"Planners call laneway housing 'hidden' density. In the case of secondary suites, they speak of 'invisible' density. No one knows how many invisible housing units there are in the city; but the number on the books represents only a small fraction of what's out there. Tsur Somerville, director of the UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, is planning to do the first survey using census data. On his block alone, he reckons, at least half the houses have at least one secondary suite. Most are illegal.
Right now, the process needed to make a suite legal is time-consuming, and building-code requirements can be expensive and seem arbitrary and superfluous-especially when there's a lineup of renters who don't care about the bureaucratic details. But it's illegal to have more than one secondary suite, which is why François (pictured here) requested a pseudonym. He rents a converted barn in the backyard of an East Vancouver house that is itself divided into three suites-a fact his landlord understandably likes to keep quiet. 'We fell in love with it,' François says of the two-storey space, which has its own large deck and lots of skylights. It's smaller than most one-bedroom apartments, but has 'many advantages.' It's quiet, it's surrounded by greenery, and it's unique. "Plus, sometimes small is good-it makes you realize how little you need.'"