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Rowhouses are more affordable (cheaper to heat, too)

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The Cambie Rowhouse project

The Cambie Rowhouse project

Housing affordability is shaping up to be one of the key issues in this year’s municipal elections. Some blame empty houses; mayoral candidate Meena Wong has proposed a special tax to discourage the practice. But pundits like Pete McMartin and Bob Ransford point out that little can be done by City Hall; after all, it’s a matter of supply and demand, and Greater Vancouver is in high demand.

Maybe. In fact, zoning does play an important role, and that is something City Hall can do something about. But there is something else that I find particularly galling: the BC Land Title Act that prevents proper rowhouses from being built. Rowhouses, or townhomes, are fee simple houses that share a common wall; they require less land than detached houses and are cheaper to build, all things that contribute to affordability. They are also more energy efficient, since no heat is lost through the common walls. But the Act stipulates that homes that share a wall must be owned in co-propriety; and not everyone is willing to put up with condos. Strata fees, councils, rental prohibitions, and other headaches can be real deterrents for some buyers.

Take, for instance, the 2002 Cambie Rowhouse Project, at the corner of Cambie and 33rd. These are, effectively, rowhouses: each

Rowhouses on Quebec Street?  No, they are condos, says the law.

Rowhouses on Quebec Street? No, they are condos, says the BC Land Title Act.

owner has their own small lawns at the front, their own electric and gas meters, their own garages at the back (with rentable suite on top). But in order to have the houses listed as fee-simple, each unit has a separate concrete wall, and there is a physical gap of about two centimeters between each unit (which can’t be seen because cladding covers it). Planner and developper Art Cowie estimated that this legal requirement added a cost of $250,000 to the project (according to Robin Ward and Harold Kalman).

Rowhouses are energy efficient, they are more affordable that free-standing houses, and they add density without sacrificing character (think of Montreal’s neighbourhoods like the plateau, for instance). But somebody needs to tell Victoria.

Some of the beautiful rowhouses of Montreal

Some of the beautiful rowhouses of Montreal


Written by enviropaul

October 18, 2014 at 5:36 pm

One Response

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  1. […] footprint of a city. And, square foot for square foot, they are cheaper than detached houses.  (We would need a change to the BC Land Act that forbids them, though.)  Here’s a sample, from Vancouver.  They’re varied, and pretty, but the fact that […]

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