The demolitions of old homes may finally be slowing in Vancouver’s affluent Dunbar neighbourhood, according to citywide statistics and local observations.
There have been only 331 construction permits for single-family dwellings issued in the city so far this year, compared to a high of 653 in 2011.
Since Vancouver has little land available for single-family houses, a construction permit issued usually means an existing house is being demolished.
One careful Dunbar watcher says the downward trend is playing out in her neighbourhood, one of the areas that has been hardest hit by demolitions.
“I think there are fewer demolitions now and even in 2013,” said Janice Kreider, a long-time resident of the west-side neighbourhood that borders the University of British Columbia lands.
Her blog Disappearing Dunbar recorded roughly 58 demolitions in 2012, compared to 50 in 2013.
Overall, there has been a 37–per-cent decrease in construction of single-family homes citywide since December 2010.
That comes after a flurry of support for the retention of older homes in Vancouver, most notably those built before 1940. In June, the city agreed to protect pre-1940s housing by creating incentives to preserve and restore such homes as a part of a new heritage action plan.
Apartments instead of family homes
One of the reasons single-family construction permits might have gone down citywide is because some city lots that used to have family homes on them are now being used to build townhouses and apartment buildings, says one former city planner.
“There’s continually a decreasing number of single-family lots in the city,” said Ann McAfee.
According to McAfee, rezoning “has come in to allow rowhouses [and] townhouses and so they no longer show up as single-family stats.”
That’s likely not the case in Dunbar, which has always resisted rezoning for denser development in favour of maintaining single-family housing. This has contributed to Dunbar becoming a place where the rich go to build bigger and bigger homes, making the area vulnerable to demolitions.
Since Dunbar is not seeing the construction of townhouses and apartments, the decrease in permits to build single-family means that the neighbourhood is retaining its older homes, as some suggest.
Flipped but not demolished
As a seasoned observer, Kreider has noticed an interesting occurrence with older houses.
“Houses are being sold and resold not long after, without getting torn down,” she said.
“These are pre-1940s houses, so I when I saw the sale sign I was worried they would be torn down. But instead they’re being flipped.”
However Kreider doesn’t believe the decrease in demolitions can be attributed to the city’s heritage action plan.
Instead, she speculates that the new owners found the upkeep of these houses too difficult. Older homes are notorious for their lack of insulation and single-pane windows, which make them hard to heat, and basement flooding problems.
Kreider has doubts about whether the city plan will have any impact on future demolitions.
She believes that the demolitions may have slowed down because developers have already grabbed “all the low-hanging fruit.”