Lone parent families and the suburban experience: making alternative suburban living environments a reality

TitleLone parent families and the suburban experience: making alternative suburban living environments a reality
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsCauduro A
Academic DepartmentPlanning
DegreeMaster of Arts M.A.
UniversityUniversity of British Columbia (Canada)
CityVancouver, BC

There is a growing concern that traditional suburban tract developments, because they were designed with only the nuclear family in mind, are simply unable to meet the alternative needs of a growing number of non-traditional family types and households now found in these same areas. In light of this view, this study examines whether or not the particular needs of the lone parent family are, in fact, being adequately met within post-war suburbia. The study finds that the physical configuration of traditional suburban neighborhoods actually inhibits the fulfillment of the lone parent familys basic needs such as access to adequate and affordable housing, social integration, social support, accessibility, and mobility. Given these limitations, researchers have devoted considerable attention to the exploration of alternative suburban housing developments and community options for this group. Findings conclude that higher density neighborhoods containing shared resources, collective services, integrated uses, a variety of building forms, and a social mix are likely to be beneficial for lone parent families (as well as other non-traditional family types). Unfortunately, to date the implementation of such alternatives is not occurring on a large enough scale to reflect the dramatic growth of lone parent families. This is due, in part, to market-failure. The lone parent family, because of its low income profile, simply cannot register effective consumer demand within the private market place to meet its special housing needs. In addition, local zoning polices, which are biassed towards the construction of large single family, detached homes on large lots, were found to inhibit the construction of innovative housing for lone parent families (and other non-traditional households).Current zoning practices, for example, effectively discourage developers from exploring a range of possible housing options and alternatives, and in the process, limit the choice of housing stock, type, and tenure available to the general public. Local zoning policies, therefore, must become more flexible and allow for the construction of a range of possible housing alternatives. To increase flexibility a number of recommendations are made: amendments to the assessment of development cost charges, single family zoning polices, zoning density calculations, floor space ratio calculations, and parking requirements, as well as the implementation of a more intensive public information campaign. Such changes are intended to facilitate the construction of smaller, compact, denser, and integrated housing and community developments. Canadian federal housing policies, too, tend to overlook the needs of the lone parent family. Housing policy in Canada, for example, has traditionally favoured home-ownership programs for middle class families, despite growing demands for much needed intervention in the rental sector. Intervention in this area, when it has come, has been largely in the form of market-welfare initiatives. While such policies have worked to stimulate housing supply, they have been largely ineffective in terms of providing direct, long term affordable housing to those most in need: low income Canadians. Social-welfare polices, on the other hand, although used less frequently, represent the only form of direct rental housing supply benefiting this segment of the population. Government housing policy in the future, therefore, should focus more on social-welfare rather than market-welfare initiatives when considering the housing needs of low income households within the rental sector. Research and resources directed towards social housing initiatives such as cooperative and non-profit housing are recommended, at least within this particular sub-market. In conjunction with such polices, more attention will need to be given to actual land tenure considerations. The idea of linking housing supply policy with land tenure polices is central to the long term success of social-welfare initiatives. The establishment of a national community land trust system represents one mechanism by which housing supply and land policy could be linked. The land trust would ensure that affordable rental housing once built, will remain in the rental sector into the long term. Not only would the trust guarantee the preservation of existing rental stock, but it would also ensure the long term continuance of cooperative and non-profit forms of tenure.