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Why These Housing Options?

Canada is facing a multitude of crises, including housing unaffordability, social isolation, carbon emissions, lack of housing choices and a growing aging population. These crises converge in the nation’s single-detached neighbourhoods, including on Vancouver’s North Shore, the geographic focus of this project.   

There is a mismatch between existing housing stock across the North Shore and Canada and the needs of our population. In the Canadian context, single-detached houses make up 53% of housing stock, and a growing majority of these (55%) are occupied by one- or two-people. In other words, it is more common to have a single-detached house with one or two people living in it than with three or more people. Older adults make up a disproportionately large share of one and two-person households. 

a single-detached house with a large driveway
A single-detached house

The Pitch

The benefits of these housing options extend beyond offering additional housing units. They also offer social, economic and environmental benefits by: 

      • Addressing health for older adults – such as reducing social isolation through more socially connected housing options
      • Expanding capacity within the housing continuum – these options can create new and at times more affordable housing units, potentially at a faster rate than new multi-unit buildings 
      • Saving on building carbon emissions – creating extra housing units in existing homes can reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with constructing new housing. These options can be paired with retrofits to reduce building operating carbon emissions and adapt homes to more suitable for extreme weather events 

Small-Scale Housing options

Governments in B.C. and beyond are looking to incentivize small scale developers and citizen developers to create more housing in single-detached neighbourhoods. 

Small-scale housing options such as home sharing, secondary suites and coach/laneway houses are an essential part of expanding capacity within the housing continuum — they can keep costs and carbon emissions low while increasing social connection and housing choices. 

The Housing Solutions Lab explored the following housing options:  

Home Sharing

Living arrangement in which two or more unrelated people share a house or apartment. Often includes a private room for the home seeker and shared kitchen and bathroom. 

Secondary Suites

A self-contained unit that includes cooking and sleeping facilities and a washroom, typically within a single-family dwelling, duplex or other residential unit. These units are connected to the main building and often take the form of basement or garden suites. 

Coach/laneway House

A small dwelling that exists on the same property as a large house, usually located at the back of the property, separate from the main house. 

Small Multiplexes
Another option in B.C. for small-scale housing on single lots is multiplexes, which could include up to four units on standard lots and six units on larger lots. For more information about this option please see ReHousing and Enabling Citizen-Led Housing. Note: small multiplexes were out of scope for the Housing Solutions Lab.

Addressing interconnected issues

Home sharing, secondary suites and coach/laneway houses hold great potential for addressing our aging population, housing affordability, social isolation and carbon emissions.

Explore each section below for more details.

  • Older adults in Canada are also staying in their single-detached homes longer. Many are waiting until over the age of 85 to sell (CMHC, 2023). Despite older adults’ interest in downsizing to condominiums, uptake is low (CMHC, 2023).  There are opportunities to explore other housing options such as home sharing, secondary suites and coach/laneway houses that can allow older adults to stay in their home longer and creating more housing units in our communities.  
  • Affordability challenges can be particularly acute for older adults. Many older adults who live in single-detached houses may rely on fixed incomes and have less physical energy or capability to maintain their homes. This group could particularly benefit from moving away from car-reliant locations to highly accessible and amenity-rich areas, but they may not be able to afford the potential difference in home value.
  • This affordability challenge is in part due to   
        • High prices of rental housing alternatives due to lack of supply (with the exception of more expensive retirement homes) 
        • Lack of affordable or suitable rental housing 
  • In summary, older adults find that the most affordable and suitable housing option is to remain in their single-detached home, though it may not be the most healthy, safe or accessible option during later life. 
  • Social isolation is a rising issue in Canada, particularly among older adults. Social isolation happens when a person’s social participation or social contact drops. About 30% of Canadian seniors are at risk of becoming socially isolated. Home sharing, secondary suites and coach/laneway houses offer housing options with opportunities for (optional) social connection between the homeowner and renter.
  • Single-detached houses tend to have higher housing and transportation greenhouse gas emissions than other dwelling types. Low occupancy rates can result in higher per-capita emissions. Low-density housing forms are challenging for public transit to serve given fewer potential customers around any transit stop.

Why Vancouver's North Shore?

Single-detached dwellings comprise over one-third of the housing stock on Vancouver’s North Shore. 45% of these dwellings are occupied by just one or two people, usually older adults (age 55+).

Older adults own and live in a disproportionately large share of these homes as solos and couples. Without more concerted action, this disproportionate gap will continue to grow, escalating residential building greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating housing costs and potentially increased social isolation.

North shore population

A Glimpse Into Housing on the north shore:

north shore population is 190,000. 45% of single-detached homes on the north shore are occupied by only one or two people. 75% of north shore couples living by themselves own instead of rent their ones; 45% of those couples live in single-detached houses; and almost all (90%) of those couples have a primary household maintainer over age 55