As Canada’s housing prices spike, could Vancouver mayor’s six-homes-on-one-lot plan be a winner?

VANCOUVER—With home prices continuing to rise across Canada, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he has a vision for the city he thinks will help alleviate housing cost burdens while creating spinoff economic and social benefits.

If realized, the city could become dotted with structures consisting of up to six separate housing units on lots originally meant for detached single family homes.

“Because they’re smaller they’ll be more affordable,” Stewart told the Star. “But they’re ground oriented, which makes them very different than a condo.”

Despite being a top issue of concern in Vancouver for years, the city has not become more affordable for those trying to enter the housing market. The trend has taken hold all over Canada and hasn’t spared the two most traditionally expensive markets in the country.

According to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board prices in that city increased 18.3 per cent year over year in September, while the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver reported a 13.8 per cent increase over the same period.

On Wednesday, Stewart, a former federal New Democrat MP, announced his plan called Making Home. The plan will be in front of city council as a member’s motion in January, he said.

It calls for allowing 2,000 single lots in Vancouver to be turned into “small-scale, multi-family housing.” According to the size of the lot, units could be stratified or have permanent “reserved units.”

Stewart’s outline pegs the current average cost of a detached home in the city at $1.8 million. As part of the plan, measures will be taken to ensure the units cannot be speculated on, such as a covenant or another way to cap the amount of profit a seller can make. The spinoffs will create jobs and revenue to help with other housing issues in the city.

“We’ve got to take action soon, or things are going to get way worse,” Stewart said. “In January I’m very hopeful we’ll get it passed.”

The idea has mixed reviews. One housing expert in the city thinks it’s a scattered approach and some working in real estate question if it’s likely to make any real dent in what has become a woeful market for hopeful buyers.

But Sal Lucia, who recently sold his mother’s home in east Vancouver, said he would have considered hanging onto the property if the plan was already in place.

“If I would have known that I could have built a six-plex there and sold it, I probably wouldn’t have sold it,” said Lucia, a construction superintendent with more than 30 years of experience.

Lucia said his experience makes building a six-plex an option, but in general the plan’s success would depend on where the lots are and who is building them.

Whereas a homeowner might hire and arrange for the design, construction and permits for a single family home, Lucia warns against a group of homeowners doing the same for a six-plex, saying it’s a project better left to developers.

“If they have knowledge in the business, great, but if you’re just getting the average six people and they’re going to try to stick handle this process through permitting and all that other stuff? Good luck,” he said. “You would have a lot of lawsuits or people just walking away from things.”

Mortgage broker Jeff Evans said the plan could cause property values to increase, despite the mayor’s pledge of measures to prevent it.

If there is money to be made building such projects, the values will rise, he said.

“I just don’t see how he can stop free market forces, from stopping that to happen,” Evans said. “Owners would start to build in those kinds of price increases into the price.”

He also raised concerns about the strain such development could put on public amenities, adding a better way to have projects built is to speed up the permitting process.

Stewart said he’s confident the measures to prevent flipping will stave off drastic price hikes.

“What we don’t want to have happen is some big company go and buy 500 lots then flip, flip, flip them,” he said. “There is built in antispeculation.”

Andy Yan, the director of Simon Fraser University’s city program, said the plan draws a lot of questions about financing for those wanting to go in on a project together or even simple issues like finding parking for buildings with up to six families in areas where single families homes exist.

Yan said he worries the proposal hasn’t considered city planning and cautioned against “edicts” from individual city council members determining city planning. Such planning is a team sport “like hockey not golf,” he said.

He said the details don’t appear to be fully formed, saying “policy without research is guessing” and questioned how much has gone into the plan.

“He’s calling it a pilot plan, what’s the plan?”

Yan said depending on where people decide to build the units, the multiplexes could cause problems, while in other parts of the city it could be wildly successful.

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