The Vancouver Special’s rise in popularity can be attributed to the socio-economic conditions that predominated in the late 1960’s to early 1980’s. Economic conditions such as expensive housing, and disproportionate average incomes, thus creating the need for attainable housing. In the millennium, similar socio-economic conditions began to occur and the Vancouver Special regained popularity because of the option of having a rental unit to augment an expensive mortgage while still having a large home that is easy to maintain and call one’s own.
Within the past ten years, Vancouver Specials have become very popular and many new families are choosing to buy one because of the benefits that they provide. I was able to interview a family who purchased their Vancouver Special within the last 15 years, during the time of their resurgence in popularity.
We were able to interview the new owners of a Vancouver Special and they had this to say;
Q: Why did you choose to purchase a Vancouver Special?
A: When my family immigrated from Israel in the 1980’s we came to Vancouver and at the time were only able to afford a post-war bungalow. I used to look at Vancouver Specials and see a large and new home that was a very Vancouverish item. Growing up and having friends who lived in ones I saw it as a more attainable home compared to many of the other homes on the market. When my wife and I were house shopping we were able to see how efficient they are and how spacious they are as well and, in the end, they offer the most cost-effective home purchase in Vancouver.
Q: Did the possibility of having a rental suite in the basement to help offset the mortgage appeal to you and your wife?
A: When we were looking for a house, our second daughter was on the way and we lived in a condo. We needed the space and looked at moving out of Vancouver to a suburb, such as Maple Ridge or Tsawwassen, but we did not like the idea of commuting and leaving Vancouver. With our family here, shops, amenities, Synagogues and the Jewish Community being well defined in Vancouver the idea of not having this at our doorstep was upsetting. Because of that, my wife and I figured that we could purchase a home in Vancouver and rent the basement out to augment the mortgage payments. We have now lived in this house for almost 15 years now and the basement has undergone significant change.
Q: You mentioned that the basement has undergone change, what specific change was it?
A: When we purchased the house, there were four generations living here. A great grandmother, grandparents, who owned the house, their son’s family and their grandkids. The basement had four bedrooms. We removed two and put in a kitchen and a larger living room and rented it. Now we don’t need our mortgage to be supplemented, so when they moved out, we renovated it and made it into a guest suite and also an extra living room.
Q: What do you think about the stigma regarding Vancouver specials as being ‘ugly’?
A: These were purpose built homes to maximize square footage and in the process this resulted in a rectangular design with a shallow roof. Some say its ugly, but its distinctly Vancouver, more so very East Van-ish. I like the idea of Vancouver Specials because they are able to be customized to make it truly the homeowners creation and make their home theirs. My cousin owns one similar to mine, but over time, we made changes to make it more our own. He removed a bedroom above the entryway to create a grandeur feeling of an entry way with a large chandelier, whereas I kept that and renovated the house to create a more modern feel. In the end, I love what I did, and he loves what he did and that’s what matters when we renovate our homes.
Q: Do you see yourself making any more changes to the home?
A: Personally, I want to maybe make the basement larger, maybe add a rec room in the garage. Board up the doors, add insulation and proper flooring and add a room for extra space. Also with the basement, maybe do a bigger renovation when my daughters get older and move into the basement. But for now, it’s what we want and what my wife and I imagined.