FOCUS: Affordable housing in Surrey

FOCUS: Affordable housing in Surrey

SURREY â€” With housing prices on the rise, and no sign of the numbers slowing down, it has become increasingly difficult for Millennials to break into the real estate market. Average prices for detached properties in the Fraser Valley have swelled to $644,574 while average rents for a one-bedroom apartment near Surrey’s City Centre hover around $850 per month. For a single renter with a car, the monthly cost of living floats just over $2,000, leaving little room to save for a down payment.

As Surrey’s urban sprawl grows, young people dream of moving out of their parents’ home, and into a place of their own. Unfortunately for many, the hope remained just that – until now. The Now investigated a few alternatives for prospective homeowners in Surrey that might make the transition from basement dweller to full-grown mortgage payer a little easier.

PARKBRIDGE COMMUNITIES

When one thinks of manufactured home communities in Canada, what might come to mind are the hilarious, R-rated hijinks that the Nova Scotiabased Trailer Parks Boys get themselves into in their neighbourhood. But gone are the days of decrepit, old, 1970s-style mobile homes and unkempt communal spaces – at least for Parkbridge’s communities, including its new acquisition of the Crestway Bays, located at 8220 King George Blvd. in Surrey. It’s comprised of a progression of cul-de-sacs and communal amenities.

Through a community enhancement program, Parkbridge has been able to update existing homes and build new ones, rejuvenating the look and feel of the parks. Crestway Bays is just one example of how these communities are removing the "trailer park" stigma.

"A lot of people have this perception of a trailer park, and it’s true," said Lachlan MacLean, Parkbridge’s director of operations in B.C. "It seems here in B.C. in particular, the vast majority of these mobile home parks or trailer parks or manufactured home parks – whatever you want to call them – were built in the early 1970s. There seemed to have been building boom of them in that time. A lot of the homes in these communities date from 1973, 1974, just like in regular construction. Probably moreso because it was a less tried and proven thing at the time, but what you got in 1974 doesn’t resemble in any way what you buy today."

Instead, today you can buy a twobedroom, two-bathroom brand new home for just $79,900. Homeowner and Crestway Bays resident Don Johnson says he’s thrilled with his new home, and the community to boot. Almost on the verge of leaving Crestway Bays, where he’s been a resident for the past eight years, the allure of a new home in the park beat out the idea of living in a condominium again.

"The difference between that and an apartment is that you get to cut your grass, you step on grass, you sit on your deck, you wash your car in your own driveway, and you plant your flowers," Johnson said. "In that sense, (it’s) hard to give up and move into an apartment where you can’t turn your music up (or) watch a movie."

That’s just one of the ways that the idea of land-leasing is attractive to homebuyers in an area like the Lower Mainland, where the cost of real estate is becoming an unrealistic expense.

The concept of living at a park like Crestway Bays, said MacLean, is a bit of a hybrid concept between owning your own home and living in a strata complex. "It’s an alternative to rental apartments, or condos or townhouses, and this gives (people) a chance to own their own home without, particularly in the Lower Mainland, the prohibitive hurdle of the land costs," he said.

The real sense of community is another motivator.

"There’s a lot of the people in the community (who) know who each other are. Because it is a community and they have a common focal point of a community centre as opposed to – if I drew a line around 119 homes around my house, I’d be lucky if I could name five neighbours that I know. They do get to know each other and it is very much a community," said MacLean.

On top of having a community centre in the complex, there is an outdoor swimming pool and active social committees made up just of residents. They have their own events within the community facilities, from kids’ Halloween parties to chili cook-offs to summer barbeques, sock-hops, Christmas parties and more.

Unlike living in a 20-storey building, though, Johnson attests that he gets plenty of privacy.

"I know when I lived in my last condo, you know, you get these nice new sound systems with surround sound and all of the sudden somebody is banging on the wall – you know where the explosion in the movie just rocked their world," he said with a laugh.

At Crestway Bays, Johnson has the luxury of turning up his volume, as well as taking his dog for a walk and chatting with neighbours when he wants to.

"We have a little dog, a lot of people walk their dogs, you know, you run into the same people at the same time every day. It’s a good feeling."

