A push is on to build larger condo units in Vancouver, as young families increasingly opt for a type of housing that is at once more affordable and cosmopolitan.
In recognition of the growing trend, developers are starting to build a greater number of three-bedroom units, once as rare as hen’s teeth.
Condos with three bedrooms “are relatively unheard of in multi-unit residential projects,” says Sasha Faris, marketing director at Intergulf Development Group in Vancouver. But no longer.
Faris points to a new condo and townhouse project called The Empire on Cambie St., overlooking Queen Elizabeth Park. Of 166 units, 22 are three-bedroom units.
The developer did not anticipate the demand for the big suites and so, The Empire’s floor plans had to be modified, with several one-bedroom units combined to create 12 of the larger units.
The larger units are being sought both by well-off boomers entering retirement and young families snubbing suburbia.
The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association reports the number of families with children living in the city’s core has more than doubled between 2001 and 2011.
Singles continue to form a majority of those living on the downtown peninsula, but 4,545 families with children now account for 36 per cent of all residents.
Alysa Kanani, speaking for Boffo Developments, says a growing number of families are turning their backs on homes with large backyards, or nearby cul de sacs ideal for street hockey, in favour of “a walkable, accessible urban lifestyle.”
She reports Boffo’s Artemisia at Helmcken and Davie, features units, some with three bedrooms, of 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.
One family of five, says Kanani, recently purchased a large penthouse suite, “not wanting to concede to the suburbs.”
All downtown schools are now full and a new International Village elementary school is being built, to open in a year or so.
City hall is taking note. Representive Tobin Postma reports the Vision Vancouver council directed staff in December to “assess the demand for family housing and explore ways to encourage the development of more, and more affordable, three-bedroom units.” And the city recently created a municipal Affordable Housing Agency.
City policy for neighbourhood community plans has lately required a minimum of 25 per cent of private market units be developed as two and three-bedroom units.
Postma notes a large percentage of “family units,” with three bedrooms, has been incorporated into an expansive new development around Oakridge Mall.
Families in European cities have long been living in condo-type developments. But in North America, condos have been viewed mainly as a housing option for singles or young couples, a stepping stone to buying a home.
Accordingly, most units were built small, targeted to singles, renters and flippers. In recent years, the average size of units has been increasingly smaller with the popularity of the micro suite.
That was bound to change as population density increased. Toronto is now experiencing a similar dilemma, a shortage of condos suited to families as its version of Manhattanization occurs.
Motivation to reside in a condo rather than a house may have much less to do with proximity to a Starbucks than to the imperative of finding affordable housing.
According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, the benchmark price for a detached home on the west side of the city last spring was $2.2 million, and $918,900 on the east side.
West side condo units typically cost $493,700, and average $320,300 on the east side.
Expect to see more children around, pushing all those elevator buttons