Our obsession with single-family homes is all wrong

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      My parents left all of their family behind in Hong Kong and immigrated to Delta in the ’90s. The house we lived in was modest, and they were proud to call it their own—especially because it was detached.

      For many families in North America, homeownership, and specifically, a detached home, is the ultimate aspiration. We dream of large, private yards with ample space for the parents to garden or barbecue and for the kids to run around.

      When Canada began building suburban neighbourhoods in the 1960s, the average size of a house was just over 1,000 square-feet; in 2023, that number has nearly doubled to 1,950. At the same time, average household sizes have fallen, as high housing costs continue to hinder younger generations from being able to move out of their current living situations and form new households.

      Our society financializes housing: it’s at the forefront of our identities, and it’s how we define wealth and success.

      Detached houses are easily and often replaced by larger ones. Meanwhile, new townhomes, apartments, and mixed-use buildings go through arduous and lengthy approvals, scrutinized by those who have the means and privilege to engage.

      Most of these housing regulations are variations of the same rules created nearly a century ago—rules that are grounded in the core belief that the best form of housing, and therefore the form that should be easiest and most valued, is the detached single-family house. This has resulted in a history of policies, tax systems, and public perception that all heavily favour the maintenance and replacements of detached houses, often at the cost of all other forms of housing.

      But housing everyone in a detached home isn’t a practical reality, and reinforcing this ideal hinders our ability to add much-needed new homes—while furthering our association of wealth with private property. Detached housing is a fine cultural and lifestyle choice, but it’s currently the only one our society seems to value.

      As various levels of government call for increased density, many residents fear it as a threat to their way of life, or a sign of mass demolition of their cherished family homes. But this simply isn’t true.

      All housing forms can and should coexist. Recent government changes, such as the City’s multiplex regulations as well as the Province’s transit-oriented-development proposal, have begun to reflect this by making a variety of housing forms the default for new builds. These regulations signal that a detached house, a townhome, and an apartment should all be equally possible.

      We need a cultural shift. But these changes will benefit our communities.

      For me, this is a conversation that starts right at home. My parents still have that same detached single-family house, even though none of their children live there anymore. I’m trying to convince them that they don’t need four bedrooms for two people—and that despite what the “Canadian dream” may have had them believe, a big house is not the only marker of success.