QUATTRO3 MICRO-CONDOS

Slated as micro-condos, the units at the Quattro3 building by development company Tien Sher located at 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard are smaller than normal one-and two bedroom apartments.

The development started seeing sales in late 2010, with move-in dates somewhere in 2012. The condos range from 658 square feet for a one-bedroom up to 998 square feet for a two-bedroom – likely the size of most young adults’ first bachelor apartment – but the catch is, if it’s your first place, you might not have to rent.

That’s why young couple Jenna and Jeremy Sheppard (married as of June 6) bought into the mini-homes fresh out of their parents’ house – even if it meant having to keep their lifestyle and their furniture spare.

"We bought furniture that is meant for small spaces so it takes up as little space as possible so it kind of maximizes the space that we do have so we don’t have to be extreme to stay as minimal as possible," Jenna said. "We actually have more space in our condo than I imagined that we would."

The newlywed shared that she did, however, have her reservations at first.

Quattro3

"When I first saw it (when it was empty), I was like, ‘Oh my god, how are we going to fit everything in here?’ but once we started moving everything in, it kind of just worked perfectly," she said, adding that it’s still not quite large enough to entertain. "It’s pretty much a living space, if we do have people over for dinner they have to eat at the counter on the bar stools or on the couch. We definitely do not have space for a dining set or anything like that."

The condominium complex is five stories high and boasts 164 units -quite a packed building and tenants are of all sorts, according to Jenna.

"We have all kinds of people living in the building, the two people living on either side of us is a young guy like us, and an older lady that lives with her little dog," she said. "It’s a big mixture of people. There are younger people, older people, couples like us, little families – it’s a total mix."

And soon, the parking lot might be filled with Fiat 500s, as the company is now offering a brand new Fiat 500 with each condo purchase. Prices start at $213,900 and go up from there, a far cry from the $800,000 homes, which are becoming the norm in the Lower Mainland.

As for why Jenna and Jeremy Sheppard chose Quattro in the first place? Well, it’s all timing and location.

"Surrey is changing and property values go up… but at Quattro in the first place, (the pull to Quattro was that) it’s close to the SkyTrain because I work in Vancouver. That was kind of a selling point for us but we also wanted to buy into this neighbourhood because they are trying to develop and change it. We thought that it would be a good investment and that the property value would go up," she said.

NOMAD ECO-HOMES GO NOMADIC

Consider shelling out $25,000 for a new home rather than a number in the hundreds of thousands. That’s what founder and developer of NOMAD, Ian Kent, thinks the public should do. His homes come in an assembly packages – much like a piece of IKEA furniture – and can be set up on any piece of land properly zoned for the sort of thing.

"We’ve developed the design, done some market testing on it and found that there was a huge response online, through the Indiegogo campaign, Facebook and Twitter," Kent told the Now. "From there, we have advanced it to building the prototype, which was displayed at a convention downtown called Globe 2014."

While the project may have piqued tons of virtual interest, in reality, those numbers haven’t quite caught up. NOMAD failed to reach $90,000 in its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign; raising just one-third of it, but Kent decided to go ahead with the project anyway.

So far, there have only been three buyers for NOMAD, but not for lack of potential. True to its name, these 10-by-10-foot, two-storey homes can travel and be set up almost anywhere. And there are three different models for the three different kinds of locations the NOMADs can be set up in – rural, urban and suburban.

"It’s just a matter of finding the land and appropriate zoning to allow for that… and there are pieces of land with that zoning. Whether NOMAD can fulfil the biggest and best use for the land is another question. With the appropriate zoning, it would be a prime example of a pocket community," Kent said.

Smaller than the size of a trailer, NOMAD homes also work great as coach houses, which some areas of Surrey are zoned for. In an age where people in their late 20s are still living in their parents’ home, it might just be the perfect solution for first-time owning. At least that’s what Kent is hoping for.

"Our target market is really the younger set," he said. "People buying their first home, and another part of the demographic is the older generation who are now finding it difficult to bring in the income and they’re looking to sell whatever they have and get into something that’s less expensive per month."

kalexandra@thenownewspaper.com