British Columbia

Micro-suites get green light in Surrey, B.C.

The City of Surrey, B.C., has approved what will become some of the smallest condo units in the country.
The units will range in price between $109,000 and $183,000. (Tien Shier)

The City of Surrey, B.C., has approved what will become some of the smallest condo units in the country.

The 56 units — which range from 290 to 653 square feet — will be part of a complex at Whalley Boulevard and Grosvenor Road. 

Developer Charan Sethi says he wants to do something to address the lack of affordable housing.

"The City of Surrey, Mayor Dianne Watts and city council are right behind us," he said.

"We’ve gone through public hearings, so we’ve got no objection from the public. It went through [with] flying colours, so it seems that everybody likes the idea. But there are some people who are a little bit pessimistic about it, but time will tell."

Sethi, who spoke to CBC News by phone while on vacation in China, said living in small spaces isn’t unusual in other countries.

"Believe me, there are families — literally families — living in 500 square feet," he said.

"I’m never going to suggest that we live that lifestyle in Vancouver, but realities are when your pocket can only afford so much, you do with what you have."

Sethi said the units contain the essential elements of a livable space — kitchen, bathroom, laundry, living area, sleeping area and a balcony.

"So it offers everything," he said. "If you want to have ownership of real estate and you want to get into the market, this is probably the best option that’s been offered ever."

'Not really a matter of square feet'

Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology at the University of Victoria, said moving into a micro-suite can be big adjustment, especially for someone down-sizing from a larger home.

"In my opinion, it’s good that this development seems to have at least a bit of a mix," he said.

"If you have 50 units, all of 300 square feet, there’s probably going to be a kind of a dormitory atmosphere to it, which may not be ideal even for the people within it or some of the neighbours as well."

Gifford cautions micro-living isn’t for everyone, and those with dreams of owning a big house in the suburbs might want to think twice about living small.

"It probably doesn’t square very well if that’s what your dream is. Then you’re going to feel deprived and sad about the whole thing," he said.

"Sometimes people make the choice and choice here is what’s really important … If you’re shoe-horned into it against your will or because you have no money, that’s a whole different thing."

But Gifford says 300 square feet is more than enough room — if it’s well-designed.

"It’s not really a matter of square feet, it’s a matter of design," he said. "And if it’s well-designed so that everything is there, then 300 square feet is fine, at least for one person."

The units will range in price between $109,000 and $183,000.

These aren't the first micro-suites to hit the Lower Mainland. In Vancouver's Gastown, the Burns Block was renovated last year, offering rental units as small as 226 square feet.