Growing pains. Children have them. Families too. And so does our city. According to the city census, Edmonton’s population grew by 7.4 per cent between 2012 and 2014. More people means more housing is needed. By 2018, city council wants 25 per cent of new housing to be infill in mature neighbourhoods.
Infill is less expensive as infrastructure and services are already in place. It reduces commutes, saving on transportation infrastructure and pollution. It also saves farmland from being eaten up.
City council continues to make bylaw changes to spur development and increase density in mature neighbourhoods. The goal is attractive, liveable, and compact communities. Many Edmontonians have been resisting and often fighting city council’s infill push, especially when it comes to lot splitting.
The fact is that infill can create long-term problems in mature neighbourhoods.
Although the city’s policy documents imply otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be any way to control or direct development.
There is nothing to stop every house on a block from being torn down and replaced with duplexes. This happened to a number of streets in Eastwood during the 1970s and 1980s. In the last few years, four duplexes have been built on the 92 Street and 116 Avenue block. This changes the landscape of mature neighbourhoods and often not for the better.
Our neighbourhoods have a wonderful diversity of houses with a variety of finishes and colours. But we seem to be at risk of losing many of our historic houses and turning into another vinyl village of beige and grey. My neighbour moved here because of the mature trees. Infill often means razing all the trees on a property because it’s easier to plop a standard design down than do a custom design to incorporate existing trees.
One purpose of increasing housing and population density in mature neighbourhoods is to decrease commutes and increase the number of people using transit. Even if you take transit or bike to work, you most likely still own a vehicle (or two) that need to be parked somewhere.
In mature neighbourhoods, many garages are not suitable for parking or people use them for storage, so many people park on the street. Our streets are narrow, often with parking only on one side. Most schools have inadequate parking and many are now used for other purposes, flooding nearby streets with staff and client vehicles.
Now add new triplexes, duplexes and secondary suites to the block and you have even more parking pressures. A neighbour a block over has complained numerous times about a duplex with illegal basement suites that at times has a dozen or more vehicles taking up most of the street parking.
In June, city council asked administration to draft bylaw amendments to reduce parking requirements from two spaces to one space per dwelling. Meanwhile, parking requirements for some commercial areas and zoning uses may also be reduced and parking variances are already frequently granted. Foresee any problems?
Every family needs housing they can afford. One of the oft-touted benefits of infill housing is affordability.
The small houses in our neighbourhoods, fixer-upper or renovated, are affordable to many. But developers buy up our small houses, demolish them and build larger houses or duplexes. The new property is often $75,000 to $125,000 more expensive. It also inflates property taxes, which can push lower income or fixed income families into crisis.
To make matters worse, most people looking for an affordable home cannot compete with developers when it comes to purchasing properties. Developers often have the inside track and can offer cash deals with no conditions.
Income from a secondary suite can cover half to three quarters of your mortgage payment. This is what allows many buyers to enter the housing market for the first time and can end up costing less than renting.
Unfortunately, infill seems to be making developers and investors richer instead of providing affordable home ownership.
I know first hand, both as a resident and community leader, how an influx of new homeowners moving into a neighbourhood, fixing up houses, enrolling their kids in local schools, shopping, and getting involved in the community spurs revitalization.
Matthew Kaprowy, president of Accent Infills, states in a Metro News article that the infill market is a strong and reliable investment even in an economic downturn. That’s the problem! Investors are buying and renting out more and more infill houses, especially those with two units. Council is also considering allowing secondary suites in skinny homes and duplexes, which will push the number of units per lot to four. An investor’s dream!
More rentals and absentee landlords hinder neighbourhood revitalization and some landlords will use the new bylaws to create higher density problem properties.
IN THE END
This isn’t to say that we should stop infill in mature neighbourhoods, but the consequences of these changes need to be well-thought out, residents’ concerns need to be considered, and the city must do what it can to mitigate the issues in each of these areas.
Header Image: It’s important to consider long-term consequences to infill. Credit: Karen Mykietka