Heritage advocate touts annual laneway housing tour

The executive director of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation says laneway housing makes a great fit with the city's new housing affordability plan approved Wednesday.

Diane Switzer said laneway housing can be an example of how to increase density while conserving historic homes and streetscapes. "They can be, but right now you can build a laneway home whether you retain the front house or not," said Switzer. "At this time there are no incentives to retain the front house."

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The foundation is hosting its third annual laneway house self-guided tour that allows a peek into a select number of these small homes, which have stirred up much debate in recent years. Switzer said Heritage Vancouver was conscious of the debate and particulate about the laneway homes chosen to be included on the tour. Each of the seven homes was designed to ensure it kept with the character of the main home to help preserve the neighbourhood's charm and appeal. The foundation embraces lane-way houses designed to complement the front house and which have a "cottage style" design with less mass on the second story. Switzer added the popularity of these small homes varies depending on who you ask.

"Renters absolutely love them and as for homeowners, I haven't heard of any with regrets, but I have heard they were surprised and shocked at the huge costs involved," said Switzer. "As for the neighbourhood, the negative I've heard is the height and mass of the second floor makes them intrusive to their privacy."

When the foundation began its laneway tours in 2010 there were about 200 of the tiny homes in Vancouver. According to the city, 688 laneway houses had been approved by the end of this past September.

Laneway houses can't be sold so are strictly used as rentals or to house family members, commonly a parent or grandparent who enjoys the independence of their own space but likes to be close to loved ones. They're also popular with young couples seeking the privacy of a rental home instead of a condo. The 2012 Laneway House Tour takes place Saturday, Oct. 20, from 1 to 5 p.m. Each visitor must have their own ticket and participants must be at least six years old. The only exceptions are infants in front-facing carriers. The homes are not wheelchair accessible and no interior photographs are allowed unless otherwise posted at a home. For more information and tickets visit vancouverheritagefoundation.org. Visit the City of Vancouver's Laneway Housing website at vancouver.ca. sthomas@vancourier.com

Twitter: @sthomas10

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