Tiny Townhouses Proposed for Vancouver's Homeless

They make more sense than tiny houses.

Tiny townhouse project

Bryn Davidson

Bryn Davidson is known to Treehugger for his wonderful laneway houses that I previously noted may not be the answer to the housing crisis. Vancouver, British Columbia has a serious crisis now and after seeing the encampments of homeless people, Davidson has been thinking about low-cost alternatives. Davidson tells Treehugger that real estate developers get a tax break for letting their undeveloped land be used for community allotment gardens, and is suggesting that such sites also could be used for temporary housing.

"We bring a skill set that can fill a real need – sleeping shelters that can serve as a transitional stop. Tiny houses aren't legal in Vancouver but a shed less than 100 square feet and under 15 feet high is."
Tiny townhouse with suppliers
Credit to the suppliers who helped out.

Bryn Davidson

Davidson has been pitching the idea for a while, but got fed up with the city talking about the problem with no action, and says he just decided "to get on with it." He built the prototype himself with donations from his usual suppliers, his own resources, and donations from the public via Gofundme.

Assembly

Bryn Davidson

The 8'-by-12'6" units are built out of structural insulated panels (SIPs) and include a Zehnder heat recovery ventilator to control moisture buildup and deliver fresh air. The units could be built on-site or prefabricated and delivered in two pieces on a conventional flatbed trailer. They cost about $11,700 (C$15,000) to build.

Corridor between units

Bryn Davidson

There is no plumbing in the unit; the City of Vancouver is currently servicing the tent encampment with a shared bathroom module, similar to what would be used in the tiny townhouse community The idea is that it would be short-term accommodation while the city is going through the process of buying or leasing hotel rooms for permanent accommodation.

doublewide

Bryn Davidson

However, Davidson has designed a "double-wide" unit that would have a kitchen and bathroom if there were plumbing connections available.

Community

Bryn Davidson

An important question is "Why tiny townhouses and not a tiny house?" The reasons are the same ones we talk about all the time for urban housing; greater density, and you can fit more housing on a piece of land. It is also far more energy-efficient – the side walls are the biggest ones, and a townhouse attached on both sides uses 60% less energy. Sound transmission can be a problem in a wood party wall, but since these are modular, there are two complete walls and 12 inches of material between two units, so this will be better than most modern apartments.

looking up to loft

Bryn Davidson

The one complaint I had with the design was the inclusion of lofts, which I consider to be dangerous and often uncomfortable. Davidson noted that because of the 15-foot height limit, the loft was a very inexpensive expansion of space that could be used for storage or other uses that did not necessarily involve climbing ladders in the middle of the night.

single unit interior

Bryn Davidson

The accommodation here is pretty minimal, but as Davidson notes, it is meant to be transitional. The brilliance of the idea is that as it meets the definition of a shed, it's legal; and it is ephemeral, it has no foundations, so it can be picked up and moved on short notice. That's critical if you are going to install a community without a massive NIMBY battle.

Exterior

Bryn Davidson

Years ago I was involved in a proposal to build temporary housing for homeless people on the Toronto waterfront, with a very similar solution. After months of work, my partner and I sat around a big table at city hall where the head of every department laid out their reasons why it couldn't be done, whether it was health or safety or plumbing or the final nail in the coffin, that the site was on a flood plain. But in the interim, the problem has just got worse, exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis.

townhouse units in row

Bryn Davidson

Bryn Davidson has proposed a solution that addresses so many of the problems and complications faced when trying to address the problem of homelessness. Because of the unit sizes, it dances around the building code and zoning issues. it can accommodate a lot of people on a small site. And unlike a tent, it is warm, dry, and secure.

From the looks of it, Bryn and his son enjoyed their night in it too. Help him finish the project by contributing through Gofundme; I just did.

kid in front of house

Bryn Davidson