EVERY DAY, there’s another story on affordable housing. There was the report this week that a worker in Vancouver needs to earn $35/hour to afford the rent of an average two-bedroom apartment.
It can take decades in most major Canadian cities to afford to buy a house. And in a few short weeks, when Thompson Rivers University students descend on our city, there will be the yearly call for more affordable student housing here in Kamloops.
There seems to be constant talk about affordable housing. Again and again, there is a demand to build more affordable housing.
I’m more and more convinced that the issue is not affordable housing at all, but affordable zoning.
Every city defines land use zoning. Kamloops is no different.
Zoning dictates the size of building lots, how much unused space is required between the house and the road, and maximum amount of area buildings can cover a lot.
Zoning dictates which land can be used for single family residential housing, and which can be used for multi-family residential.
I only need to look at my own house, zoned RS-1, which is a type of zoning for single-family houses in Kamloops, to know that zoning takes away affordable options for builders, developers, and ultimately homeowners.
My RS-1 lot is 15 meters wide, the minimum width for this zoning. One could easily build a house on a narrower lot, but it’s not allowed in this zoning.
Even if a builder wanted to build houses on lots thinner than 15 meters, it wouldn’t be possible in this zoning. So if for instance, a builder wanted to consolidate two large lots to create three narrower lots, this zone doesn’t allow for it.
In the RS-1 zoning, there also needs to be a minimum six-meter front yard setback. All over Kamloops, there are large front yard setbacks. Perhaps this is needed to create parking in some areas, but in my neighborhoods, no one parks in their front yard: we all have an alley.
All through my neighbourhood, since water restrictions, this six-meter strip between the house and the road is being turned into a gravel patch with a few succulents.
There is no reason why all Kamloops housing lots need a six-meter front setback. Go to cities all over the world and one can find attractive houses with smaller front yards.
Wide lots, and six-meter front setback increase the size of the building lots. Smaller building lots would allow for more houses to be built in the same area, and lower housing costs.
Housing costs are all about supply and demand. Zoning restricts supply by forcing all single-family housing to be built on larger than necessary building lots.
Kamloops’ zoning bylaws, and in fact most cities’ bylaws, encourage excessive waste of space.
The average household in Kamloops is 2.4 people, according to Statistics Canada. Smaller houses, and smaller housing lots, are one piece of the puzzle in creating affordable housing for our ever-smaller households.
Without revisions to zoning bylaws, housing will continue to be unaffordable to many. Zoning is a powerful tool to allow people in our community afford to live here.
It’s time city council adopts affordable zoning bylaws.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.