When they couldn’t sell their large lots for mansions in the 1910s, early real estate land developers in Vancouver’s Grandview “suburb” split them into smaller lots, and sold them to workers to build their own homes.
Today, these lots are smaller than the legal norm in Vancouver of 33’ X 122’. Many are 25 X 90. Some are 30 X 60; there may even be some smaller ones. Most have homes on them larger than what would be allowed today—they nearly fill the lot, offering only a tiny back yard or patio. But over the decades these houses on small lots have allowed people who otherwise couldn’t afford a home in the area to enter the housing market (my husband and I included). They also helped create the higher density of people per sq. mile that supports the vibrant retail and restaurant scene on nearby Commercial Drive.
You would have a hard time getting City Hall to approve sub-dividing properties into lots this small today (assuming you could assemble a few bigger ones, and then re-divide them).
But maybe smaller lots are what we need, with houses that nearly fill them—and not just in Vancouver. I suspect similar issues exist in the older neighbourhoods of other North American cities where there is growing demand to live there and prices are rising because it`s hard to increase supply.
Small homes on small lots also suit the lifestyle preferences of many people today, including the generation x and y urban “workforce” who are not that interested in keeping up a yard. They’d love their own outdoor space, but maybe more of a patio that requires minimal maintenance. They might prefer to go to a larger park when they want grass.
This attitude toward spending less time on home maintenance is partially what’s driving the condo-living boom. But not everyone who doesn’t really enjoy yard work wants to live more than 1 storey off the ground; what options do they have if they cannot afford a detached single family home? Even those in townhouses (or condo towers) sometimes find strata rules and councils frustrating and even intrusive.
Solution: why not detached homes on very small lots? For example, what about having 1000-1200 square feet of house, on a 33’ X 40 foot lot—likely in 2.5 storeys. There’d be enough outside space for small patio, or tiny garden or yard, whatever the home owner wanted. Basically it would be a small townhouse, but “fee simple” –you own the land and the house–and you could get three such properties on corner lots where today currently one house stands. This adds density, which is great for amenities, keeps in the low-rise character of an area, and adds housing that is more affordable than a single house or duplex on a lot.
In the 1910s, somehow lot owners were able to subdivide lots to create workforce housing. Creativity came into play when the mansion-sized lots proved to be too expensive for ordinary folks. Although there seem to be many willing to pay over $1,000,000 for a home in East Vancouver, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look to what worked in the past to create less expensive housing that more people want and can afford.
So tell me, where do you know of where you can buy new homes on tiny lots with no strata council?
I’ve heard of one such project in Victoria, and that it has been very popular with the strata-fatigued, but would love to learn more about it and other examples.