News & Updates

SFU Housing Solutions Lab advances affordability, climate and seniors’ care

February 21, 2023

Under-utilized single-family homes are a significant, untapped opportunity to create a much-needed rental housing supply on Vancouver’s North Shore and beyond, according to SFU’s new Housing Solutions Lab.

The lab—a partnership between SFU Renewable Cities and North Shore’s Hollyburn Community Services Society—has been created to tackle some of B.C.’s most pressing priorities: affordability, social isolation among seniors, and climate action.

The lab is exploring ways to support older homeowners interested in home-sharing or renting out secondary suites and who are seeking support to manage additional responsibilities, select compatible tenants and provide guidance on legal issues and troubleshooting.

The Housing Solutions Lab: North Shore Homeowners Option sees B.C.’s under-utilized single-family homes as a way to create affordable housing options while providing an attractive approach for aging in place, generating extra income, fostering social interaction and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Single-detached homes comprise almost half of all B.C. housing, and 60 per cent are occupied by just one or two people, according to Renewable Cities. In B.C., the number of single-family homes occupied by just one or two people is greater than the number of single-family homes occupied by three or more people. Most of these solo occupants are over the age of 60.

“An increasing number of senior homeowners are interested in home-sharing and secondary suites, but uptake is low for many reasons,” says Nanette Taylor, executive director, Hollyburn Community Services Society. “This lab will explore how we can provide the necessary services to allow older adults to age in place, such as rental management, renovations and repairs.”

Solo senior households are the fastest-growing type of single-family household, leaving abundant under-utilized living spaces that could accommodate renters.

“Creating a homeshare or a suite in an existing home emits far less greenhouse gas than building a new apartment,” says Alex Boston, executive director, Renewable Cities. “New units in walkable neighbourhoods near jobs, services and transit can reduce transportation carbon, costs and congestion compared to typical new housing construction.”

A housing model that offers basic services such as shopping and yard work in exchange for discounted rent could be a win-win solution. An added benefit would be providing an opportunity for social interaction to prevent rapidly rising rates of social isolation experienced by solo seniors.

If one in 10 solo or couple homeowners in B.C. added a secondary suite, it would create almost 50,000 new affordable housing units. This single initiative could take B.C. almost half of the way to meeting its affordable housing target. It would also generate new income for 50,000 senior homeowners and cut 150,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

“The Federal Government is pleased to support such an innovative project that connects the dots between housing affordability, climate action and seniors’ health,” says North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson and Federal Minister of Natural Resources. “I am optimistic that the solutions developed here can be adapted and replicated across Canada.”

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has contributed catalytic project financing to the Hollyburn Community Service Society. Additional funding partners include Vancity and the North Family Foundation.

The Housing Solutions Lab runs until 2024 with workshops and interviews with seniors to identify barriers, solutions and roadmap to scale solutions province-wide.

Quick Facts

  • In B.C., the number of single-family homes occupied by just one person is greater than the number of single-family homes occupied by three or more people. (Renewable Cities with Statistics Canada data, 2021)
  • Almost 60 per cent of B.C.’s single-detached homes are occupied by solos or couples. This share is rapidly growing. (Renewable Cities with Statistics Canada data, 2021)
  • 60 per cent of B.C. single-detached homeowners are over the age of 60. (Renewable Cities with Statistics Canada data, 2021)
  • Secondary suites and homeshares are essentially new, near-zero carbon housing units, as the unoccupied space already exists. Creating a new unit in an existing underutilized home reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated two tonnes per unit relative to building a new apartment unit. (Renewable Cities data)
  • If units are created in walkable neighbourhoods near jobs, services and transit, occupants can avoid additional transportation carbon (~1 tonne/unit), costs (~$3000/unit) and congestion (~3,000 km of driving/unit) every year relative to the location of a typical new housing unit. (Renewable Cities data)