Reflection

What makes a neighbourhood lovey?

... the presence of a human scale.

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10 May 2017

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When you hear words like ‘charming’, and ‘lovely’, you don’t always think of a presentation from Ottawa’s planning department, but Alain Miguelez, Program Manager with the City of Ottawa, is clearly passionate about the potential for coach houses beyond their form and function. Miguelez brought a personal and informal tone to what could have been a data-driven conversation on April 18, 2017 when Synapcity asked “What Would it Take for Coach Houses to Have an Impact on Housing in Ottawa?”

Coach houses are secondary, detached dwellings on an existing lot. They offer diversity to our housing stock, options for elderly who may not wish to move, and space for young adults who are incubating their careers. The City regulates the size of the detached building relative to the primary home and the lot, mandate that water and sewer are shared through the primary residence, and encourage building without a driveway.  These controls are intended to promote transit within the downtown core by gently densifying along existing transit routes which should in turn ease pressure on our ever-increasing urban boundary.

Our Synapcity audience provided great energy and diverse lenses to the conversation, describing the possibility of multiple lots participating and sharing resources to build, attaching units through shared walls creating little neighbourhoods within neighbourhoods. They highlighted the number of cultures which value intergenerational learning and support that could benefit from this model and model a different attitude towards aging.

Miguelez challenged our audience to think of how coach houses could offer Ottawa its own unique architectural language. For a long time, infill development was the only policy option when hoping to densify the urban core, but now with coach houses we can think more creatively. And since these units are exclusively rentable and not sellable as individual units, the City hopes that it will address, in part, the current ‘Missing Middle’ in Ottawa’s housing market.

Top 5 / Hot 5: What Would It Take for Coach Houses to Have an Impact on Housing in Ottawa?

If I am a local lawmaker, I can monitor and evaluate the effects of coach housing against the intended outcomes, while thinking creatively about how they might be used for micro-retail in the future as well as complement existing rental units.

If I am an individual, I can consider how a coach house might serve better than my lawn. I may also think creatively about how my parents and my children could live more independently while still accessing a support system. I may pay more taxes but my property value may also increase significantly, and the increase in cost can be offset by rental income.

If I am an investor, I might think creatively around the potential social impact bonds for building coach houses and see how it measures against population health in the elderly and intergenerationally, immigrant and refugee population, social mobility for low-income families, and influences on sense of belonging.

If I am a business person, I may have interest in working with realtors who have a progressive point of view of how to ease pressure on the urban boundary while supporting greater access to affordable housing.

If I am an existing coach house, I should offer myself up to extensive media coverage and open houses so that other people can see how versatile I am.