Duplexes will remain an option in single-family neighbourhoods on trial basis

Vancouver city council opts against reversing previous council’s duplex decision

Vancouver city council won’t try to repeal the previous Vision-led council’s controversial 7-4 decision last September to permit duplexes in most single-family neighbourhoods.


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Instead, in a decision reached Dec. 19, council decided duplexes will remain an option on a trial basis with staff tracking relevant data, including applications and approvals. That information will be reported back to council regularly. Results will be discussed during the upcoming city-wide plan process. A clause in the approved motion also allows staff to bring the duplex policy back for consideration if applications pass five per cent of homes.


Council’s decision comes several weeks after NPA Coun. Colleen Hardwick proposed a motion to hold another public hearing on the subject with the goal of getting the decision reversed.


Council decided to refer Hardwick’s motion to a future meeting so staff could figure out costs associated with another consultation process and public hearing and how it would affect moving forward with a city-wide plan.


Allowing duplexes in single-family was considered a quick-start action in the city’s Making Room program whose overall goal is to increase the supply of medium-sized, medium-density housing throughout the city in single-family neighbourhoods.


Hardwick, who said she isn’t opposed to duplexes, believes there wasn’t sufficient consultation before the previous council’s decision, that it shouldn’t have been made in the final weeks of the former council's mandate, and scrapping the policy would bring more legitimacy to the upcoming city-wide plan process.


Supporters, however, consider allowing duplexes a long overdue, small step in addressing the housing crisis.


In a Dec. 5 report, staff estimated it could cost anywhere from $65,000 to $175,000 to remove duplexes as a permitted use from most RS zones, depending on which of three possible options council selected. It would also cause some delays in the city-wide plan.


In the same report, staff said council could, as an alternative, opt to allow duplex to continue on a trial basis with further discussion and analysis as part of advancing the upcoming Making Room Housing Program and the upcoming city-wide plan.


Reilly Wood, a director of Abundant Housing Vancouver which had lobbied in favour of allowing duplexes, welcomed council’s Dec. 19 decision.


“We’re very glad that this nonsense is finally over so we can focus on making the city-wide plan a success. Staff made it clear that repealing duplexes would delay the city-wide plan, and it’s great that most councillors listened,” Wood wrote in an email to the Courier.


“Duplexes aren’t going to solve all of our problems, but they’re an important option to have. Letting two families split a 4,000 square foot lot is inherently more affordable than forcing a family to buy the entire lot. Duplexes are also important as a baseline for the forthcoming city-wide plan.


I think many of the opponents were hoping to repeal duplex legislation so that single-family neighbourhoods would be starting planning negotiations from a lower density.”


OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle opposed the idea of holding another public hearing. She didn’t feel it would be productive.


Boyle told the Courier she’s not thrilled about the metric of reconsidering the policy if duplexes become more than five per cent of rebuilds, “considering the other 95 per cent are still just unaffordable single-family homes."


“But I am relieved that we won’t be going through another deeply divisive public hearing on the matter. I don’t think duplexes are the cause of our housing crisis, and I don’t think they are the solution. I am eager to move on to talking about real solutions.”


The city had already received 11 applications for duplexes since October. During the same period it received 161 applications for new single-family homes.


A map of the 11 applications for duplexes that have been received by the city so far.
A map of the 11 applications for duplexes that have been received by the city so far.
Chart courtesy City of Vancouver.
Description of the 11 properties where applications were submitted for duplexes. Chart courtesy City of Vancouver.

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