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July 10, 2018

Vancouver mayor pushes to allow multi-unit housing in low-density neighbourhoods


Vancouver’s outgoing mayor is pushing for dramatic changes to areas of the city that have been largely reserved for single-family homes, potentially allowing everything from triplexes to small apartments to increase density in the midst of a housing crisis.

The last-minute policy change, which is already drawing criticism over lack of consultation and fears it will drive more speculation, was tacked on to the city’s recently passed new housing plan. It comes as Mayor Gregor Robertson prepares to retire and potential replacements gear up for a fall election in which skyrocketing housing prices and rents will be a pivotal issue.

“I don’t think anyone elected can afford to slow down,” Mr. Robertson said when asked about pitching a new policy so close to the end of his term. “Now, they have this opportunity to build off the several years of work, rather than starting from scratch.”

The mayor’s motion pushes Vancouver into uncharted territory when it comes to altering its traditional residential neighbourhoods. Many other price-crunched cities in North America are still fighting over whether to allow basement suites, homeless shelters, or laneway houses, things Vancouver has already adopted.

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“This is a zeitgeist moment. It’s part of a trend that was started years ago,” says former Non-Partisan Association councillor Gordon Price, who lived through the era of Vancouver politics when even legalizing basement suites was a huge political battle..

The mayor’s motion asked city planning staff to report back next spring on the possibility of allowing “triplexes, quadplexes and other multi-unit forms to significantly bring down the purchase cost per unit of housing in low-density neighbourhoods.”

That added a lot more to the city’s new housing plan than what staff had recommended, which was to allow duplexes in all parts of the city. That portion of the housing plan is coming back for final approval in September.