HOUSING Small-house advocate sees need for alternatives
Jake Fry thinks of West 2nd Avenue between Larch and Trutch streets as one of the loveliest areas in Vancouver. Fry told city council at a public hearing in September this year that he believes this is so because of the variety of housing on this stretch.
He mentioned the early-1900s period as well as modern residences, many with infill housing at the back. He also cited three-storey apartment buildings and other kinds of accommodation that serve different households.
Diversity of housing has a natural appeal for Fry. He’s a builder with a background in carpentry. He founded Smallworks, a company that constructs laneway homes. Fry also cofounded Small Housing B.C., a group that advocates the addition of small, ground-oriented homes in single-family neighbourhoods.
According to Fry, there are many examples of these in Vancouver, from townhouses to duplexes, laneway homes, and heritage homes that have been turned into three or four suites.
However, Fry believes that there aren’t enough.
He also said that there are other opportunities that can be explored. One example is for adjacent properties to work together and create pocket neighbourhoods of small detached homes clustered around a common space.
“I can’t stress it enough that the important factor is really to look at what we can do to create a mix of housing that addresses multiple needs within a single neighbourhood,” Fry told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
It is often said that established Vancouver neighbourhoods have a deep attachment to single-family homes, and that is the supposed reason why the city is not producing enough new housing.
However, Fry doesn’t agree that this is what is holding back the city. “I think people in Vancouver desperately want alternative forms of housing,” he said.
Fry suggested that although city hall has started to move toward increasing housing options in lowdensity neighbourhoods, it has to become more open to choices.
“I think there’s a will there,” Fry said. “But I think, generally, what we’ve looked at historically is we’ve looked at very strong regulatory practices that can be very protective. And in that environment, what happens is that…not a lot of new ideas get forwarded.”
He explained that what needs to happen is for city staff to be given a clear direction that “neighbourhoods have to perform better and accommodate more people…rather than a protective stance where you’re trying to regulate what happens in a neighbourhood in a restrictive manner.”
“We’re encouraging them to become…far more facilitative in allowing more types of homes to coexist with one another,” Fry said. “You know, so that on a typical street, you could see three or four different types of these homes. And we’re also encouraging them to be much…quicker in their review process than they’re going through at the current rate.”
This challenge isn’t just for Vancouver. Other municipalities in the Lower Mainland are also facing housing problems.
Many of these issues are going to be taken up when Small Housing B.C. holds a summit in Vancouver on Saturday (November 17) at the Sheraton Wall Centre (1088 Burrard Street).
The theme for the daylong conference, which Fry described as the first of its kind in Canada, is “collaborate to accelerate”.
At the public hearing wherein Fry mentioned that specific stretch of West 2nd Avenue, he urged city council to adopt a more “robust” approach in increasing housing options for single-family neighbourhoods.
This can be achieved, according to Fry, by “releasing the hand from the scruff of the neck of planning”.
of your attention and sucks up most of your budget. Your flexible spending power to adopt new solutions is in the tens of thousands—this from budgets that exceed a billion dollars. And you are treated by the premier’s office as if your ministry is only good for draining the public purse, even though you’ve come to understand that a healthy economy depends on a strong foundation of care.
The control by the premier’s office is ruthless. I’ve watched that office assign a ministerial assistant to a cabinet minister because they were becoming too sympathetic to the people they were serving. I’ve received an apology from another cabinet minister after they left office for their inadequacy in stick-handling around that office.
Still another showed me the letter of resignation they carried in their pocket should the premier’s office interfere with their mandate one more time. Finally, I watched two cabinet ministers plead their case to senior staff in the premier’s office as if they were schoolchildren—and saw the frustration and anger in
Stephen Hui photo
their eyes when they were told the issue wouldn’t be pursued because it wouldn’t get the party any votes.
I’ve witnessed the power of proportional representation in New Zealand. Every meeting I’ve had with a cabinet minister in that country involved members of the opposition. There was a spirit of cooperation, a willingness to get along, a sense that they had the power to make things happen.
Proportional representation will do the same in British Columbia. It will enable us to get to the roots of poverty, homelessness, addiction, social isolation, and other persistent social challenges. It will allow politicians to transcend their partisan scripts and work together. It will diminish the centralizing power of the premier’s office. And it will help cabinet ministers act like the capable and caring politicians they are.