Multiplexes? 🤷 Meh
On September 14, 2023, Vancouver will hold a public hearing for the proposed multiplex policy. If approved, plexes between 3 to 6 units, depending on the size of the lot, will be allowed in theory across the city’s RS (“single family”) zones.
AHV has been advocating for multiplexes (and more) for years. We supported the City’s move to allow duplexes in 2018, partly because allowing multiplexes appeared to be the obvious next step – one that might come quickly. But we also knew then what is even more obvious now: Vancouver needs to legalize apartments everywhere. We cannot afford policy baby steps when the housing crisis is growing by leaps and bounds.
Support but Criticize
Since writing in opposition to this policy will likely be interpreted as opposing multiplexes and bigger changes in general, we are encouraging people to write in support but to adamantly express that this policy is stupendously inadequate. In fact, it is so bad that you should write your MLA to tell them that Vancouver is clearly not serious about addressing the housing crisis.
Vancouver has a huge shortage of housing, largely because new housing is banned across most of the city. Basically all growth over the last 50 years was crammed into the few areas where new housing is allowed. As put by data scientist Jens von Bergmann:
Especially to protect current renters from displacement, we need to legalize dense new housing in the single-family detached neighbourhoods that have successfully excluded new neighbours for so long. The multiplex plan is squarely aimed at allowing new housing in low-density areas, and that’s good!
However, City staff predict that there will only be 150 or so multiplex applications per year. This is because they deliberately designed the policy to be as non-viable as possible (really).
Currently, a house can have a floor space ratio of up to 0.86, including a laneway. The multiplex proposal only ups that to 1.0 FSR. Forget the jargon, here is what that means: on most lots, only another 560 square feet of floor space can get built. The equivalent of one more small one bedroom condo. That’s it.
And since these will be replacing existing homes (many of which would have been redeveloped to have basement suites and laneway houses under the current rules anyways), the net effect of multiplexes will be even smaller still. It will also be locking-in land that should be used for apartments, which would provide much more housing. The multiplex policy may end up barely, if at all, increasing housing supply. Even worse, the Vancouver Plan timeline indicates it could take as long as 30 years to create the neighbourhood plans that are intended to allow further housing options.
Vancouver has a massive shortage of housing, and it’s getting worse ever year. CMHC estimates imply that to make average homes affordable to average incomes, Vancouver needs to be adding over 18,000 homes per year. A proposal that might give us one hundred-odd more homes per year isn’t remotely serious.
The City has been studying missing middle housing for over a decade. We’ve endured the Housing Vancouver Strategy, Making Room policy, and then the Vancouver Plan, each of which has said it will promote more housing, starting with “missing middle” housing and beyond. The City claims to have heard this, but after all these years basically nothing has changed. Apartment areas haven’t expanded, low-density areas remain off-limits to meaningful change, and even this belated multiplex policy is designed to have as little uptake as possible.
The pattern is clear: years and multiple rounds of consultation, followed by the smallest possible incremental change, followed by MORE rounds of consultation…rinse and repeat. Besides being a wholly inadequate way to address the housing crisis, it is an abuse of everyone who earnestly participated in any of that consultation, and a waste of money that could have been spent planning a better city. Housing delayed is housing denied.
Our Housing Morass
Vancouver is stuck. Our politicians and planners are staring at the housing crisis like a deer looking at headlights. We need bold action that is actually designed to improve things, but instead we get plans like this that are still mostly about protecting the status quo.
Our planning system is hopelessly slow and incapable of responding to the urgent crises we face.
The multiplex proposal would have made sense 30 years ago. Maybe, if it had been implemented then, the crisis wouldn’t be as bad as it is now. But today it is far too little, far too late, and housing supporters should not accept another symbolic action from our leaders.
Vancouver Must Do Better
So, to be perfectly frank, we’re a bit conflicted on how to approach the multiplex proposal.
Multiplexes won’t make a dent in the housing shortage, and after decades of housing inaction, it’s just not good enough.
On the other hand, we don’t want to sit on the sidelines and let the usual neighbourhood opponents frame the discussion. If Council sees nothing but opposition to this, it’s unlikely they’ll do anything more ambitious.
So we’re settling on a “Yes… BUT” approach.
We recommend submitting comments to Council supporting the multiplex proposal. But crucially, we encourage housing supporters to make it crystal clear that this multiplex proposal isn’t good enough. We need policies today that allow the housing we need now and in the future, not what we needed 30 years ago. Approve this, and then legalize apartments, and climate-friendly complete communities, ASAP!
Also importantly, we need to keep the pressure up, both on Council and on the provincial government. The multiplex proposal is a great demonstration of how ineffective Vancouver’s political and planning leadership is. We desperately need provincial intervention. We are encouraging two actions for housing supporters this time around:
1.Support Multiplexes at Council:
Click here to go to the comment form. Choose “support,” then criticize this plan!
Subject: “Adding Missing Middle Housing”
[Here is an example comment – and it’ll be more effective if you personalize it with your own experience and opinions!]
Dear Mayor and Council,
Please approve this multiplex proposal, which is long overdue after years of discussion amid a growing housing shortage.
That said, 150 multiplexes per year is not sufficient. We need tens of thousands more homes! Council needs to triple housing starts, and this isn’t even a drop in the bucket. Please allow apartments in every neighbourhood, with local shopping and frequent transit to support affordable, green, car-light living.
This proposal is far too little and arrives far too late. I want to see real action on housing.
2.Tell your MLA that the City of Vancouver is just wasting time:
Subject: “Vancouver is not serious about addressing the housing crisis”
[Copy and paste our suggested comments, and personalize them!]
I am writing to you as your constituent. You may be aware that Vancouver is currently considering a proposal that would legalize multiplexes. While I support this step, it is far too weak to make a difference to the city’s severe shortage of housing. It only allows for a modest increase to floor space from the status quo, and is specifically designed to be such a small step that staff only expect about 150 applications per year.
This is a policy that is designed to fail. Vancouver has been studying missing middle housing for over a decade, and the Vancouver Plan was launched about 5 years ago. After all these years, this multiplex proposal just isn't good enough.
The multiplex proposal is so weak that it shows that the City of Vancouver isn’t serious about getting more housing built. It demonstrates how urgently provincial intervention is needed. I urge you to do everything in your power to support bold housing reform at the provincial level.
In particular, apartments should be legalized across the city, especially within 1 km of Translink’s frequent transit network.