Blog by Mark Longpre

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Big city, small condos

VANCOUVER -- It could be the start of a new reality-television series: Call it "Big City, Small Condos."

Two Vancouver property firms are expected to formally announce Monday the million-dollar creation of 30 so-called "micro-lofts" in the Downtown Eastside.

At approximately 270 sq. ft. — about the size of two municipal parking spaces — the market rental units will be the smallest in the city.

Reliance Properties Ltd. and ITC Construction Group (builders of the Woodward's project) are behind the project, part of the redevelopment of the historic six-storey Burns Block at 18 West Hastings.

The official media launch of the project is scheduled to take place Monday. It will the first chance to look at artist renderings of the proposed suites, as well as view historic photos of the century-old building.

John Stovell, general manager of Reliance Properties, said there's a strong need for more affordable rental units in the downtown area.

"So many people contact us, not with a specific size they want, or specific amenities, but they tell us where they want to be in the neighbourhood and how much they can pay. So often that amount is just not achievable for anything but a very specialized product like this," he said.

"By cutting away the non-essentials, that is the only way to get to that price-point in Vancouver," he said.

Stovell was reluctant to give away too many details ahead of the launch, but he said the units were "very beautifully designed" with bathrooms, kitchens and built-in bed.

The ceilings will also be higher than normal "so that it doesn't feel cramped."

Stovell said designers looked to Asia and Europe for inspiration.

"These types of sizes, quite honestly, don't shock people in other cities. I think it's a learning curve here," he said.

The project was approved by city council in 2008.

Geoff Meggs, Vancouver city councillor, said he was looking forward to seeing just what the units will look like, and would reserve his opinion on the project until then.

"The units are small, but the point of the exercise on Monday is to give people the sense of what is to be done there, and give people a full look," he said.

Whether the project will start a trend toward smaller spaces in Vancouver will "depend a bit on public reaction," Meggs said.

Tom Durning of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre in Vancouver said there's no doubt more market rental units are needed, particularly in the city's downtown core, where the vacancy rate is below one per cent.

"Any rental housing is good housing these days," he said.

According to TRAC, the average price of a bachelor suite in downtown Vancouver is $923 per month.

Further to the east, near the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, rental bachelor suites are slightly cheaper, at about $725/month.