A detached vintage home at 320 Union Street in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver, B.C. hit the market back in May 2015 with a price tag exceeding even some of the homes found in the city’s more expensive Westside neighborhoods. It came as a surprise to many residents, as Strathcona has historically attracted low-to-middle class families looking to escape the Vancouver price crunch. Now, with the real estate market riding off the rails, property values everywhere are soaring, and the families in this community - like many in Toronto and Vancouver - are saying, today, they wouldn’t be able to afford their own homes.
This decrepit, 4-storey, 2,627-square-foot residential property was listed for $1.395 million (despite its complete lack of electrical and working plumbing), nearly $300,000 more than its latest property assessment value. Vacant for the last decade, it’s city designation as an SRO building - Single Room Occupancy - had deterred buyers from taking on the massive renovation. Not only is the cost of upgrading the property substantial, but, according to Vancouver SRO by-laws, the new owner would have to pay $125,000 per room to convert it back to a single-family residence. (Seven people used to live in the house at one point, so that would be an astonishing $875,000 to deconvert the property.)
Image courtesy of the Vancouver Sun
Enter Sandra Botnen: a former gymnast for Cirque du Soleil, an artist active in the arts world, and, after ponying up $1.1M, the new owner of 320 Union Street. Her vision? To keep the house as rental housing for female artists.
“I was born and raised in Vancouver, and it’s a little bit crazy to see what’s happened to the city – the liveability of the city, the cost and all that,” said Botnen. “I ended up with this property that’s an SRO, and I thought because I care about people who make a cultural contribution, I’d offer it to young artists.” -Vancouver Sun
The response to Sandra’s proposed restoration, as well as her commitment to arts and culture, has been met positively by the community. As work on the house began, many neighbours stopped by to pledge their support and express how glad they were that the property was going to be given new life. On top of that, after having been appalled at the list price, community members were relieved to learn the property will be adding to the limited amount of affordable accommodations in the neighbourhood, instead of being demolished to make way for a McMansion.
Image courtesy of the Vancouver Sun
What we at Houseporn.ca find most interesting is that what was a detriment to other buyers – the SRO designation - became an opportunity for Sandra; restoring and maintaining the house as single-room occupancy rentals for artists will be her way of giving back to the city where she grew up. Such an endeavour is especially important in a market where real estate prices are having a destructive impact on liveability for the majority of the population, and affordable housing is in high-demand.
As for Sandra, she intends to build an additional structure for herself at the rear of he property. In 2009, the City of Vancouver made an effort to increase density in its single-family neighbourhoods by allowing homeowners to replace their garages with 'laneway houses'. The bylaw allows for small infill dwellings to be added onto existing single-family properties throughout the city as part of the city’s ‘eco-density’ program, and Sandra is intending to take advantage of that. Vancouver has always been at the forefront of the laneway housing movement in Canada, as detailed in two original Houseporn pieces entitled, A Trip Down Canada's Laneway Housing and Addressing Urban Sprawl With Laneway Housing In Vancouver, BC.
You can explore some of the standout examples of laneway housing in our blog, Vancouver’s Laneway Homes By Lanefab Design/Build. We marvel at the creativity and design prowess involved in executing these types of projects - just look at the stunning snaps below! Sandra will certainly not be lacking for inspiration!
As Sandra embarks on her renovations, we applaud her patience and dedication to her long-term aspirations for 320 Union Street. After countless Buyers considered this SRO property and quickly moved on, some might question whether her romantic vision of an artist community rooted in low-rent affordable housing is truly sustainable. We do! Consider this: in early 2015, the provincial government announced an investment of $143.3 million in the 'SRO Renewal Initiative', a trailblazing venture to renovate 13 SROs under Vancouver's public-private partnership. This astonishing show of support and commitment to the perceived value of SROs included $29.1 million from the government of Canada through the P3 Canada Fund.
So, is Sandra's vision romantic? Certainly. But it also happens to share values and a forward momentum with similar significant ventures across the city.
Given the outrageous, unpredictable real estate market of Vancouver today, Sandra Botnen's courageous pioneering spirit is exactly what the city needs right now! To us, Sandra is a hero!
Posted by Steve Fudge, the purveyor of houseporn.ca and the proprietor of urbaneer, a division of Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage, in Toronto, Ontario
*Title image courtesy of the Vancouver Sun