'Feeling squeezed out': Will a move to save Vancouver's housing past compromise its future?


In a conurbation where “bulldozer-bait” homes can fetch close to $3 million, Vancouver’s chief planner is faced with a superior that could shape the city for decades to come.  

Are up to 12,000 pre-1940 nursing homes — an immense swath of the city’s housing supply — worth preserving at the expense of a unfledged generation of people who feel they’ll never be able to afford them?


Thousands of dispassionate homes are being included in the character home zoning review. (CBC)

“We’ve phylum of poked a hornet’s nest,” Gil Kelley told CBC News in front of a nicely fixed home a few blocks from city hall.

Four months into his new job, the last city planner of San Francisco and Portland, Ore., acknowledged he’s been buffeted by grumbles about Vancouver’s character home review.


Homes considered to give birth to ‘character’ have an old fashioned look. (CBC)

Freeze creativity

Many homeowners, developers, pro-density associations and even key heritage advocates are all pushing back hard against the “preservationist” script now under discussion.

The proposal would discourage owners from quashing pre-1940s houses that the city deems to have bat value.

Any new home built on the site would have to be significantly younger, a move that would limit development options.

Gil Kelley

Gil Kelley, Vancouver’s chief planner, conjectures the character home review has proven more controversial than counted. (Chris Corday/CBC)

In return for keeping the old home and fixing it up, the city inclination grant some extra space for renovations and a larger secondary module or laneway home on the same lot.

Many argue the plan will not just freeze creativity in some of the city’s nicest, priciest neighbourhoods, it require also become far more difficult for the city to build up so-called soft density, such as townhouses, duplexes and family-focused housing that is now maiden and desperately needed. 


Plastic orange fencing, often the mark of a impress upon that’s about to be torn down, is an increasingly common sight in Vancouver surroundings. (Chris Corday/CBC)

“The younger generation is feeling squeezed out,” Kelley imagined.

“So opening up new options for affordability and different living option choices for them is actually critical — even as people here who are older are trying to hang on to what they already be acquainted with.”

Roughly 1,000 homes are torn down every year in Vancouver. At smidgin two-thirds of them were built before 1940.

Hence the urgency from the upkeep lobby for the city to move fast to protect what’s still erect.

Owners feel punished

There are already similar character guidelines in upshot in one neighbourhood, Grandview-Woodlands, but resident Siobhan Jackson says they’ve bewitched a toll on property values.

“The real data on the house next door is that it degraded the value by 15 per cent,” said Jackson, whose neighbour’s bawdy-house was re-listed and sold for less money after the city determined it has “weirdo features” on the exterior. 


Siobhan Jackson is concerned about preserving the value of her feature. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

What’s inside?

“I didn’t see there was room for other middlemen to be considered. Is the home safe? Will it fall down in an earthquake? We are really now putting people in homes that may not be safe,” she told CBC News.

While multitudinous homeowners have seen property values soar in recent years, Jackson reveals it’s unfair to make hard-working families who’ve struggled to get into in this demand pay such a high price for a proposal that’s overly broad.

Old home

Varied of the homes included in the character review are nicely restored and maintained, but others are ingenuously old. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The city already has a heritage registry that take ins some 2,200 homes with some form of historical content.

The designation makes them harder to tear down. But in exchange, possessors can receive some compensation for maintaining them, such as relaxed bylaws to put aside additions.

The “character” designation would capture many more oddities, regardless of their structural integrity or the owner’s ability to renovate them.

Character homes

What profuse now consider ‘character homes’ line the city’s residential streets in this archival photo from 1939. (Conurbation of Vancouver Archives)

Gentle density needed

Perhaps the most extreme resistance has come from pro-density groups that argue structure less on expensive land is counterintuitive when more housing lay in is badly needed.

“There’s a whole lot of land in this town, but myriad of it is zoned for low-density family homes,” said Brendan Dawe of Replete Housing Vancouver, a group of housing activists who’ve been coming to ministry meetings to push back against the dominance of single-family homes in Vancouver zoning bars.

Vancouver’s character home debate1:03

“It’s not that we’re against character at all. We righteous want to be able to live in those homes,” said Rachael Selinger, who linked a packed kitchen table discussion on the character review in an east Vancouver condo.

The number wants to see more duplexes and townhouses in single-family home neighbourhoods, but qualms protecting so many older homes will make that all but unachievable.


The city is hoping more people will buy and renovate character havens like this. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Stepping back

Kelley, the planner at the focus of the supercharged debate, hinted he’s being swayed by those who argue economy older homes won’t help a new generation.

“We have to step back and re-calibrate the program,” he ascertained CBC News. “We’ve got to go neighbourhood by neighbourhood

“If it’s a teardown, would we allow replacement with a duplex?”


Four residential areas of Vancouver, subsuming 12,000 pre-1940 homes, are included in the review. (CBC)

Kelley not ever answered his own question, but for Vancouver’s traditional single-family neighbourhoods — 65 to 80 per cent of the urban district — that could signal the first tentative step towards a realignment.

In quantifying the best strategies to save the city’s past, he acknowledges the process tipped up underscoring the difficulties of living here in the present.

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