Smaller Homes, Smaller Lots

Written for a Langara College project in collaboration with City Studio, Vancouver, BC

People drive smaller cars nowadays to conserve resources.  According to the Higgins family of Delta, BC, we need to employ the same strategy when it comes to land and housing.

“Using residential land more efficiently, while still providing affordable, ground-oriented living, must become a priority, especially in Metro Vancouver,” says lawyer Kathleen Higgins.

“Organic and gentle densification has to occur without huge development fees, so that people with large lots who want to live in a smaller footprint, and make room for one or two other home owners, can easily do so.”

Kathleen has seen two of her seven children move away because they couldn’t afford to buy property in Delta.  According to an April 2010 report from the Delta Housing Task Force, a whopping annual household income of $113,000 is now required to purchase a single family home in Delta.  The situation is the same across the province, where real estate prices have risen 149 percent since 1976, as stated in this recent article in the Vancouver Sun.

“When the time comes for me to start a family, I want to be able to own a house,” says Kathleen’s second son James.

But the prospect does not look good.  In the November 2011 issue of Vancouver Magazine,Tyee Bridge reports extensively on how the housing shortage is forcing an entire generation of young adults to move out of the Lower Mainland, or even out of province — or stay in Vancouver and resign themselves to being permanent renters instead of homeowners.

One solution, the Higgins believe, is “Smaller Homes on Smaller Lots.”  Together with his father, John, who has a masters degree in architecture, James, a student of architectural technology and building science, has worked out a plan to turn their property into three smaller dwellings, each on its own lot.

John and James have created a short Youtube video to explain the plan in detail.  Their design provides for south-facing windows to take full advantage of solar heat, rooftop solar collectors, and rainwater collector systems.  One unit is designed specifically for seniors, with wheelchair access and a low-maintenance courtyard in lieu of a garden.

If more people could once again afford to live on their own property in or near urban centres, the advantages would not just be economic but environmental and social as well. Fewer people would clog up the highways trying to get to work from outlying areas. Communities of permanent homeowners, rather than permanent renters, will prove to be healthier and more stable in the long run.  Aging neighbourhoods would be revived by young families living in intelligently designed homes. And BC’s young workforce, our most valuable resource, would be able to stay in this province instead of taking their skills elsewhere.

“But first people need to see that it is possible,” says James, “and that there is more than one solution. This is only one idea – imagine what more other people could do.”


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