Canada’s Smallest Rental
December 29, 2011

Canada’s Smallest Rental

Micro-lofts and Housing Affordability

Burns Block is an innovative market rental housing project built by Vancouver companies Reliance Properties and ITC Construction Group. Located at the site of the historic Burns Block in the Gastown neighborhood of the Downtown Eastside, the building dates back 100 years and is on the Vancouver Heritage Register. The building features 30 self-contained affordable furnished market rental suites or “micro-lofts.” Suites range from 226 – 291 sq. ft., making them the smallest in Canada. The spatially-efficient design contains built-in, pull-down wall beds with integrated folding tables, flat screen televisions, compact appliances, ample storage and built-in safes for storing valuables. Typical rental value for each suite is $850 per month, including cable and Internet, and starts as low as $760 per month. The building is 18,000 sq. ft and has five floors. The majority of occupants are between the ages of 25 and 35 and include students and those working in the heart of the downtown area.

While the former use of Burns Block was for a Single Room Occupancy hotel (SRO) with shared facilities, suites in the redeveloped building each contain a “wet” bathroom and full kitchen. The building also features a rooftop garden, basement gym, bicycle storage and several environmentally-friendly elements. The Bitter Tasting Room, owned by Heather Hospitality Group, is conveniently located on the ground floor of the building, which also includes 1,421 sq. ft. of future retail space.

The social entrepreneur partnership between Reliance and ITC is an effort to restore the building and to pay tribute to its history. Reliance purchased the building in 2007 after the former SRO was closed by fire officials in 2006. The unprecedented development model was negotiated with Vancouver City Council to provide heritage incentives and vary the minimum apartment size to enhance affordability. ITC joined the project in 2009 to complete the construction work and find cost savings in the complex heritage reconstruction. The project was completed in late August 2011 and all suites were rented and occupied by September 2011.

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Elektra - December 29, 2011 Reply

They should really do the same thing here in Manhattan and Brooklyn…a ton of students and young professionals would die to have such a place, me included!

liz - December 29, 2011 Reply

this needs to happen in california. living costs are incredibly stupid here, and to have options like this in college towns and beyond would make life a lot easier for a lot of people.

    HalibetLector - December 29, 2011 Reply

    It’s already happening in California. I live in a building called “The Studios.” It’s a building full of studio apartments about the same size as the ones in the article. It’s not quite downtown (SOMA, near the caltrain) but it’s close enough to be desirable for startup employees. The cost is significant though, $1400/mo.

      HalibetLector - December 29, 2011 Reply

      Sorry, should have specified I live in San Francisco.

Michele - December 29, 2011 Reply

Marvelous! Totally makes sense, too, for young, single folks. Almost makes me wish I was single and in my twenties again… almost, but not quite. 🙂

mandy - December 29, 2011 Reply

The rooms look great, but what the article leaves out is how in order to build the most expensive little apartments in town, the former residents were evicted from one of the few buildings in Vancouver that was still affordable for low income people.
This project put a lot of already marginalized people out on to the streets.

    Irene - December 29, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for presenting the other side. It would be nice if this could be done without harming anyone’s way of life. When I lived in DC, when they were upgrading areas for nice shopping close to office space, people were put out of their homes to make the area high-rent. It’s hard to see when you are close up.

    frank - December 30, 2011 Reply

    Not so. As stated in the article, the previous SRO hotel was closed down by the fire department as it had become a fire hazard. The building was vacant when purchased by the developer who restored the building.

Claire Rudkins - December 29, 2011 Reply

These look fantastic – I wish the UK would catch up with some of these ideas. Would LOVE something like this…

Hope Henry - December 29, 2011 Reply

Expensive by our cost of living standards (I live in Texas and my house, with taxes and insurance, is much less expensive), but the layout and attractive decor make these well worth looking at…a way to get ideas to use in our inexpensive, self-built homes. I like the use of space in the bath…small, but it doesn’t look like a public restroom stall. Also like the storage arrangement on the shelf above the kitchen in the first picture.

