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Housing intensification without high-rise

Housing intensification without high-rise

If you walk through many of Hamilton’s older areas, you will see widespread instances where single-family homes, usually two and a half story homes, have been converted into duplexes and triplexes. Sometimes additional entrances have been added, in other cases, there is a single entrance with partitioning inside to separate the living units. In addition, many of these homes already underwent expansion sometime earlier in the last century with the addition of a kitchen at the rear of the home typically with a second floor sunporch built above. Many of these conversions took place immediately after the second world war when there was a severe housing shortage in Canada, and homeowners were encouraged to duplex large homes.

In New York, the Regional Plan Association has been around for more that a hundred years. One of its most notable early members was Thomas Adams, the Scottish-born father of town planning. Adams spent several years preaching Town Planning in Canada and among his associates was one of  Canada’s first major planners, Naulon Cauchon who developed several grandiose plans for Hamilton. Adams formed Canada’s Town Planning institute in 1919, and among the charter members was Cauchon, and Hamilton’s TB McQuesten—a lawyer and politician who was keenly interested in planning, who went on to a major career is a promoter of parks and public works..

In the early 1920’s Adamas went to new York where he joined the Regional Plan Association there and developed a 30-year official plan for New York and surrounding area.

Still functioning, a hundred years after its formation, the Regional Plan Association recently published a paper on the affordable housing shortage in the United States. Essentially the plan suggests greater intensification of existing properties.

In the paper the RPA notes, “Done thoughtfully, every municipality can create more housing simply by allowing more flexibility within the context of existing land use patterns. We can create hundreds of thousands of new homes in the region just by allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and conversions of large single-family homes to two- or three-family homes, most of which would be in areas near transit.”

Not all of these new homes would necessarily mean new people. Some would allow extended families to live in more comfortable situations, by having separate units for grandparents, older children or others currently living together in a single-family house. Others would allow for upgrades to legal dwelling units for people currently living in units which don’t meet code compliance — which would also help ensure that these units are safe. All would be valuable additions to housing choice in neighborhoods and the housing supply of the region as a whole.

A housing unit built above a garage

We can achieve the creation of these additional homes through policies that can be implemented by the states and by local communities through both legislation and local zoning changes, by addressing technical issues to unlock this “hidden housing,” and by addressing the misconceptions that can undermine productive dialogue around this issue in local communities.

The paper suggests that if even one -third of single family homes in the Metropolitan New York are underwent convesion or retrofitted with one ADU, then more than 250,000 units would be created.

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