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Paul Schratz - Life In The Schratz Lane

Wanted: pro-family housing solutions

Voices Oct. 12, 2018

A video image shows the proposed duplexes that will replace Kathleen and John Higgins’ single-family rancher. The North Delta couple see it as a way for their adult children to afford home ownership and live where they grew up. (Vimeo image)

Is housing a pro-life issue? Kathleen Higgins thinks it can be.

The Immaculate Conception, Delta, parishioner and her husband John raised seven children in their North Delta rancher, and with only one child still at home they came to the harsh realization they had a house too large for them. Meanwhile their adult children were shut out of home ownership thanks to Metro Vancouver’s prohibitive housing costs.

Rather than watch future Higgins generations forced to abandon the neighbourhood they grew up in, the couple came up with a novel idea: replace their 1970s single-family home with two new duplexes, each of the four units having its own land title.

Kathleen and John, now in their 60s, decided they could live in one of the units while their adult children bought the other three homes. Parents and children could remain in the neighbourhood they’ve lived in for decades instead of renting or buying a townhouse or condo somewhere else.

After getting the support of neighbours, they approached the City of Delta, where council unanimously endorsed their plan as a creative way to contribute to a tight and expensive housing market. A two-minute video describes the project, which the couple hope to complete next year.

For Kathleen, the initiative not only makes sense for her family, it can also benefit the community where affordable housing is in short supply.

She cites the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, which states: “The Church’s social doctrine requires that ownership of goods be equally accessible to all, so that all may become, at least in some measure, owners.”

“That’s what we’re trying to promote with our project,” she said. “It’s part of being pro-family and pro-life to help young families become owners of homes they can afford.”

Housing affordability has become the central issue in B.C.’s municipal elections taking place next week. Housing and homelessness top the list of issues in debates, forums, and surveys, and some people saying housing is the only issue.

A report issued Thursday by the Union Gospel Mission and UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning says the housing affordability crisis is spreading quickly through the Lower Mainland and contributing to rising homelessness. The report, titled No Vacancy, urges voters to cast their ballots Oct. 20 with housing and homelessness in mind.

The Higgins family’s original rancher, now demolished to be replaced by four units in two duplexes. (Vimeo image)

Kathleen Higgins says the current Metro Vancouver model of land assembly leads to large strata projects and “makes home ownership way too expensive for ordinary first-time buyers. People have to pay not only the developer’s profit, but also ever-increasing strata fees.”

By contrast the Higgins model allows the couple to replace an older, larger home that would have required costly renovations with four smaller homes on smaller lots. The children “will now each be able to own their own modest house on the ground with no strata fees and we will be able to downsize and live beside them in the neighbourhood where we raised our family.”

She has spoken with Delta mayoral candidates and said they all seem to be open to such an approach. ”Our hope is that Delta can become an example to other local governments, and we could significantly increase affordable home ownership across Metro Vancouver.”

The multi-generational approach to housing seems to be catching on. The Vancouver Sun profiled Tess and Roger Strong, an Abbotsford couple who became a multi-gen household when their adult son’s family moved to home from Squamish. The young family with two twins couldn’t afford to buy a house and were renting an apartment.

Tess and Roger decided it made sense to move into the upper level of their home so son and family could live in a ground-level suite. They said neighbours recently did something similar, taking out a mortgage to expand the mother’s house and move in to it.

The latest census says multi-gen households are the fastest-growing household type in Canada, and the housing industry has taken notice. Two out of three new homes built today are multi-family, up from less than half in the mid-2000s.

As affordable housing becoming harder to find, here’s hoping municipal councils become increasingly open to multi-generational living arrangements that keep families closer together while helping offset exorbitant housing costs.

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