HOUS­ING Small-house ad­vo­cate sees need for al­ter­na­tives

Car­l­ito Pablo

The Georgia Straight - - Housing - By

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.

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