Burnaby’s forthcoming housing strategy looks for answers in the ‘missing middle’

The missing middle will play a key role in the city's 10-year plan for housing and homelessness.



November 23, 2021 | 5:00 am

As the city prepares to overhaul its official community plan, a forthcoming policy looks to take some of the focus on areas like Metrotown and divert it to more subtle forms of density, often referred to as “missing middle” housing.

The city’s Home strategy, which is aimed at housing and homelessness, is making its way to city council for final approval, with the draft being considered today in the planning and development committee.

In a draft of the strategy, the City of Burnaby outlined 90 actions it can take over the next 10 years to address housing affordability and reduce homelessness.

By 2030, the city anticipates needing 5,680 new rental units and 9,360 new units for ownership.

Missing middle plays a key role

In its strategy, the city outlined five goals, including inclusive and livable neighbourhoods; options for secure tenure; a renter-friendly community; a healthy supply of non-market housing; and a place where homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time.

Those five goals each include two to five strategies, and each of the strategies includes three to 11 actions.

One of the city’s key strategies—which is likely to be among the most transformative—is to “increase housing choice.” Currently, according to the city, 73% of Burnaby’s land is locked in as single-family homes or duplexes. Advocates say freeing those properties up for row housing or low-rise apartments could make a significant dent in housing affordability.

The city outlined six actions for addressing this, including a “multi-phase program to expand housing choices.”

Phase 1 would include small-scale infill housing—that includes things like secondary suites and laneway homes and even duplexes in neighbourhoods zoned for single-family housing.

The first phase, which is expected to be completed by 2023, would also permit rowhomes in all residential neighbourhoods.

By the end of 2026, phase 2 of the program would include medium-scale infill housing. That includes permitting triplexes, fourplexes, townhouses, rowhomes, low-rise apartments and other “missing middle” forms of housing in certain residential areas.

The city would also, at that time, consider secondary suites in townhouses and row houses, and it would designate “transition zones” between high- and low-density neighbourhoods. Those zones would allow anything from fourplexes to smaller mid-rise apartment buildings.

On top of transition zones, the city is also looking to review its “urban villages,” community plan areas that are generally mid-range density with mixed uses, including commercial.

The city is currently reviewing two of those plans—Bainbridge and Lochdale—but plans to review all 11 of them in the coming years. The strategy with the urban villages has broadly been to increase density around commercial districts, and to improve the walkability.

But the plan would also see the city seeking out new neighbourhoods that can be higher-density and multi-use, including commercial spaces, and which are accessible by transit.

In these zones, the city would also reduce off-street parking requirements for multi-family developments.

Barriers to housing in Burnaby

The strategy has been in the works since July 2019, as one of the recommendations of the task force on community housing. The task force was struck by the mayor following his 2018 election victory, in which housing played a key role.

The city outlined the top five housing challenges reported by participants in a stakeholder survey, which included 410 participants, and the rental market ranked high in the list.

The top challenge listed is a limited supply of needed housing types, which was cited by 38 respondents. In second was the cost of rent, which was marked by 34 respondents.

Profiling/screening due to ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other (12 participants) was the third most cited challenge. The state of repair of housing and the cost of homeownership were tied, with 10 participants each.

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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