Buildings, Missing Middle Housing, Regulations, Zoning

Would You Move in Next Door?

In your neighbourhood, would moving into the place next door represent much of a change for you?

Image by author: this is the exception in Delta – not the norm.

Chances are pretty good, statistically speaking, that the house next door to yours is broadly the same as the one you live in. Single family detached homes? If you own or rent a detached home in Delta, it’s an extreme likelihood that the place next door is also a detached home. Vast swathes of the city are zoned for single family detached homes and will remain like this unless we start to reconsider our approach. Apartment blocks tend to be clustered in places where you’ll find other apartment blocks next door. Townhouses, wherever they’re popping up in Delta, have other batches of townhouses next door. But as you can see in the images below, those sites for medium density housing are few and far between.

But why would we seek to change anything? Should Delta maybe just stay the way that it is? An auto-oriented suburban community that has lots of perks?

I mean, why would anyone actually want to move into the house next door?

Well, unless you are the rare person who was born and plans to die in your house you will need to make at least a few changes of where you live along the way. And I suspect, if you had a choice, you would choose to stay in your neighbourhood where you are known and valued. You would choose to stay in the neighbourhood that is home. You would stay in a place that is familiar to you.

So many possibilities – nearly all are forbidden in Delta!

The Problem: Our pattern of development in Delta hinders our ability to find appropriate forms of housing for us in the different stages of our lives within our community.

Renters: can renters move to a new place close to where they just were? nope! And what a loss – for the neighbours and the renters! What a loss for the community

Retirees: can you downsize to a home next door? I mean, some of you are happy to head out of town once your mill shift is over but the rest of us can actually envision staying here. But in most cases you won’t be able to find anything suitable within a five minute walk from your home.

Divorcees: headed to splitsville? Any chance that the proceeds of the sale of your share of the house will be enough to find a suitable place for you and your loved ones in the immediate area? Not if the vast expanse of Delta is zoned for single detached housing with isolated pockets of multi-family units and affordable spaces for families.

Bumping out the downstairs dependants? Hope you like the drive to Chilliwack, Mission, or Kamloops!

I know, I’m being overly romantic about the idea of gradually transitioning through the stages of life while remaining in the same neighbourhood with the same people around us. This romanticism comes from three sources: 1) my own experience; 2) my grandfather’s experience; and 3) my hope for my own future

I’ve had a very hard time finding housing for my family while living in California, Ontario, and in BC again. Our costs to rent have always taken a much larger share of our household income than I would like and it has hindered me from being able to set aside funds for a future down payment for a home purchase. We prioritize housing and sacrifice many other potential types of savings and accumulation of wealth. If there were more types of housing in our city, it would provide a lot more choice for families like ours. Have you seen the going rates for a townhouse in Delta these days?

My grandfather, on the other hand, experienced a very different transition into housing after my Oma died. After living for a year on his own and feeling rather lonely, he moved into a senior’s home that was a few minutes walk from his home and it breathed new life into his final decade of life. He stepped into a home that was still familiar and into a neighbourhood that he was already oriented to. The added bonus of living with others meant that he suddenly found fresh purpose and he was a willing volunteer whenever someone needed assistance or help with groceries and the like.

As for my hope for the future, I’d love to enjoy a deep and sustained connection to this place that we’ve settled into. I’d like to stay. I’d like to have options when downsizing or changing rentals (if the need ever arose) or buying into a co-op or purchasing a home for our family. There aren’t many choices in our Port Guichon neighbourhood at present – hopefully in time there will be.

How did it get this way?

Eclecticism & Variety Has Been Killed by a Monoculture

In the pre-WW2 development of our cities, we made room for a full spectrum of housing types in our neighbourhoods. As Daniel Herriges at Strong Towns explains, “If there was a market for something, somebody could more or less build it. This accommodated different strokes: not every home works for every household’s price point, lifestyle, or needs.”

However, he continues, “Over time, this eclecticism has been replaced by a monoculture. Outside of high-rise downtowns and tightly clustered areas of large apartment complexes, most American cities are dominated by single-family houses. This is not a natural outgrowth of the market: it’s the result of policy—put simply, of widespread bans on building anything else.” 

“Unfortunately, for reasons only known to the planners and politicians of yesteryear, we went backwards over the past 40 years. And instead of continuing to allow variety of housing to be built, according to the continually evolving needs of the people of the neighbourhood, planners clamped down and started heavily restricting what could be built. As a result, not a lot of new stuff got built. People moved away. Businesses struggled. But somehow, the neighbourhood plowed on.”

What then? Elmwood Guy from the Dear Winnipeg blog writes of his neighbourhood, “I’m advocating for a return to the zoning from 1981, because the flexibility and variety that zoning provided is what made my neighbourhood and gave me my neighbours. And if you love your neighbourhood as much as I do mine, you should advocate for the same, lest you be forced to move away from it some day once it can no longer meet your housing needs.

What Can You Do?

If you own a home with room to spare, consider how you might make your spot in the neighbourhood the site of a 3 or 4 unit building that would be suitable for you and a few of your friends who are also ready to downsize. Get in touch and I’ll shout from the rooftops in favour of this project!

If you own or rent a home next to a building that is ripe for redevelopment, encourage the owners to consider adding several different types of units to the rebuild. Encourage granny suites, laneway houses, and attic apartments – you just might decide you want to live in there!

If you have any time or energy, tell Delta City Council that you’re all in favour of efforts to fix our housing problems. Let them know that you agree with proposals to reduce the stifling zoning rules that currently designate most of the city as single detached dwellings ONLY. If we care for our future and our neighbour’s futures, we should be interested in seeing a wide range of places to call home in our city.

Our neighbourhoods are already changing: they will either become more exclusive and expensive, or more diverse and inclusive.