Guides and How-Tos

Supporting the evolution of our single-detached neighbourhoods can be daunting, so Small Housing created the Gentle Density Network as a space where local government planners can tackle these collective challenges together.

Through the Gentle Density Webinar library, you can dive deep into the world of gentle density housing with insights from top experts from government, industry, and community sectors.

Explore cutting-edge practices, unpack emerging trends, and stay ahead of the curve with the latest gentle density insights. You can access the full library of webinars here, and can sign up to the Gentle Density Network here so as to stay informed on upcoming events.

The below is an extract from Small Housing’s Gentle Density Housing Bylaw Guide: A pathway for local governments, a guide that aims to provide local governments with a roadmap for changing their zoning bylaws to allow gentle density housing, based on experiences from jurisdictions leading the way. It was developed with support from CHMC.

Key insights:

Zoning bylaws across Canada vary widely in structure and content, reflecting applicable legislation and calibrated to the local conditions of the communities they serve to regulate. This diversity of bylaw formats makes adopting a ‘one-size fits- all’ Gentle Density Housing zone inappropriate in most circumstances.

Rather, as the below charts outline, bylaw changes must reflect local conditions, while allowing more flexibility in the housing options that are permitted in residential neighbourhoods. Some communities will have the resources to do extensive research and background work as part of a detailed approach to zoning reform, and others may choose to take a simpler path in adopting basic zoning parameters that will support gentle density housing.

There is value in learning from the approaches already in use by leading communities, and the table below provides precedent infill zones in select larger municipalities in British Columbia and Alberta.

This Guide aims to provide local governments with a roadmap for changing their zoning bylaws to allow gentle density housing, based on experiences from jurisdictions leading the way.

Drawing from the experiences of local governments in British Columbia mandated to enable gentle density housing, and sharing the wide range of approaches that could be taken, the Guide provides technical and procedural insight from basic zoning bylaw amendments through to a suite of regulatory changes to make it easier to produce gentle density housing.

Key features:

  • An example work plan for the zoning bylaw update; 
  • Discussion and critical questions to ask around key zoning parameters such as setbacks and parking; 
  • Insight into other bylaws and policies that should also be updated to achieve a cohesive framework; and
  • Example precedent gentle density housing zones from Kelowna, Victoria, Coquitlam, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

Key insights:

In November of 2023, the province of British Columbia released their “Homes for People Plan” that drastically reduced zoning and municipal barriers to the creation of gentle density homes. In summary, new legislation requires all local governments in British Columbia to update their zoning bylaws to allow up to three to four units in all single-family zones and up to six units for properties with frequent bus service.

This resource, developed by the province, is intended to help local governments and their community members understand the legislative changes introduced related to small-scale, multi-unit housing (SSMUH).

Note: The information in this tool kit is for guidance only and is not a substitute for provincial
legislation. It is not legal advice and should not be relied on for that purpose.

Key insights:

This Small Housing guidance paper presents research findings from interviews, focus groups and a multi-stakeholder roundtable, including the participation of industry experts, building officials and key government representatives to unpack current barriers to adoption and explore approaches to accelerating the use of offsite construction to grow gentle density supply.

This guidance paper provides background information, identifies key barriers and offers recommendations in seven areas:

  1. Government Initiatives
  2. Industry Collaboration and Knowledge Building
  3. Municipal Toolkits for Offsite-Ready Local Governments
  4. Offsite-Ready Construction Financing
  5. Pilot Studies for Modular Streamlining
  6. Standard Design Catalog and Design Competition
  7. Enterprise Zone Incentives

Key insights:

This Small Housing Guidance Paper presents recommendations that will assist various actors involved in planning, designing and constructing energy efficient buildings, especially as it relates to new gentle density development.

It provides background information and identifies challenges and recommendations in eight key areas:

  1. Building industry productivity and collaboration
  2. Expertise gap in building sector
  3. Training and skills development
  4. Standardization and process improvement
  5. Challenges with legislation and bylaws
  6. Focus on embodied carbon
  7. Energy modeling and verification
  8. Infrastructure and utilities

Key insights:

The United States foreign-born population has quadrupled since the 1960s. In 2021, one in seven US households were headed by a foreign-born resident. Around half of these foreign-born residents have naturalized as citizens. Foreign-born residents comprise a growing share of the United States housing market: research projects that foreign-born households will become the primary source of new housing demand by 2040.

This literature review synthesizes previous research on the key barriers to and strengths of immigrants in becoming homeowners.

This report was authored by Sharon Cornelissen and Livesey Pack.

Key insights:

Manufactured housing holds promise as an affordable form of housing that could expand homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income households.

This report, from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, reviews the available literature to assess the principal barriers to greater adoption of manufactured housing, including:

  • lingering negative perceptions of the quality of the homes despite notable improvements in quality over time;
  • zoning and other land use regulations that limit the ability to site these homes in many communities;
  • market conditions that erode the cost advantage of manufactured homes; the unique nature of the supply chain for these homes that makes it difficult for consumers to obtain homes in many urban areas;
  • and limits on access to affordable financing.

This report was authored by Christoper Herbert, Alexander Hermann, Daniel McCue & Chadwick Reed.

The Infill Challenge Best Practices Summary from the City of Kelowna provides an analysis of leading edge policies, processes and projects in infill housing, and gives us the opportunity to learn from them.

Key insights:

The Best Practices Guide is intended to provide leading edge examples of infill housing from across Canada in the areas of process, development, and policy and regulations. The key lessons from each of these areas can be used to inform the Infill Challenge project as it unfolds in Kelowna.

Samples include:

Process:

  • Engage stakeholders early
  • Follow an objective, transparent process
  • Use data and research to clarify needs and objectives

Development:

  • Encourage the use of place-based design
  • Ensure that lane access and a grid network are in place
  • Require that front doors face the street, where possible

Policy & Development:

  • Use clear language (no jargon)
  • Support the process with strong visuals
  • Consider context-based zoning regulations and guidelines

Based out of Melbourne, Future Homes offers a useful blueprint to consider in the delivery of pre-approved designs.

Facilitating the construction of enhanced gentle density dwellings, Future Homes was developed by the Department of Transport & Planning in Victoria and offers four distinct sets of site-less designs available for purchase, each boasting unique styles, layouts, and designs.

Key insights:

  • Pre-approved designs simplifies & streamlines the planning process for citizen developers and related actors
  • Pre-approved designs provide a versatile and customizable approach to apartment construction
  • Can play a central role in fostering better and more adaptable living spaces for diverse communities.

Image to the left shows Design Strategy Architecture with IncluDesign‘s “Future Homes Design A”.