Micro co-op design wins ‘missing middle’ housing competition

Vancouver- and Richmond-based architectural firm Haeccity Studio has won an open design competition seeking innovations to improve the supply of “missing middle” housing in Metro Vancouver.

The design competition was run by urban dialogue group Urbanarium, alongside a series of debates on how to increase the supply of housing that works for average local families – rather than the extremes of expensive detached houses or too-small condos.

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Described as “micro-ops” – a contraction of “micro co-ops” – Haeccity proposes using single-family lots for three-storey buildings comprising six or seven homes of various sizes. The buildings would not overwhelm neighbouring houses, and could be built in two structures separated by a shared courtyard for communal outdoor living. Inside, the one-, two- and three-bedroom units could range in size from 525 to 1,350 square feet.

Under the winning proposal, the site would not be developed by a development company and sold as condos/townhouses or rented to tenants at market value, as is the current norm. Instead, six or seven households would join together to buy the site and develop the “micro-op,” which they would jointly own as a small multi-family rental complex. They would then lease it back to themselves for as long as they wanted to live there.

Competitors in the contest were randomly assigned one or two theoretical single-family lots in either Vancouver, Port Coquitlam, Burnaby and Surrey, and were asked to provide a concept based on municipal plans and bylaws. Haeccity was assigned a single-family lot in Burnaby on which to work up a design.

Haeccity partner Travis Hanks said in the Urbanarium competition entry presentation (scroll to 28:30 mins) that a “big part of our discussion was about co-ops, and the sharing model, and economics of tenure.”

Hanks concluded his presentation with the question, “Can we as a society carve out a space for households based on friendship that can be both a valuable economic model and also a healthy social model to follow as we all build cities together?”

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