Vancouver is certainly not the only city facing problems of scarce, expensive housing. Nor is it the only city responding to those problems by building laneway or infill houses.
In Portland, Oregon, these homes are called ADUs — Accessory Dwelling Units. Unlike the laneway homes we know and love in Vancouver, they also include basement suites in this category. And unlike the process here in Vancouver for laneway homes when you build an ADU in Portland they waive the permit fees.
That’s right — the city waives the permit fees for new infill buildings.
According to this story in the Tribune, in Portland that can save you between $8,000 and $11,000. That development permit waiver started as a pilot project in 2010, and was continued in 2013. In Vancouver a similar program would mean savings of around $20,000 per laneway house.
There seems to be little pushback in Portland from people living in the neighbourhoods — of course you can purchase a perfectly lovely home in that city for about $300K. And people recognize that the smaller buildings are much greener than large buildings using fewer resources to build and maintain. The state has its own Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and their spokesperson said,
“Smaller homes have significant environmental benefits compared to other green building strategies. Building small is a very green thing to do,” says Palmeri.
As this story in the Tribune put it
Regardless of their size, ADUs are generally more environmentally friendly than a new home built in a traditional subdivision. They require no new land, less building materials and energy usage. They help Portland and the metro area meet population growth needs without developing farm land. Putting those residents in existing neighborhoods reduces sprawl and vehicle miles traveled, easing road congestion.
A recent survey by the DEQ found
the mean cost for an ADU is nearly $78,000, with about a quarter costing more than $120,000.
“That’s a lot of money for a lot of people,” says Palmeri.
In our neighbourhood numbers like that would have us drooling. It would take a lot of number-crunching and cost-counting to bring in a laneway house for $120,000.
I would welcome a survey such as the DEQ conducted right here. It would be interesting to find out how laneways are being used. In Portland, Ashland, and Eugene the survey found
81 percent of ADUs in all three cities are used as primary residences, only 18 percent of occupants are family members and 53 percent of occupants were strangers when they moved in. And the majority of owners in all three cities — slightly more than 50 percent — built them for the additional rental income.
Lean, green, income generating machines. It’s great to see how laneway houses can improve cities — and lives.