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How Cities Get 'Granny Flats' Wrong

A Vancouver designer says North American cities need bolder policies to realize the potential of accessory dwellings.
A Vancouver laneway house designed in a modern style
A Vancouver laneway house designed in a modern styleLanefab and Colin Perry

If you walk down just about any residential alley in Vancouver, you’re bound to run across one of the city’s thousands of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), known locally as “laneway” or “lane” houses. These little houses range from about 600 square feet to 1,000 square feet. They’re lived in by renters, downsizing homeowners, and relatives of the owners of larger houses they stand next to, including—yes—some grannies. (I personally hate the term “granny flat,” because they’re just as often for young people, and can be thoroughly modern in design.)

Back in 2010, my firm Lanefab designed and built Vancouver’s first laneway house, the Mendoza Lane House, for a wonderful couple who wanted to generate a bit of rental income for retirement. The public interest in that project was phenomenal. The open house garnered a lineup around the block for two days straight. People in Vancouver really, really wanted some new housing options.