Alley houses: an emerging trend faces a cost test
Vancouver, British Columbia, could eventually have up to 60,000 small dwellings along lanes — if people can afford $300 a square foot.
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Not far north of the US-Canadian border, a major city is trying to accommodate many more residents without dramatically changing most of its neighborhoods.
In 2004, Vancouver, British Columbia, gave owners of houses in single-family-detached zones the right to create an auxiliary rental unit inside each house. In 2009, the city further altered its zoning by giving most homeowners in 85 percent of Vancouver permission to erect a small rental dwelling along the rear lane (alley).
The result: Single-family zoning as it is practiced in most of North America was ushered out of existence in the 640,000-population municipality. Properties that used to hold one household now can accommodate three.
Municipalities across Canada increasingly look to Vancouver for lessons in how to introduce relatively inconspicuous forms of density. The British Columbia cities of Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, and North Vancouver have all followed Vancouver’s lead on laneway housing. Edmonton, Alberta, has introduced “garage suites” and “garden suites” — single-story rentals attached to a garage or house — as an affordable-housing tactic. US cities could also learn from Vancouver’s experience.
Under its revised zoning regulations — a result of the EcoDensity Initiative launched in 2006 — Vancouver is attempting to welcome population growth not only downtown