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A laneway house is a form of housing that is gaining popularity on the west coast of Canada, especially in the Metro Vancouver area. These homes are typically built into pre-existing lots, usually in the backyard and opening onto the back lane.
Most laneway houses are small, though public concern has been raised in some communities due to the impact that larger forms of this type of housing have on privacy.
While most popular in Vancouver, similar housing has been appearing in other dense Canadian cities. Toronto built laneway houses for some time until in 2006 staff reviewed the impact on services and safety.
The introduction to Vancouver of this form of housing was part of an initiative by former Mayor Sam Sullivan as part of his council's EcoDensity initiative to increase urban density in pre-existing neighbourhoods while retaining the single-family feel of the neighbourhood. Vancouver's average laneway house is 550 square feet (51 m2), one and a half stories, with one or two bedrooms. Typical regulations require that the laneway home is built in the back half of a traditional lot in the space that is normally reserved for a garage.
In December 2009, the Sustainable Laneway House project began. BC Hydro Power Smart joined Simon Fraser University and the City of Vancouver in championing the project. A host of industrial partners joined the effort by providing expertise, materials and labour, including Smallworks Studio and Laneway Housing, Fortin Terasen Gas, Embedded Automation, Day4 Energy, VerTech Solutions, MSR Innovations and Pulse Energy. Westhouse was showcased at the Yaletown LiveCity site during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic games to over 66,000 people and subsequently moved to its current semi-permanent site at SFU.
Vancouver's first laneway house to be completed under the 2009 laneway house bylaw was the Mendoza Lane House by Lanefab Design/Build. The Mendoza lane house is 710sf and was built on a 33'x122' lot and features a single outdoor parking space. The project was granted an occupancy permit by the City of Vancouver in May 2010.
The first unsubsidized 'net-zero' solar powered laneway house was completed in 2012.
In July 2013, an updated set of rules governing laneway house design in Vancouver went into effect. The July 2013 rule update was aimed at making it easier to build 1 storey laneway houses, and to address concerns about parking and the use of garages.
Housing affordability is an important issue in Vancouver, due to the high density of population in the city.
While the EcoDensity Charter is no longer applicable in Vancouver due to the current council's updated strategies on affordability and Greenest City initiatives, initial concerns around laneway housing and affordability that related to the EcoDensity Charter remain. The approach from the Charter was to increase the supply of housings to help moderate house prices and to reduce the living costs from transportation and energy. The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives reported to the Vancouver City Council on housing affordability in 2008, arguing that the EcoDensity Charter's claim that the increase in urban density would result in greater affordability is false. They argued further that if the Charter remained unchanged then the existing affordability for housing in Vancouver would worsen and also increase the difficulties to middle and low income families.