Victoria - Ozarks Crescent Mural - December 29, 2011 Reply

The building is gorgeous and those are really low rental costs for Canadian cities.

    terminalcitygirl - December 29, 2011 Reply

    Just wondering if you have a source for your comment? This is not a cheap rent for 250 squre feet in the most expensive city in Canada. We rent 850 square feet (1 bed +den) in a west side neighbourhood that is MUCH better than that neighbourhood with insuite laundry and a dishwasher, secure parking, etc… for $1400. The rent multiple is 1.65 vs 3.4 for the downtown eastside microloft. That’s outrageous!

terminalcitygirl - December 29, 2011 Reply

This is gentrification on steroids. Rooms that used to be bug infested and house $300p/mo welfare recipients have been reno’d to $850 p/mo and upscaled tenants. But nobody should be fooled that this is affordable. It isn’t. $850 is a lot of money for a service industry worker or student in a town where the min wage fluctuates between $8-$12 p/hr. This is in a very noisy area in Vancouver’s notorious downtown eastside. the design isn’t bad for folks who like tiny but these are defitely 1 person abodes and WAY overpriced.

    frank - December 30, 2011 Reply

    They don’t seem to be aving any trouble renting them at those prices. And they could accomodate 2… this site has featured couples living in tiny houses on wheels smaller than these apartments.

      terminalcitygirl - December 30, 2011 Reply

      I expect they may have trouble renting these in the future – there will be significant turnover and they aren’t good value for the city. They are a novelty now but the ‘hood/ location is very noisy with a perfect view of the drug and shoppingcart/homeless scene at Pigeon Park. My impression from the couples living in most tiny homes is that they have at least some land beneath their house (often a good chunk) which “extends” their living space – not so here. This is not to say a couple couldn’t do it, of course they could, especially shorter term. As a pied-a-terre in the city (ie: a second or short-term place) the idea is appealing. I like the design and especially the built-in furniture, I think that coupled with the novelty is what is driving initial rentals.

        Nathan Lemmon - September 3, 2012 Reply

        These living spaces are great for the under 30 crowd and the over 50 crowd. People commute for the children. Before the kids arrive and after they’re off to college, this kind of living makes a lot of sense.

deborah - December 29, 2011 Reply

I like them but not the rent. Not for that sq. ft-age.

dan rapson - December 29, 2011 Reply

I am all for small houses in rural or suburban areas. However, this is a wonderful example of what can really be done where the population centers are being redeveloped!

Be well; peace…dan

lee smith - December 29, 2011 Reply

This is exactly the sort of flat I’m looking for at the moment. Brilliant finish and packaging and yet doesn’t look remotely cramped. And 550 quid for a city centre place is pretty good too. Shame they’re not building ’em like this around my neck of the woods!

Deek - December 29, 2011 Reply

Very nice- its like any studio apartment in Boston though- but less expensive (and more modern). I like the space use.


BigGoofyGuy - December 29, 2011 Reply

I think it would definitely be a welcome site in New York City where the cost of living is very high.

I would not mind seeing it in New Jersey. It is not easy to find affordable housing or apartments.

It would be neat to see how much it is without some of the features (like the big television).

alice h - December 29, 2011 Reply

Downtown Vancouver vacancy rate is about 1.2%, city average studio rental is $840, 1 bedroom average is $990. Downtown studio average is $979, 1 bedroom $1,144. Minimum wage here is $9.50, going up to $10.25 in May. Originally they were planned to rent for around $650 which would have been pretty good for the area. Current rents are less than they could be, though admittedly for a smaller space than most, but still not affordable for 1 person on minimum wage. You would need to make almost twice that for these rents to be considered “affordable” which translates into no more than 30% of income for housing according to CMHC. Technically they are “affordable” but not for those with the lowest level of income. I don’t think it was ever promised they would be, and this is something of an experimental model for now.

Bronwen - December 29, 2011 Reply

It’s really interesting to see the different reactions to the affordability of these little units depending on the city people are from. These units have been creating quite a bit of controversy here (Van), for all the above reasons. The design is fab, but I wish they could have actually made them affordable for Vancouver, not New York.


cj - December 30, 2011 Reply

It is mentioned often on this blog that the tiny house ‘movement’ seems to have driven up cost of small living. This is a good example. Take something not producing desired income; give it a facelift and rename it ‘tiny’ living…voila. There are people living in monthly studio motel units and as such, are frowned upon. But if you take the same building and make it ‘intentionally small’ and charge more rent, it becomes fashionable.
I see it now in the rentals that are posted on the sight. Properties that are not that desirable in the typical rental arena are now being listed as ‘tiny homes’ for rent. The sale ads also feature run down camps that are not salable for more than a pittance but now they are being listed for outrageous prices.

