Six years ago, Jon Stovell and Reliance Properties built the first micro-lofts in Vancouver, turning a defunct Gastown single room occupancy (SRO) into a 30-unit rental project with suites ranging in size from 219 to 291 square feet.
Tiny by standards of the day.
But within no time — and advertised only on Craigslist — Burns Block was all rented.
In October, 2013 Reliance took the concept to Victoria’s waterfront. It offered 122 micro-lofts for sale in its proposed Janion development to be completed in 2016.
“Property sales in Victoria were very slow at the time,” said Stovell, Reliance president and CEO. Yet, “we sold them all in just over a month.”
Next it’s Surrey’s turn.
This month the company is offering 200 micro-lofts as part of its 371-unit Prime on the Plaza development to be across the street from the Surrey’s new city hall.
The $100-million 38-storey condo tower will take three years to complete. The units will range in size from 300 square feet to 437 square feet with a starting price of $139,000.
How does he think it will do?
“We’re expecting a good response,” said Stovell.
Reliance is in the process of presenting plans to Vancouver city hall for 294 micro-lofts in a 30-storey condo to be built at Davie and Hornby. It has to be for the rental market because Vancouver — unlike just about every major city in North America, says Stovell — won’t allow a condo to be sold that is less than 398 square feet in size.
This scuppered the company’s plans to build the city’s first micro-loft condo tower, which would have had 370 units.
“When you look at the city’s minimum size unit bylaw, it’s almost like it’s deliberately keeping a whole segment of people away from home ownership,” said Stovell.
Micro-lofts are an affordable way to enter the housing market and should be welcomed in Vancouver, he said, given the price of the average Vancouver home.
“Vancouver is a great city but it’s becoming a city for the rich. We’ve got all these young people living in Vancouver who make the city so vibrant and exciting and yet they are being shut out of the housing market,” he said.
“We’ve done our own research on all the major cities in North America — including Dallas in Texas — and they are encouraging micro-lofts, except Vancouver. … Surrey lets them happen, Victoria, Montreal, Seattle but not here,” he said.
The Vancouver Sun asked for an interview with city planner Brian Jackson or other officials in the planning department for comment on Vancouver’s minimum size condo bylaw but was told no one was available. A statement was issued from the city media relations department which said the city was monitoring the use of micro-suites in other jurisdictions to see “how well it was working for their communities.”
“We need to examine the consequences of micro-suites as there are concerns about livability, affordability and sustainability,” said the statement.
Michael Ferreira of Urban Analytics Inc. said it was hard to tell if micro-lofts were going to form a significant part of the housing market for people looking to purchase a home.
“We don’t see it as much of a trend yet,” he said. “While they are appealing to investors who can get a generally easily rentable investment unit for relatively low cost, the market for end users is pretty shallow as not everyone wants to live in less than 400 square feet.
“This could change as more are built and people see them as more acceptable but the challenge for end users is they don’t see themselves living in a small amount of space for a long period of time.”
Stovell says his company, which rents hundreds of conventional-sized apartments in Vancouver, was led into the micro-loft business by repeated requests seeking rental accommodation for under $1,000 a month.
“We’d keep seeing requests on our website, livework.ca, for anything under $1,000 ‘and I don’t care how big it is.’”
“We realized there’s an unsatiated demand out there for something like the Burns Block,” he said.
Stovell said the ‘millennials’ — persons born after 1990 — have different values than their parents who worked hard to buy a regular home outside of the city centre with all the attachments.
“Young people today place a higher value on their time. They are more interested in using things that society offers them free such as libraries, parks, and other public amenities so they don’t have to spend their own money.
“A lot of their self-worth comes from their social media network rather than ‘where do I live and what kind of car do I drive’.
“They don’t mind trading space for living in a place where they want to be. So they will choose to have a 300-square-foot home if it can be in a place they want to live,” he said.
Sam Baron, 29, has lived in the Burns Block in a 248 square foot space for two years and says he is more than comfortable.
He is a graduate student at SFU attending the university’s downtown campus, and has a job at Emily Carr University on Granville Island.
“Between working and school I’m very busy and I don’t need a lot of space because I’m not at home much. I live alone and this place is functional and comfortable and allows me to live centrally for work and school,” said Baron.
“I’ve got everything I need. All I had to bring in here were my clothes. I can find everything I need in the neighbourhood and your living room kinda spills out into the city.”
Stovell said micro-lofts are more expensive to build per square foot than normal apartments..
“It’s because we have to use high quality materials, the suites have high ceilings, big windows, hardwood floors, a wall bed, a full complement of appliances — stovetop, dishwasher, fridge, wall oven, flatscreen TV.”
Stovell said many items that used to take up large amounts of space in homes have shrunk in size.
“Your stereo and computer and phone can now all be carried in your pocket. When we did the Burns Block we felt everyone needed a desk.
“But we don’t do that anymore. People don’t use desktop computers, they sit and work with their computer on their lap and the printer is now wireless and sitting in a cupboard.”
Source: Vancouver Sun