Found this interesting CBC (Canada’s public broadcasting SOE in NZ public-speak) news item video clip “Finding Space” that gives a quickie overview of how laneway housing (Vancouver), micro condos (220 sq feet! 20 sq m!! – Toronto) and converted churches (Montreal) are being used to meet modern demands for inner city living.
Interesting way of conveying the “solutions” but as is too common these days for journalists, a rather weak view of the underlying forces. On the one hand the conventional market forces of demand and supply for rental and ownership accommodation is relatively free – eg of price and rent controls – but on the other hand the housing markets in these (and almost every major city) are incredibly regulated by a complex of by-laws and precedents that tightly constrain who can do what where, with the plots of land they “own”. Take for example the interview with the NIMBY “not in my back yard” Vancouver resident who is concerned that the light to his garden will be compromised and the “character” of the neighborhood will change from what it has been for him for the last fifty years of his residency in his multi-million dollar house. Yes multi-million – he probably purchased it 50 odd years ago at a multiple of say 4 to 5 time his annual salary, but which now would sell for a multiple of 20 times an average professional’s salary (100k pa) and 30 times an average workingman’s salary (70k pa) . That windfall capital gain for him and huge financial entry barrier to home ownership in Vancouver for many others is much more a product of local government regulation than it is market forces. The setback distances he has enjoyed so that his beautiful surrounding garden can have light derive not from market forces but from City’s local government regulations, regulations selected in the political process in the 1920’s when land was cheap, population small, and the nuclear family ruled the roost. Why are, or better yet why should the political interests of the past that created the property rights of today be, so sacrosanct? If the right wingers try to argue, in the name of “stable property rights” , that the purchaser of the property in those past era’s expected that the prevailing political processes would never change the rules of the housing game in the City and factored that in to the purchase price…. I’d say get real. If those were the purchaser’s expectations they were wrong, and he was ill advised. The zoning-rezoning questions in Vancouver have been a well publicized set of lotteries year in and year out for everyone since at least WW2. It took the City of Vancouver countless meetings, policy reccomendations, and citizen-referenda and probably a lot of payola to get where to the point that they are now. And at least some of those regulations will change in the future as new political constituencies form. For example the current regulatory bias towards rental rather than ownership forms of tenure for these laneway houses will probably unravel eventually as the young renters of today become the prospective homeowners of tomorrow, fulfilling the Canadian dream of home ownership.But the old guard won’t suffer too much. Selling off the laneway house and a bit of backyard for half a million or so (hmmm, 5 times the professional’s wages??) isn’t a bad way to build a retirement nest egg.