Illustration of a brown character home fronted by small trees

Character Home Zoning Review directions look to add housing and incentives to retain older homes

No changes to new home builds proposed

“Providing home owners with these types of incentives supports the City’s goals of increasing housing supply and reducing demolition of livable homes," says Gil Kelley, the City of Vancouver’s chief planner.

March 7 2017 –

Supporting the addition of new housing while providing incentives for retaining a character home are the key directions emerging from Character Home Zoning Review. 

City staff provided an update to Council today that summarized the main highlights of what we’ve heard through recent public consultation and feedback from stakeholders, studies by consultants, and analysis by staff over the past several years. 

Importance of character homes

The Character Home Zoning Review was initiated as part of our Heritage Action Plan in response to growing public concern over the loss of character homes in the city.  

A character home is defined as a home that:

  • Was built before 1940
  • Meets established criteria for original features
  • Is not listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register

Character homes are an important component of neighbourhood identity and vibrancy and retaining them also helps meet greenest city goals.

The review is exploring ways to encourage the retention of character homes in single-family neighbourhoods (areas zoned ‘RS’) in Vancouver and improve the compatibility of new homes in older neighbourhoods. 

Incentives to retaining a character home

Some of the ideas being explored include:

  • Allowing an owner who retains a character home to increase its floor area
  • Convert it into a multi-unit residence and/or add infill housing

These new units could be for family use, rental, or potentially strata-titled if a character home is retained. 

“Providing home owners with these types of incentives supports the City’s goals of increasing housing supply and reducing demolition of livable homes.  It can create new rental housing units, possibly even strata-titled units, while retaining the character of the home and neighbourhood,” says Gil Kelley, the City of Vancouver’s chief planner. 

Staff have heard generally strong support for these kinds of incentives for homeowners who wish to pursue them. Additional directions being explored include refining and updating the character home criteria and providing more support for retention through grant programs and processing improvements.  

What we've heard

Over the course of the review, we have also heard concerns over an idea to reduce the allowable size of new homes being constructed in certain areas so that they would fit better with neighbourhood scale and to improve the attractiveness of the incentives for retaining a character home. Economic analysis of this idea showed that it could impact the size and number of secondary suites in new homes and single-family land values. 

These concerns, along with city-wide issues around housing supply, options, and affordability in Vancouver, are also informing the review.

The emerging directions are to pursue the addition of optional incentives in single-family zones for character home retention, but to not make zoning changes that would affect new home size or unit types. Instead, future reviews of new home construction in single-family zones should be aligned with our Housing Re:set work program. This update will include a coordinated review of questions around the future of low-density areas and meeting housing needs across Vancouver. 

Staff are continuing their analysis and preparing a report with recommendations for Council to consider in April 2017.  No decisions have been made at this time. 

Learn more about the review and provide feedback