essentials in a space the size of two parking stalls. ((Reliance Properties))

A Vancouver development company thinks they may have a solution to the high rents many downtown residents are paying — 270-square-foot micro-lofts that will rent for about $300 less than the average bachelor suite.

Reliance Properties is building the suites in the 102-year-old Burns Block, a former six-storey warehouse at 18 W. Hastings St., about one block from the massive new Woodwards development on the Downtown Eastside.

General manager Jon Stovell says the micro-lofts will be about the size of two parking stalls, but will have pretty much everything essential for living, including a bathroom, kitchen, workspace and big loft-style windows that provide natural ventilation and bright views of the street.

"They have a fold-down wall bed, and when that wall bed is up, it has a fold-down table. We integrated a workbench with a built-in flat screen TV so that that does not take any room and created a glassy washroom enclosure that functions as a single area — shower, and toilet and sink all in one area.

Stovell doesn't think the tiny size will affect livability of the suites, which he compares to similar developments in cities such as New York and London, England, as there are plenty of amenities in the neighbourhood, such as cafés, restaurants and other public spaces.

"I think a couple could live in there," he said. "They are very beautiful and very modal, and you can switch them around in different ways, depending on what your needs are."

Depleted low-income housing stock

The Burns Block building, located in the centre of Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside, was once converted to a low-income hotel, but has been sitting vacant after being shut down by city inspectors for fire code violations in 2006.

The Vancouver developer is planning 30 micro-lofts for the Burns Block building on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. ((Pivot Legal Society))
When the former low-income residents  were evicted, local housing activists complained the city's policy of shutting buildings because of safety violations was depleting the stock of low-income housing in the area and contributing to a rise in homelessness.

The new lofts in the building are expected to rent for about $675 to $750 per month, making them suitable for anyone earning over $25,000 a year, but out of reach of their former residents, many of whom were on social assistance.

The average rent of a bachelor suite in downtown Vancouver is $979 per month according to the latest study by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, said Stovell.

The new development is not subsidized by the government and is not targeted at the homeless. But despite the size of the lofts, they will be expensive to build, and neither the developers nor the builder, ITC Construction Group, expect to make much money on the project, he said.

Instead, the companies took on the project as a social entrepreneur partnership to help meet the demand for affordable accommodation in the downtown core, he said.

The project was approved by the city in 2008 and is expected to be completed by March 2011.

now