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In Search of the Missing Middle

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In Search of the Missing Middle

In Metro Vancouver, we mostly have two extremes: high-density and low-density housing. But those options don’t represent the extent of what can be made; laneways, infill homes, row houses, townhouses, walk-up apartments, and multiplexes (duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes).

This is the Missing Middle: the lack of options for small-scale multi-family housing.

Middle-density housing is important for everyone:

  • For anyone looking for a starter home
  • For young professionals looking to grow equity instead of paying rent
  • For multi-generational families looking to be close but maintain privacy
  • For those wanting to downsize later in life
  • For anyone who wants affordable housing options

Today, we explore the Missing Middle and why we’re excited about coming changes.

Great News!

In BC, change IS coming. 

Recent housing regulatory change from the Province of BC is intended to permit the development of three or four residential units on lots currently zoned single-family or duplex and up to six units on larger lots.  The goal of the legislative amendments is to increase housing supply, reduce the red tape associated with middle-density, and improve housing affordability.

If the series of Housing Statutes work as intended, many BC homeowners should soon have the option to redevelop their property into small-scale multi-family options to rent or sell, and there is an upcoming deadline of June 30th, 2024 for cities to take action.  

The government estimates the changes could create as many as 130,000 new units over the next decade, which could truly make a difference to finding the Missing Middle


How the Missing Middle helps us all.

Metro Vancouver is in the midst of a housing crisis. The average renter here spends 61% of their income on rent, and the cost of buying a home is often out of reach for even some of the most well-off individuals.

Middle-density housing can add much needed choice to the housing supply, but also gently increasing density like this can stimulate the entire market. From increasing liquidity, creating construction projects and sparking neighbourhood revitalization, they enable people to find choice in the housing market more easily.

In our current market, it can feel like the only way to buy land is if you have land already to sell. There are few-to-no starter options for young professionals, growing families, or even just average-income households. 

But with small-scale multi-family housing, it may be possible to turn the Metro Vancouver housing market into a flowing river where people can start small, and trade up home to home, unafraid of massive gaps, until they land somewhere they’d like to grow old in.

Aging in home

Aging with family close.

The vast majority of people hope never to be in a care-home facility, yet statistically 1 in 3 Canadians will end up in one, often as the result of a fall in their home leading to their house being deemed unfit for their care.

Strides have been made in this department, such as building codes now insisting on homes being minimally upgradable to accommodate aging occupants. However, if loved ones can now live nearby with gentle density –across a courtyard for example– this brings even greater safety and likelihood for elders to live at home. One of the greatest factors in health outcomes is proximity to support.

Multigenerational Living

Homes for the whole family.

Many projects we work on here at Novell have a multigenerational component, as families strive to take care of their aging loved ones and empower their younger members. Vancouver is a city that brings people together from across the globe, and it makes sense that the concept of multigenerational living is becoming the norm. 

Middle housing options allow us to create new structures to sell or rent to the public, but they also allow us to create new structures to give space for families to co-exist and thrive; spaces for families to stay close and connected without having to share every square foot.

More Options

The Missing Middle contains a home for anyone.

Middle-density homes blend the advantages of both extremes; the privacy, affordability, and proximity of high-density, mixed with the community, tranquillity, and neighbourhood charm of low-density. We need options for individuals and families seeking a balance between retreating and communing –a space where residents can enjoy urban living and suburban harmony. Detached structures such as laneways, infills, row houses, townhouses and multiplexes are examples of the smooth integration of density, creating new housing options without altering a residential community.

By promoting these middle-density options, communities achieve greater inclusivity and diversity, creating vibrant and sustainable neighbourhoods.

Environmental Win

Proximity is eco-friendly.

When people live closer to friends, family, school and work, they become less reliant on cars and use less gas when driving. The new amendment includes greater density closer to transit centers, incentivizing an even greater reduction in car reliance.

Middle-density homes allow more people in a smaller space, without creating concrete landscapes or glass skyscrapers that take a large carbon concrete footprint to build, reflect heat and can contribute to urban micro climates.

What if I like my home?

Single family homes remain an option.

Choice is a good thing, and keeping your home a single family home will still be possible if that’s what you prefer. In Metro Vancouver, much of the area was originally planned with simply a disproportionate amount of single family home neighbourhoods relative to our growing population.  By introducing choice and small-scale multi-family solutions, we make room for our evolving demographics, which is desperately needed to keep our city vibrant, healthy and thriving. 

What’s next?

This is an iterative process.

When it comes to nailing down the Missing Middle, there are some gaps to be navigated:

  • infrastructural changes and upgrades will be needed to support small-scale multi-family
  • financial lending should consider how it can support these smaller, non-speculative projects without limiting what’s possible to income qualification alone
  • not all designers and builders are trained in these projects and may make costly mistakes
  • there is simply alot we still don't know about how municipalities will implement, review and permit these new changes.

In short, there is more than a Missing Middle when it comes to housing.  There is also a Missing Middle infrastructure, a Missing Middle financial system, a Missing Middle jurisdictional permitting path, and Missing Middle experts to navigate the road ahead. The Missing Middle is a moving target and it will take more than just one moment of legislation and will require some patience to make it work on a large scale. And yet, we believe this is the start of something exciting for BC, and will be doing all we can to watch, learn, advocate and evolve to stay ahead of the curve.

These topics and challenges described above deserve their own deep dives. But in the meantime, there are things you can do to keep up with the latest:

  • you can sign up for local and provincial updates
  • you can get familiar with your evolving OCP (Official Community Plan) and current Zoning 
  • you can gather info on your home; lot size, proximities to transit, age of home
  • you can explore options with professionals that are up to the latest, such as Novell Design Build 
  • watch for updates to your local OCP and zoning, already rolling out in some municipalities, and expected to continue between now and June 30, 2024
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