Build­ing a bet­ter city the tiny way

Clarence Street pro­ject makes use of Hamil­ton’s net­work of laneways to pro­vide af­ford­able liv­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MARK MCNEIL

EMMA CUBITT HAS BIG DREAMS FOR LIT­TLE HOUSES IN HAMIL­TON.

The 37-year-old ar­chi­tect has emerged as the city’s lead­ing ad­vo­cate for small and tiny house con­struc­tion on un­der­uti­lized land be­side laneways.

It all started with her 2007 mas­ter’s thesis at the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo — that ex­am­ined the po­ten­tial for laneway hous­ing in Hamil­ton — and now she is de­sign­ing the city’s first laneway/small-house/af­ford­able hous­ing pro­ject.

The devel­op­ment on Clarence Street off Queen Street North by Good Shep­herd Hamil­ton with the So­cial Plan­ning and Re­search Coun­cil (SPRC) plans to be a unique com­mu­nity of 26 small hous­ing units — in du­plexes — for sin­gle women who have ex­pe­ri­enced home­less­ness.

While the av­er­age newly con­structed house in Canada is about 2,000 square feet, these new homes will be less than 600.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the pro­ject on city­owned land hope to have a shovel in the ground by next year.

Cubitt be­lieves that’s just the start of a po­ten­tial con­struc­tion boom that could de­velop into thou­sands of small homes on land be­side an es­ti­mated 70 kilo­me­tres of un­der­uti­lized laneways in the city — if the City of Hamil­ton changes by­laws like many other North Amer­i­can cities have done.

Last week she was in Van­cou­ver and Port­land, Ore­gon, scout­ing out laneway houses that have been built in those com­mu­ni­ties in re­cent years.

“It’s crazy in some neigh­bour­hoods in Van­cou­ver. Al­most ev­ery block has one, two or even four laneway houses. It’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing how it has de­vel­oped,” she said.

And while eco­nom­ics stem­ming from over­heated hous­ing, land and rental prices in that city are play­ing a role in the trend, she noted that Port­land — an Amer­i­can city with hous­ing prices more sim­i­lar to Hamil­ton — is also see­ing a huge in­flux of laneway hous­ing as well.

The key is­sue is that both mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties de­vel­oped by­laws that al­low con­struc­tion along laneways and al­leys, she says.

And that’s some­thing that is be­ing worked on in Hamil­ton.

Ed­ward John, a se­nior pro­ject man­ager in ur­ban re­newal with the city, has been de­vel­op­ing a plan to present to coun­cil­lors later this year or early next year that would make rec­om­men­da­tions about laneway hous­ing.

He says the ma­jor ob­sta­cle is fire de­part­ment ac­cess be­cause laneways are of­ten too nar­row to ac­com­mo­date fire trucks.

But some­times other mea­sures can coun­ter­bal­ance that prob­lem, said John. Laneway houses can be built of non­com­bustible ma­te­ri­als and have sprin­kler sys­tems. That’s what the Good Shep­herd devel­op­ment is plan­ning to make up for lim­ited ac­cess through a nar­row laneway.

Alan Whit­tle, the direc­tor of plan­ning and com­mu­nity re­la­tions with the Good Shep­herd, says, “these kinds of things will ad­dress the real con­cern of the fire code to pre­vent peo­ple from dy­ing.”

Renée Wet­se­laar, a So­cial Plan­ner with the SRPC, says the af­ford­able hous­ing devel­op­ment for sin­gle women — built on city owned land that used to have reg­u­lar houses on it be­fore they were de­mol­ished — is a case of deal­ing with a “very chal­lenged pop­u­la­tion and a very chal­lenged piece of land.”

She says the hope is that ten­ants of the small houses will feel “more of a sense of pride and feel more connected with their en­vi­ron­ment than if they lived in a high­rise apart­ment build­ing. And be­cause the houses are smaller they will be eas­ier to man­age.”

Cubitt be­lieves smaller houses put peo­ple on a foot­ing that is more sus­tain­able. Peo­ple don’t need to live in mon­ster houses. They can get by with much less, she says.

Cubitt her­self lives in a 700-square­foot, cen­tury-old house near Hamil­ton’s core, with her hus­band.

“It works great,” she says. “No space is wasted. There is less clean­ing, less en­ergy bills. Our heat­ing bill for the year is un­der $500.”

Dave Kipp, a teacher at West­dale High School, had stu­dents con­struct a 100-square-foot tiny house over the past few years.

It was built to en­cour­age dis­cus­sion about tiny houses, sus­tain­abil­ity and give stu­dents hands on ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in build­ing trades.

While 100 square feet is small, he notes the size isn’t all that dif­fer­ent from shacks and cab­ins that early set­tlers lived in.

“To­day it’s a ro­man­tic no­tion about sim­ple liv­ing, but back then there was no choice. I guess it’s come full cir­cle.”

CATHIE COW­ARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPECTATOR

Mod­els that ar­chi­tect and tiny home ad­vo­cate Emma Cubitt cre­ated (this one de­pict­ing the St. Clair area) in­cor­po­rat­ing tiny homes into back al­leys and lanes. The darker card­board homes in­di­cate tiny homes among larger ex­ist­ing homes.

PHO­TOS BY CATHIE COW­ARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPECTATOR

Above, Emma Cubitt in her 700-square-foot home.

At left, West­dale High School stu­dents un­der the lead­er­ship of teacher Dave Kipp built a tiny house.

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