Duane Laird wants to build you a laneway house for free.
The catch? (Because you knew it was too good to be true.) Laird gets the rental income for 12 years before handing over the keys.
The local businessman came up with the idea to address Vancouver’s affordability crisis while looking for a tiny home himself.
“I live in an apartment right now, but I would like an independent home,” he said. “If you did this, I think you’d have a lineup of people who wanted to live in the city.”
On his website, freelanewayhomesvancouver.com, Laird outlines the steps he’d take if he found a willing property owner. First, the property would need to be evaluated to ensure it could support a second dwelling. The businessman figures more than 25,000 Vancouver properties fit the bill.
If the property was suitable, Laird would enter into a contract with the property owner, who would essentially hire him to build a laneway house. Instead of paying him, however, the property owner would agree to let Laird control the rental income for a period of time, about 12 years.
At the end of that time, the debt would be deemed paid, and the laneway house would be at the property owner’s disposal.
As Laird put it: “They’re lending me their backyard for a time.”
The contract would also make provisions for several possible scenarios, such as the property owner deciding to sell the property partway through the contract, or a family member wanting to move into the laneway house.
Laird would have final say on the home’s design as it needs to stay within his budget, but he’s committed to collaborating with the property owner to ensure it fits within the neighbourhood. He’s already chosen a company to supply the prefabricated steel.
“When people build (laneway homes) themselves, they tend to make little jewel boxes,” he said, admitting “I’m not really interested in cherry hardwood floors. That’s not how you make money.”
Laird said he has enough capital to build several laneway homes, and he believes he could interest private investors if his idea took off.
He cannot finance the construction with a bank loan because he would not actually own the property.
Asked why a homeowner would agree to his scheme rather than building a laneway home themselves, Laird said many Vancouver homeowners are already overextended or at their credit limit. “This is a way to do it without having to pay for it.”
Laneway homes have been identified in the city’s Housing Vancouver affordability strategy, which will be voted on by council next week.
Along with the creation of a $2-billion affordable-housing fund, the plan is focused on increasing density in single-family neighbourhoods. City staff have recommended duplex zoning in formerly single-family zones, as well as changes to zoning regulations for the laneway house program, which would make it easier and faster for property owners to build laneway homes.
The city predicts about 4,000 new laneway homes will be built in Vancouver over the next decade, 50 per cent of which are expected to be two-and three-bedroom units suitable for families.
More than 3,300 permits for laneway houses have been issued since the program was introduced in 2009, according to the city. About 90 per cent of all laneway houses are built in conjunction with a new house, likely due to construction affordability, while about 45 per cent of all new houses are built with a laneway house.
A city survey found most laneway houses take less than one-and-a-half years to develop and cost under $300,000.
Increasing the housing supply, including the creation of a “greater diversity of housing options in our low-density neighbourhoods” is a key component of Vancouver’s affordable housing strategy. The goal is to make half of the 72,000 homes built in the next 10 years affordable to households with incomes of $80,000 or below.