With sky-rocketing real estate prices and a lack of rental units, laneway housing is becoming a viable option for many people. They go by several names: granny flats, garden suites or laneway house, to name a few. But what is a laneway house? Well, although the allowable size and other details vary from city to city, they are small houses built on an existing lot alongside an existing house.
The increasingly popular trend may be suitable for those who wish to house their aging parents or adult children. It’s also a rental income alternative for those who may not have additional space in their home to accommodate it. Building a separate little house could be more appealing than adding on or renovating the main house.
The idea of the laneway house is not new. Although the initiative was first approved by Vancouver council in 2009, there are some laneway houses in that city that date back to the 1890s. At that time, these little houses were used as servants' quarters or as a guest house. Some were used as accommodation for homeowners while their main house was being built. Now, laneway homes are being promoted as a great way to preserve the feel of a neighbourhood while adding density. In other words, more homes without knocking down a heritage one in the process.
Over the last few years, we've seen a variety of creative "small" ideas on how to pack more people into an ever-dwindling supply of affordable housing. There are popular TV shows that showcase mobile tiny homes that utilize a very small amount of space in clever, innovative ways. There are micro lofts, and suites within suites; even UBC is getting into the act with their recent unveiling of micro student housing. Then there's the Tiny Co-housing movement, also called "pocket neighbourhoods," where an entire neighbourhood of tiny private homes is clustered around a common area, sharing resources and amenities.
But are these little homes affordable? And can anyone with a house and a lot have one? This is where you need to check with your municipality first. Each municipality has its own set of rules or bylaws regarding laneway homes, and if they are permitted. Check your municipality’s website for information. The City of Vancouver has a thorough resource guide you can download from their website. Talk to a building contractor that specializes in the construction of laneway homes. Compare the costs of building a laneway home to adding on. Explore the possibility of converting a freestanding garage. Talk with your neighbours about your plans. They may have concerns regarding privacy, parking, increased traffic or noise. Include them in the process.
If you want to have a look at some examples of laneway housing, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation puts on a tour every fall to raise money for heritage preservation in that city. You can find out more about the tour and see photos from past tours by going to their website (www.vancouverheritagefoundation.org).
Whether you are looking for housing solutions, ways to reduce your ecological impact, help with the mortgage, or preserve heritage, laneway housing is a great option to consider.
august 2016 INSPIRED senior living magazine
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