The average cost of a detached single-family home in Winnipeg is $384,773, an increase of almost 20 per cent over last year. More than 40 per cent of Winnipeg’s population does not live in a house, and with demographics aging, ownership costs rising and new lifestyle preferences emerging, that proportion is growing.

Opinion

The average cost of a detached single-family home in Winnipeg is $384,773, an increase of almost 20 per cent over last year. More than 40 per cent of Winnipeg’s population does not live in a house, and with demographics aging, ownership costs rising and new lifestyle preferences emerging, that proportion is growing.

Less than 30 per cent of all new homes being constructed today are detached, single-family structures. In the year 2000, that number was almost 90 per cent.

Despite these trends, the priorities of those with the means and desire to purchase a house dominate how we build our neighbourhoods. The word "condo" is used as a pejorative, renters are often characterized as less important members of the community, and when anything more than a new house is being proposed, Facebook groups rally to protect the "character’ of their neighbourhood.

Walk through the old neighbourhoods in Fort Rouge, however, and you will see small apartment blocks, new and old, sitting comfortably on tree-lined residential streets. Three-storey houses, now broken into multiple apartments, have been neighbours with small bungalows for more than a century, and duplexes go unnoticed in the middle of a block.

This housing diversity allows everyone to have a place in the neighbourhood. A student renting their first apartment, seniors downsizing or a young family with children, no matter where you are in life, there is a place for you on the street. Today, we banish affordable and higher-density buildings to the peripheries of neighbourhoods. We "allow" them on the big streets, or near the parking lots of shopping centres — away from the parks, schools, outdoor rinks and other amenities we cherish in our mature neighbourhoods.

When new multi-family infill housing is opposed, the people being punished are the families who want their children to grow up in a good neighbourhood, or the seniors who can no longer support a house but want to stay in the community in which they have lived their lives. Developers will always find places to spend their money; if we stop older neighbourhoods from evolving and growing, we only push development to the periphery of the city, where costly new infrastructure, services and amenities must be created.

To guide small scale infill development in Winnipeg’s mature neighbourhoods (areas with back lanes and elm trees), a new Residential Infill Strategy has recently been unveiled. It is a plan that will begin to make our city a more equitable place for everyone, opening our mature neighbourhoods to a greater diversity of people by offering a wider range of housing options.

The Residential Infill Strategy sets criteria to guide the appropriate location of new infill, from duplexes to townhouses, low-rise apartments and lot splits, where a wider property can be divided into two. The strategy attempts to address concerns of community residents while establishing parameters that create greater certainty and less risk for developers who currently face a time-consuming and unpredictable path toward approval for any project.

Building size is often a primary cause of opposition to infill. Responding to this concern, the strategy reduces the size of allowable new projects where appropriate. Flexibility has been built into the plan, allowing each development to respond to different neighbourhood contexts, but in general, setbacks from the side and rear have been increased and allowable lot coverage has been decreased. These measures should reduce the impact of the often-criticized long, skinny house.

Flexibility has also been built into height restrictions. If a street in Wolseley is lined with tall houses, a tall infill can be built, while allowable heights are somewhat reduced in lower-scale neighbourhoods such as Glenwood. Through consultation with the development industry, planners have been careful to analyze the real-world impacts of these new restrictions, ensuring they will allow appropriate development to happen on most mature neighbourhood properties, and permit a greater range of neighbourhoods to have duplex, side-by-side and lot-splitting development.

Managing higher density and more diverse housing development in Winnipeg’s mature neighbourhoods is a fundamental component to many of the city’s policy goals and strategies. It is critical to the city’s targets for economic viability, property taxes, climate change, housing affordability, social development, public transit use and neighbourhood renewal.

Unfortunately, when the infill strategy was recently brought to city council for approval, the vote was held over in response to two recent amendments — one limiting the number of projects allowed on a single block each year, and another restricting development on streets with gravel lanes. Both inclusions appear to address the symptoms, not the disease. If gravel lanes are deteriorating, they should be paved through the street renewal budget. If construction disrupts residents on a street, stronger rules guiding construction site practices should be implemented and enforced.

Winnipeg’s Residential Infill Strategy has been carefully constructed as a cohesive and interconnected network of guidelines that attempts to find a balance between the concerns of neighbourhood residents and the city’s policy goals. Some will say it is too restrictive, others not restrictive enough. But approval of the strategy — without these or any further amendments that upset this balance, and followed by careful monitoring to inform policy evolution over time — is the prudent way forward for our city.

Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

Brent Bellamy

Brent Bellamy
Columnist

Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

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