    Christine Ferguson - July 29, 2013 Reply

    Quality of the nice small space apart, how easily the public is conned. I am pleased to see so many astute comments regarding value -v- non-value/fake value. With regard to income ratio most property rentals are way too high; on the other hand many renting owners have been faced with big bils for abuse of their property. Needs all sides to be reasonable and realisitic. Humans gotta long way to go…. Enjoy the blogs…..

Barb - December 30, 2011 Reply

I think the apartments look wonderful – clean, new, bright. The rental rate doesn’t surprise me.

As for “affordable housing” it doesn’t seem to fit the bill for the US. A full time worker earning minimum wage brings home about $1k per month. $850/mo is 85% of total income. If we want to build truly affordable housing, the rent needs to be 30% of minimum income, or less.

Bob H - December 31, 2011 Reply

Alot of good comments and opinions. Small living is not always geared towards minimum wage and the working poor. Students may have a nice trust fund or a Mom & Dad paying the rent. I like these units. As far as the rent if you think its high go somewhere cheaper. Investors do not buy and rehab buildings for free.

Neil C - December 31, 2011 Reply

This is a great idea, I love it. I think the ‘affordable’ label is for the location, not a minimum wage income. The tiny house movement is not linked explicitly to low income earners in my view.

Please bear in mind the company renovating this building (which was empty due to fire officials closing it, as above) does it for profit, not as a charity.

Also, the renovations with murphy beds, etc, come at a cost, which needs to be recouped. Most small living spaces usually come at a higher cost per foot than larger builds.

David - December 31, 2011 Reply

Whenever this forum celebrates the work of developers I turn off. Tiny houses are for tiny budgets, with a view to living well within your means. The “ideal” is a tiny house that you built yourself and is fully paid for, a la Thoreau. In my case I have achieved a position where I can easily survive on $50 a week in a house I built myself on a cheap block of land full of home-grown vegetables and totally off grid.

CD - January 1, 2012 Reply

I will quote a saying from Eastern Europe: “Fool is the one who pays, not the one who asks the price…” Those prices are a bit steep, but then again, you can always chose the van by the river…

emme - January 7, 2012 Reply

Guess I’m looking at this through different eyes. This floor plan could easily work as a small mother-in-law/accessory dwelling cottage.

If there was concern the Murphy bed might be cumbersome for an older person, a small bedroom could be added at one end, and it would still be nicely compact home.

    alice h - January 7, 2012 Reply

    A single daybed or davenport that converts to a double if needed might be more practical for someone living alone. It’s nice to have some couchlike thing to sit on during the day and a person could have a small folding table or one on wheels (with brakes). It’s also nice not having to convert back and forth for daily use functions. I’m sure there are electric Murphy beds, likely with remote controls too if it came to it.

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Montreal4Life - January 17, 2012 Reply

I have seen places like this in NYC but this is the first of its kind that I have seen for rent in Canada. It seems to work well for individuals, students and such, that don’t need a lot of space and want to live closer to the heart of the city without paying a small fortune.

Siobhan - February 10, 2012 Reply

Thanks for giving floor-plans – I was hard-pressed to figure out how they would put 6 apartments per floor onto that building.

Very cool!

Haley - February 18, 2012 Reply

This post has been featured on my blog 🙂

Angela - September 11, 2012 Reply

I wish we had buildings like this in Virginia and as affordable.

Tyler - June 19, 2013 Reply


My name is Ty. I am a 32 year old sales professional working approx 5 blocks away. I am active and enjoy the outdoors but want to live somewhere close to work. I am very quiet and very clean!


Verne - July 2, 2013 Reply

I’m trying to go smaller and cheaper. I pay ~$1050 for a 2 bed, 1 bath condo in Seattle (750 sq.ft). The apts. in Vancouver might be in a higher valued area than where I live, but it seems to me that the occupants are not winning here (though they may learning the value of simple living)

Magpye - August 13, 2013 Reply

Part of the ethos of tiny living seems to be cutting the cost of maintaining and paying for the standard sized homes by cutting down on the square footage and the stuff that fills it. These micro lofts do that.
But the other part of tiny living is to free up more of one’s time and energy by having a lower cost of living and thus be able to create that dream job or only work part time. That is what is missing for this particular development.
I like the design work and I think much the same thing could be done if a motel/hotel just took out the big beds and replaced it with a mini kitchen and a Murphy bed.

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