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:

Close is an innovative tool that maps walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly neighborhoods block by block across the entire US. It is a useful travel time map for people who want to be near the amenities that matter most to them.

On it, users can filter by access to amenities like grocery stores, schools, doctors’ offices, and coffee shops.

Close is built and maintained by Henry Spatial Analysis. For full access to the map, click here.

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.

This webinar from January 2024, hosted by the Congress of New Urbanism, provides a useful overview of some of the key challenges posed by pre-approved designs for gentle density homes, but also detailed the many benefits that these can bring to a community.

Featuring insights from Edward Erfurt, Director of Community Action at Strong Towns, Jennifer Krouse of Liberty House Plans, & Allison Thurmond Quinlan, principal architect and landscape architect with Flintlock LAB (who also presented at the Small Housing Gentle Density Leaders Summit 2024).

As this accompanying CNU article outlines, the panel described the many benefits of pre-approved plans, including:

  • Increasing community familiarity and understanding of missing middle housing types, like small apartment buildings, duplexes, and accessory dwelling units
  • Encouraging higher quality design so that small developers proposing similar projects will have an easier time. If housing is expedited, there is a risk that low-quality design will boost opposition. A collection of context-sensitive building plans offers greater predictability because the architectural review is complete, Krouse says.
  • The programs are designed to reduce regulatory friction in a housing delivery system that many people recognize is overly complex. This helps to level the playing field between small and large developers, the latter of which have developed ways around bureaucratic red tape.

The famous “Painted Ladies of San Francisco", otherwise known as “Postcard Row" or the “Seven Sisters", are a row of colorful Victorian houses located at 710–720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square.

Navigate the complex landscape of America’s housing crisis with insights from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ housing policy initiative.

As housing costs soar and millions struggle, Pew sheds light on how regulations and statutes contribute to the shortage and rising prices.

Key insights:

  • Discover how Pew’s research guides policymakers in reimagining housing approaches, creating pathways for more Americans to access affordable and secure housing solutions.
  • Pew analyses outdated financial regulations, focusing on expanding access to small mortgages and ensuring safer non-mortgage financing.
  • From videos, to fact sheets, to policy briefings, this is an excellent resource hub for anyone interested in learning more about policies to address the generational housing crisis we face.

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”.

This research paper examines Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs) from an affordability lens, addressing both affordability for renters and whether or not DADUs are affordable to build.

Cities across North America are facing unprecedented challenges related to housing affordability, climate resilience and economic sustainability. In many cities, infill housing policies are being adopted in response to these issues. This research focuses on one particular type of infill housing – Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs). DADUs, also known as laneway homes, garden suites, or carriage houses, are independent rental units typically built in the backyards of single-detached homes.

Key insights:

  • DADUs offer opportunities for downsizing, age in community, multigenerational living, additional rental income, and adaptable housing across the lifespan, often considered as a form of affordable housing.
  • A policy comparison across nine municipalities in Canada and the United States identifies DADU best practices and common characteristics among municipalities with high DADU uptake.
  • A secondary analysis of Edmonton’s DADU permitting data explores the spatial distribution of DADUs concerning affordability.
  • A survey of DADU owners and prospective builders in Edmonton uncovers barriers to development, excluding tenants from the survey.
  • Policy recommendations from the comparison include reducing regulations for flexibility in DADU size, height, and orientation. This involves eliminating parking minimums, owner occupancy requirements, location restrictions, and contextual regulations tying DADU dimensions to the primary dwelling. Such measures aim to foster a successful DADU market.

Research paper authored by Ashley Salvador, University of Waterloo (November 11, 2020).

This CMHC study investigates residential projects that have overcome barriers to infill development, including development cost, public opposition, and regulatory processes.

Key insights:

For each project detailed in the report, the following resources are provided:

  • Technical specifications
  • Successes and obstacles faced from developer, resident, and municipal planner perspectives
  • Lessons learned are shared for consideration for future projects.

Selected infill projects span a variety of regional and municipal contexts across Canada, and are reflective of different scales of development, ranging from 16 condo units to 1,600 unit apartment complex developments.

Case studies include:

  • Angus, Montréal, Quebec
  • Bishop’s Landing, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Co-opérative d’habitation du Couvent de Saint-Henri, Montréal, Quebec
  • Convoy Quay Gardens, Bedford, Nova Scotia
  • Cranberry Commons, Burnaby, British Columbia
  • Fifth Street Lofts, Edmonton, Alberta
  • Garrison Woods, Calgary, Alberta
  • Gower Gardens, Gibsons, British Columbia
  • Harmony, Toronto, Ontario
  • Koo’s Corner, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Les Lofts du Pont, Montréal, Quebec
  • Les Lofts Laliberté, Québec, Quebec
  • London Lane, Guelph, Ontario
  • Parkside Mews, Ottawa, Ontario
  • Portland Park Village, Toronto, Ontario
  • Salsbury Heights, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Seagram Lofts, Waterloo, Ontario
  • Sterling Place, London, Ontario
  • The Carlings at Arbutus Walk, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • The Prince Edward, Moncton, New Brunswick
  • The Renaissance at North Hill, Calgary, Alberta
  • Waterford Suites, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Western Elevator Lofts, Winnipeg, Manitoba