Designer says tiny homes offer big solution to housing crunch in Vancouver

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      Ian Kent believes that his small homes can make a big impact in our city.

      The founder and CEO of the Vancouver-based Nomad Micro Homes Inc. said that his company’s product could solve the city’s “affordable housing crisis…almost immediately”.

      “And the way it would do that is to create increased density,” Kent told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Nomad makes the 182-square-foot Cube, which, the home designer said, can comfortably house two adults. The couple can have a child there as well, although he said that this would be “very tight”.

      Kent said that people can put the 13.5-foot-by-13.5-foot structure at the back of a single-family home as a laneway home.

      He noted that the Cube would “not disturb any neighbours” because it’s only a “little bit bigger than a garden shed”.

      “Just by its size, it would provide the most affordable homes in Vancouver,” Kent said.

      There’s just one little problem, he said: the City of Vancouver doesn’t allow the Nomad Cube. It’s too small.

      “There’s a minimum dwelling size that some planner dreamed up that doesn’t allow this type of unit,” Kent said, noting that the minimum allowable size for a laneway home is about 282 square feet.

      A city guide states that a laneway house should have one shared area for kitchen, dining, and living space (not a bedroom) of at least 180 square feet.

      In addition, all units, except studio units, should provide at least one bedroom with a minimum size of 90 square feet.

      Nomad markets the Cube base model starting at US$38,800, which translates to CAD$46,874.

      A city staff report to council in 2018 stated that a typical 640-square-foot laneway home has a construction cost of $200,000 if it is built in conjunction with a new house.

      Roughly, this means that one can assemble four or five Cubes together for the same price of a laneway home and get more square footage.

      Kent said that his market is primarily in rural areas of B.C. and California. The home and architectural designer established the Vancouver-based Nomad in 2014.

      “The impetus for starting this company was mostly because of the affordable-housing issue in Vancouver and the rest of the world,” he said.

      The company’s guiding principle is simple: minimize space and maximize comfort and livability, thereby achieving affordability.

      Kent said that his tiny homes are built to Canadian and U.S. standards, with the homes made of steel, so they last longer than wood. That’s a plus for the environment.

      Kent explained that wood-frame homes have a 50-year lifespan. “Then a bulldozer knocks it down; it goes into the landfill, then they have to cut more trees to build again.”

      In addition, the Nomad home is easy to install. It is built in panels, so it can be taken apart easily and moved to another location or sold to another party.

      On April 12 this year, Christian Chiappetta, an agent with Sutton Group-West Coast Realty, placed a tiny Vancouver lot on the market. The listing, at 1912 William Street, has a frontage of nine feet and a depth of 60 feet.

      The property’s original asking price was $289,000. Based on tracking by real-estate information site Zealty.ca, the price was reduced by $40,000 on May 14 and it’s now $249,000.

      When reached by the Straight, the realtor said that the city does not have a policy about tiny homes. This means that a builder’s application for 1912 William Street will likely get rejected. However, an applicant can make a case before the board of variance and request a relaxation of policy.

      In October last year, council approved a motion by councillor Pete Fry that directed staff to produce a report about a policy for tiny homes and shelters. The report is to include items like minimum sizes, options for mobile and fixed locations, and opportunities as infill or secondary units to detached homes.

      The Fry motion also told staff to establish a demonstration project of a tiny-home village. The Straight asked city hall for an interview on the subject of tiny lots and homes, but the communications department said city planners were still busy working on Fry’s motion and that more information will be made available soon.

      Meanwhile, Kent told the Straight that a Cube home shipped by Nomad arrived in Oakland, California, on the day of the phone interview. Previous shipments in B.C. went to Nelson and Winlaw, he said, with three Cube homes being used in Winlaw for a new eco-resort called Raven’s Perch.

      As for Fry’s tiny-homes motion, Kent said that it’s a “small step in the right direction” for Vancouver.

      “I wouldn’t hold my breath,” Kent said. “It’s still going to be a long way.”

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