In Surrey, affordable housing options equals family-friendly

As real estate rockets, other Lower Mainland cities make changes to lure families squeezed out of Vancouver Vancouver Sun June 8, 2015 - Two years ago, Alisa and Vivek Ramakrishnan were spending more than $2,000 a month on a cramped two-bedroom basement suite with a half-office in Vancouver’s pricey Kitsilano.

So the couple upped stakes and moved their family to south Surrey’s Morgan Crossing, where they now rent a four-bedroom townhouse — almost twice as big as the basement suite — for the same price.

“It’s like a little Yaletown,” Alisa Ramakrishnan said. “We have room. We can fit our stuff in here. And it’s a little bit slower paced, too.”

The decision to move from Vancouver to Surrey was a no-brainer for the Ramakrishnans, who immigrated from India and settled in Vancouver to be closer to Vivek’s work. They needed more space to raise their two young daughters — one is in elementary school, the other in preschool — and there were more housing choices south of the Fraser River.

The Morgan Crossing neighbourhood has shops, schools, parks and amenities nearby. Most importantly for Ramakrishnan, it’s been easier there to make friends with other stay-at-home moms.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends (in Vancouver),” said Ramakrishnan, who worked as a geneticist before having her children. “When we moved down here, there were a lot of displaced people ... professional women who were taking care of their kids. It’s fun. In Vancouver, you have to work, you can’t stay home. It’s hard.”

Surrey has long been a draw for families, credited mostly to its variety of housing types and more affordable prices. Twenty-seven per cent of the city’s population is under 19, and the Surrey school district is B.C.’s largest.

Indeed, the average number of families in Surrey rose by about 19,310 between the 2006 and 2011 censuses, compared to just over 7,000 in Richmond during the same period. In Vancouver, however, the number of families with children increased by only 100.

Surrey has been actively building more townhouses, secondary suites and highrise apartments to serve the growing demand for family housing across the city, said Jean Lamontagne, Surrey’s general manager of planning.

In the year to date, for instance, Surrey has issued $486.1 million worth of residential building permits, $220 million more than the same time last year. Of those, 187 permits were issued for single-family homes, while 217 were for single-family homes with a secondary suite and 118 were for new townhouses — mostly in areas like Morgan Creek, Guildford and City Centre.

There were only three permits issued for highrise apartments, and last year none were issued.

“It’s the market that’s going to dictate the type of housing,” Lamontagne said. “We look at the typical housing we have across the city. We’re not at the point where we have to direct what kind of housing has to be delivered.”

But while Surrey has no problem luring families, other municipalities are looking at ways to keep them. Vancouver has just begun considering options to provide more affordable housing for families, while cities like New Westminster have gone a step further, becoming the first city to mandate minimum percentages of three-bedroom units.

Beverly Grieve, New Westminster’s director of development services, said the city brought in the new measures after hearing concerns from families living in cramped conditions or not being able to find a bigger home