Vancouver residents heading to suburbia for affordable housing

The soaring cost of homes in Vancouver is driving suburban development on the Lower Mainland as home builders attempt to sate the demand for affordable housing.

Although house prices dropped 3.2 per cent in the last year, on average it will still cost you slightly more than $1 million if you want to own a home in the West Coast city.

That steep price of home ownership is good news for the area’s bedroom communities, which are growing as a result. The latest development coming online is the $500-million Fremont development, located in Port Coquitlam or Poco, as it’s locally known, and on the former Dominion Lands.

Once agricultural land, the area will combine residential, retail and light industrial. Anchoring the area is a retail power centre called Fremont Centre. A 150,000-square-foot Walmart and an 83,000-square-foot Canadian Tire are already in place. Vancouver developer Onni Group is also adding a mixed commercial and high-density residential centre, which would include food stores, banks, restaurants and other retail for a total of 650,000 sq. ft.

The residential component includes two 600-unit multi-residential towers, which Onni is also building. Vancouver home-builder Mosaic is constructing 250 low-rise apartments and 400 town homes ranging in cost from about $350,000 to $500,000.

The bridgeless commute

Fremont developmentOn its website, the builder boasts about owning “a Port Coquitlam townhouse of your own while having a bridgeless commute to downtown.”

Conwest Developments Limited is developing a nearby business park that will hold the light industrial development.

According to the city’s website, the area’s light industrial designation permits clean business industrial and advanced technology uses.

Michael Geller, a Vancouver urban planner and development consultant, said he supports the idea of mixed-use communities and points out that a century ago zoning bylaws separated industrial uses from residential due to perceived health risks.

“Today when we talk about industrial development, we’re often talking about high-tech buildings and very attractive development that could often benefit from being located close to residential and other commercial amenities,” Geller said.

One of the historic problems of suburban development is the pressure of additional commuters between the city and the suburbs. But Geller suggests that many of the Fremont residents will work in the area, as will others from adjacent areas such as Port Moody.

Nonetheless, one of the current major topics in Vancouver is transit-oriented development with a new line set to be extended to the northeast, taking in Port Moody and Coquitlam, but not Port Coquitlam. Geller says that ultimately Fremont will need to compete with new developments more closely integrated with transit.

Not a TOD but green

If Fremont isn’t sustainable from a transportation perspective, then it does incorporate other green ideals. Both the Walmart and the Canadian Tire have mandatory green roofs due to a civic requirement for large-format commercial and industrial buildings over 53,820 sq ft.

The retail area includes exterior LED lighting; storm water management systems through integrated landscapes such as rain gardens; and a strict construction waste management plan in which 75 per cent of the building construction waste is diverted from landfills.

As well, a minimum of 10 per cent of the building materials are processed and manufactured within 800 kilometres of the project in order to support local industries and employment and cut down on energy and emissions.

Without a doubt, however, Fremont’s biggest draw is the stock of affordable housing, says Geller, who points out the land cost for new apartments along a recently completed light rapid transit line in Vancouver is $220 a sq. ft. He says once municipal fees are added, the land cost alone for a two-bedroom apartment is $270,000.

“That’s why developers are looking for opportunities to find more affordable locations to build.”

Port Coquitlam alone anticipates needing an estimated 10,000 more dwellings by 2031 to meet projected population growth. Currently, the city’s housing is made up of 42 per cent single family, 34 per cent multi-family and 24 per cent apartments.

Overall development of the area is scheduled for completion in 2018.

A multiple award-winning reporter, writer and editor for more than 25 years, Charles Mandel most recently worked as the National Observer's climate change reporter. He is a former Atlantic correspondent…

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A multiple award-winning reporter, writer and editor for more than 25 years, Charles Mandel most recently worked as the National Observer's climate change reporter. He is a former Atlantic correspondent…

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