Laneway homes have been growing in popularity lately. However, many Vancouverites are unfamiliar with the concept.
So, what exactly are laneway homes? As the name implies, a laneway home is a smaller, detached home tucked away in the rear of a residential lot — where a garage usually sits.
Laneway homes come with a host of benefits, not least of which is their affordable price tag in a city known for its exorbitant prices. They range from $150,000 to $300,000 to build. Laneway homes enable people to live near their jobs, as well as within easy reach of transit. Plus, they are a desirable option for young families or elders who want to live closer to their relatives.
Laneway Affordability Bump: A laneway home or basement suite can vastly increase a borrower’s affordability. A portion of the rental income can be deducted from the assumed mortgage payments.
For instance: A $70,000 salary can purchase a $600,000 with 20% down (or get a mortgage of $480,000). This same $70,000 salary, purchasing a home with a basement suite renting for $1,000, would be able to purchase a $850,000 home with 20% down (or get a mortgage of $680,000).
Check out our mortgage affordability and qualifier calculator.
A Small House, But Big Trend
While the laneway revolution is in full swing in Vancouver, similar houses have actually been around for quite some time. In fact, they date back to more than a century ago when backyard cottages existed in the Strathcona neighbourhood.
They have experienced a renaissance in recent years. That’s because in 2009 city leaders officially approved laneway houses in Vancouver with the EcoDensity initiative. Since then, more and more compact dwellings have started to spring up in backyards across several neighbourhoods.
- In 2010, there were 192 permits issued and in 2011, 229 permits issued.
- Those numbers jumped to a total of 357 permits in 2014.
- Since 2015, it’s estimated there have been a whopping 2,000 laneway home applications.
- You can now build a laneway house on any lot 32 ft. or wider in any RS single-family zone. They can be a maximum of 900 ft2.
- How To Guide from Vancouver.ca
A Peek Inside
What does a laneway home look like?
They have many of the same features as a regular house — just smaller! It’s usually a single-story home, with one or two bedrooms, an open space and full kitchen and bathroom. Many are built to be energy-efficient and make the most of the natural light available.
If you want to check out some cool laneway homes, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation (VHF) offers several tours per year. Read more about them here.
A Twist on Traditional Laneway Suites
With the success of laneway homes, plans have emerged to expand the initiative to mini apartment buildings in the West End. They’re the first of a new kind of infill that planners hope will produce a new stream of homes. The city has already approved the first four buildings with 47 units in total, with many more expected.
These mini-apartment buildings range from three and a half to six stories, with sizes that vary from about 350 ft2 for bachelors to 1,000 ft2 for three bedrooms.
On the community side, similar facelifts are occurring to the often-overlooked urban alleys. The idea is to enliven alleys in the core of the city, and turn them into vibrant and family-friendly public spaces where people can gather, play and socialize.
There are a few in the works in the heart of Vancouver. Each has its own identity and offers a unique experience.
- The laneway located south of West Hastings street between Granville and Seymour streets was the pilot project. It was led by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. The alley, which is already completed, boasts bright tones of pink and yellow. It also features basketball hoops and cool furniture.
- Another alley is planned for east of Granville Street between Smithe and Robson streets. It will be a festival-type space.
- There’s also an alley planned for south of Alberni Street between Burrard and Bute streets, which will host independent craft-type kiosks.
As you can see, laneways across the city are being dramatically transformed, and the trend seems to bring a number of exciting benefits with it. While laneway homes may not be a silver bullet to Vancouver’s housing affordability problem, it’s a smart idea to make the most of these otherwise neglected spaces.
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