In the early 2000s, as part of an Eco-Density Initiative, Vancouver homeowners started developing units on top of their laneway garages. These dwellings did not significantly alter the appearance of housing from the street and came to be known as hidden density.
Hidden density includes self-contained, smaller units on existing homes. They can either be attached to the primary house, above the garage, in the basement or freestanding.
In the past planning, Auckland legislation discouraged additional units or other minor dwellings on the same property. Converting a garage into a legitimate living space was not allowed – but now it is very much encouraged.
Hidden density is a frequently overlooked strategy for urban infill housing in high-cost metropolitan areas. It provides a unique affordable solution for Auckland homeowners to infill their land and profit under the Auckland Unitary Plan.
Let’s take a Mum and Dad scenario:
They have a site in Mt Albert with a nice villa, but it’s old, cold and expensive to heat.
We designed a model enabling them to create their dream home on their site with two new rental units.
They have now enhanced their property’s value and created a steady income stream that services the property’s debt. They also have a warm, architecturally designed home that they have always wanted. Because additional units tend to be relatively small and their amenities modest, they can be built for less than one-third the cost of comparable units in multifamily buildings.
Depending on your circumstances you may be able to borrow money from the bank by using the equity on your property.
Instead of paying off a mortgage over 30 years, as a homeowner, you have an opportunity to re-invest and create additional wealth that will protect you and your family.
This model is one that anyone with land in Auckland can roll out.
Another option, depending on the zone you are in, is to split your double-storey house in two and create flats by simply adding a kitchen and doing internal renovations upstairs. Auckland’s new planning paradigms encourage this. In certain zones, no planning permission is needed.
Encouraging homeowners to take similar small steps and positioning them as small-scale developers will go some way in solving Auckland’s housing shortage
Densification Without Demolition – How To Make Hidden Density Work In Auckland
Vancouver continues to successfully accommodate their density needs while retaining the city’s urban character and landscape.
What can we learn from Vancouver? How do we optimise hidden density and make it work for Auckland?
The key to Vancouver’s model being successful is that it can be undertaken by the majority of homeowners with access to land.
Good design is also crucial to ensuring that the infill housing successfully blends new buildings into existing neighbourhoods, particularly in streetscape interaction.
Scandinavian countries build units right on the street, keeping parking at the rear of the property. This creates a safe environment for pedestrians walking past. When lights are on, pedestrians know that there are people looking out if anything happens, as opposed to walking past rows of blank stark garages.
This type of clever design will allow infill ‘hidden density’ to occur more successfully without interrupting the character of the area.
The Density Transition
Recently we have noticed that a number of Auckland’s new mid to high-rise developments are struggling to get off the ground. What we are realising is that Kiwi’s aren’t quite ready to live in large-scale apartment developments. There seems to be a stigma around apartment living being cold, sterile and isolating. As we all know, a large number of Kiwis like their little bit of lawn and courtyard in the suburbs.
We, therefore, need to figure out how we are going to accommodate our city’s growing demands in the short to medium-term. Before transitioning into apartment living, Kiwis need to feel comfortable with the idea of living in more compact developments.
With reference to the earlier example, hidden density isn’t going to solve all of Auckland’s long-term housing needs, but it can increase neighbourhood density relatively quickly. It can also help familiarise and prepare Kiwis for compact apartment living while allowing for more affordable and diverse housing options.