A Housing Option in Vancouver that Might Work in LA

Laneway homes, which are small houses in alleys, provide highly-demanded rental units in Vancouver.  This one is under construction on Vancouver’s East Side.
Laneway homes, which are small houses in alleys, provide highly-demanded rental units in Vancouver. This one is under construction on Vancouver’s East Side.

Post by Mike Janusek, MURP candidate ’16

Taking a moment away from our action-packed Vancouverism tour, I ventured around the corner from our quaint Craftsman-style Airbnb to a local cafe.  With ease, I navigated the rain-soaked, traffic-calmed streets of the Kitsilano neighborhood, reached the café, and struggled to pay for my coffee in exact change with novel Canadian currency.

While at the café, I caught up on suspended responsibilities back in LA. My mind wandered – it is spring break after all – and I found myself eavesdropping: two young professionals were empathizing over a difficult apartment hunt. Was I back in LA all of a sudden?

On our housing day, we learned that homes in Kitsilano are valued around $2 million. As a starving grad student, I could not imagine being able to afford living anywhere near the café. Yet, the establishment was filled with young professionals and presumably UBC students. Where were all these young people finding housing?

I turned to our own Vancouverite, Brittney, for the answer who simply replied: basements  For Vancouver’s young adults, rental units in expensive markets are secured informally. In response to high demand in the rental market, the City of Vancouver legalized laneway homes in 2010. Laneway homes are conversions of alley-facing garages into apartments. The City has already permitted over 1000 laneway homes, adding crucial rental units to the housing stock. Laneway homes are one way young adults can live independently, but remain in the neighborhood they grew up in.

A beautiful laneway home on Vancouver’s East Side.  These small houses range from 500 to 900 square feet.  Rents range from $1,500-$2,500, and are leased by the owner of the street-facing home
A beautiful laneway home on Vancouver’s East Side. These small houses range from 500 to 900 square feet. Rents range from $1,500-$2,500, and are leased by the owner of the street-facing home

Maybe I can live in Kitsilano someday after all, and in a unique and innovative alley to boot! Or, maybe I can live in an LA laneway home. Given LA’s similarly constrained housing market, it is well-positioned to adopt this innovative policy, adding “gentle density” to its neighborhoods of single-family homes.

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