Video: Vancouver tent city protest, Feb. 26, 2011

Check out the video section for mine and Celia Leung‘s coverage of last week’s 2011 Tent City protest. The morning of the action was a constant push-and-shove between activists and the security forces resisting them. Ultimately, the action fell apart as activists were refused the ability to set up their tents. The city has said housing remains a provincial matter and citing their plans to provide spaces for all of Vancouver’s homeless by 2015, denounced the demands of the group as unrealistic.

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Vancouver laneway houses not proving an affordable option

Jason Oliver is the millwork shop leader for Smallworks, one of the biggest manufacturers of laneway houses in Vancouver.

City council’s decision to support laneway houses in Vancouver gives students more options when searching for accommodation, but prices still remain high in college neighbourhoods.

An October administrative report showed that as part of their affordable housing strategy, Vancouver City Council recognized laneway houses in 2009 as an “opportunity for adding to rental housing supply across the city.”

While affordability has been offered as one of the primary benefits of laneway houses, rental advertisements tell a different story. In the Langara College area, the cost per bedroom of these units currently averages over $1,060.

“My next door neighbours have a laneway house that’s on 21st,” said Tracey Greer, a 23-year-old history student at Langara. “They’re charging $1,200.”

Greer said she thinks many landlords feel they can get away with charging high rents in Vancouver due to the heavy demand for housing in the city.

“People will always pay, so [landlords] are going to charge a lot.”

Arts student Kylie Schlotter also said rental prices for the units are too high.

“They’re over-charging. It’s supposed to be more affordable,” she said.

The city council report detailing the first 100 laneway houses in the city estimated that the rental rates range between $1,000 and $2,100 for one and two bedroom units.

Laneway houses typically take the place of an alleyway garage on most average-sized properties.

Of the first 100 laneway houses built in the city, only five were the more affordable studio size units.

One of the biggest manufacturers of laneway houses in Vancouver is Smallworks, which has been pre-fabricating the houses for over five years.

Smallworks owner Jake Fry said that despite the novelty and high rental rates of laneway houses in Vancouver, the structures still have the potential to improve on the availability of low-income housing in the city.

“I think it will help out students and lots of people in making the city an affordable place,” he said. “[But] people coming to us are already going [for] a slightly higher-end unit, it’s not like they’re looking at affordable housing.”

Smallworks employees fabricate the door frame of a new laneway house

While companies like Smallworks tend to focus on building structures for families, Fry said the real potential for student housing rests with units being constructed alongside a new property.

“Those laneway homes that are going in with the principle structure, they actually don’t need the same cost recovery,” said Fry, who estimated that building a laneway rental property alongside a new home could reduce the overall cost by as much as 30 per cent.