The challenge of finding affordable rental housing in Vancouver is no surprise to anyone who has been house hunting lately.
But at $1100, a 250 square foot micro loft in Vancouver’s downtown East Side may have set the precedent for the city’s priciest bachelor pad.
The Burns Block suite’s Craigslist ad lists it as being for a single occupant, bans subletting, and lists the unit as decked out with the following:
Furniture (couch and chairs), Flat Screen TV, Cable, Wireless Internet, Murphy Bed/Dining Table Combo, Half Fridge, Two Burner Cooktop, Gym, Shared Laundry Room.
See: Inside an $1100 microloft
When the Burns Block first opened in 2010, Units rented for $850/mo and were billed as an affordable option.
The project, a former SRO, sparked controversy – with opponents arguing it would gentrify the neighborhood.
But project developer Jon Stovell says that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“I think gentrification is good. I think it’s essential. I think it’s part of the whole process of city renewall, which has never stopped. Saying ‘no students and young workers in our neighbourhood’ is not something that I’m prepared to pay much attention to.”
Stovell says no one was displaced, as the former SRO had been shut down years prior, and filled a need for market housing in the area.
“It came back onto the market and filled the niche for entry level market housing. It’s just the market. If it wasn’t affordable for young people there wouldn’t be a waiting list.”
Stovell says the tiny spaces appeal to younger, urban types who increasingly favour “place over space,” and appreciate being close to downtown.
Tom Durning with the Tenants Rental Advisory Centre agrees that the market is behind the jump in rents.
He says the concept of what’s “affordable” is taking a beating, with people frequently spending more than a third of their income on housing. And he says that’s a symptom of Vancouver’s popularity, with a vacancy rate that’s dipped below one percent.
“Not just Vancouver, but Burnaby, New West – has become an expensive place because people come here. As the vacancy rates go down, the landlords can charge as much as they want – so rents are going to be on the increase because of the pressure of people coming here.”
He says with developers favouring condos projects in recent decades, the stock of available rentals has withered, leaving renters at the mercy of a tightening market.
Is Micro the new normal?
Durning says the region’s rental market needs a complete overhaul.
“You’ve got a lot of people chasing property, limited supply of land, and the land that is available is encumbered by zoning practices that are 50 years old. We need a massive reboot for the whole lower mainland, but the only one that has the power to do that is the provincial government.”
And he says one option is to get creative about new rental housing.
While he says the Burns Block units are small, and definitely exceed “affordable” for some people, he adds the idea could be useful if tried outside the downtown core.
“These aren’t something you’re supposed to live in for the rest of your life, according to theory. You’re there for two or three years, you move on to something bigger.”
Expanding the city’s ‘micro stock’ is certainly something Stovell advocates.
He’s pushing the city to relax it’s minimum unit size (currently about 400 sq ft for stratas and 375 sq ft for rentals) to allow a new micro-loft condo development in downtown Vancouver.