The much-discussed “missing middle” refers to multi-family housing, like townhomes and duplexes, that has decreased in popularity in much of North America. In response to the need for building and innovation in this category of housing, Sam Ganong and Kyle Ryan launched Formwell Homes in Victoria with an ambition to “bring more family-oriented housing to the city.”
Why did you start Formwell Homes?
(Sam) The desire to start Formwell Homes was really to focus on more family-oriented housing in the City. We see other companies and developers doing it when an opportunity comes up, but nobody really has that focus — we just see such a need in the market. It is definitely challenging to create these forms of housing, like townhomes and other attached dwellings.
We’ve got young families, I’ve got two kids, Kyle has three kids. If that single-family home isn’t really a broader option anymore like it once was, something is going to have to take up that demand, and we feel that’s definitely the townhouse topology.
(Kyle) I had earlier this year left a larger development company that was focused quite a bit on condos, and I’m not really as passionate about that as I am around family-orientated housing. The focus on family-friendly housing, and that missing middle where you’ve got a lot of young families and not a lot of housing options. That focus is definitely where my passion is.
How do you approach creating a space to grow?
(Sam) It’s really based on our own and the personal experience of friends. One thing that we’re making sure that we incorporate is enough bedrooms to accommodate the modern family, but also layering on top of that. People are obviously working from home, so making sure that there’s a dedicated space that can be flexible — your home office can also be a media room, something that you’re not sacrificing in order to gain something else. Embedding that that kind of flexibility into our design and the floor plans is at the front of our mind, even as we’re going through the design process with architects and interior designers — trying to figure out how families can legitimately grow and stay in the homes.
(Kyle) Seeing how families evolve, but not necessarily geared only towards that demographic by any means. Townhomes serve as a great option for all sorts of forms of families. And forms of families aren’t always just going to be your prototypical two parents and two kids anymore — there’s a lot of different versions of what families look like. It doesn’t always just mean you’re in a one-bedroom condo downtown or a single-family home in Fairfield. There’s a lot of other different forms of housing that need to be available to people.
What are prime areas for these kinds of housing?
(Sam) Where you’re close to existing amenities, whether that’s schools, shopping, downtown, grocery stores, parks, anywhere that is within close proximity to existing amenities.
(Kyle) Around areas with rapid transit or the high-density traffic areas where you’ve got major thoroughfares like bike lanes and bus routes. Those type of areas that create alternate modes of transportation for people to get around easily is where we should end up focusing a lot of density.
You take a human-centric approach to designing these spaces. What influences that approach?
(Kyle) We built just over 800 homes in our combined experience [at other companies]. I was always heavily involved in the homeowner care world and the after-sales. After folk moved in I made a point of actually going and sitting in with homeowners, whether they would call me or not. I asked them: How do they enjoy their home? What do they like? What do they don’t like? What should we do again? What should we change? And over the years of listening to the feedback, trying to incorporate those things — they’re golden nuggets. Hearing it from the people that are living in the homes themselves, and being able to incorporate them into the next project.
What do you want to be different about your spaces? How do you want people to feel in them?
(Kyle) A lot of it comes down to the lifestyle that I believe in and that I’m passionate about, around healthy living. Whether it’s the amenity-rich location or parks, schools and walking paths by alternate modes of transit, or grocery store and nearby schools. It’s also the things that we put within our homes.
We’re EV (electric vehicle) ready, solar-ready. Some of the personalization options that we’ve been trying to incorporate and we’re going to incorporate even at Washington are things like built-in include bike racks, kayak racks, or paddleboard racks. We have garden boxes for each home. Having different options that aren’t just greenwashing, but are lifestyle choices.
(Sam) It comes with choosing the right design team that has that similar mindset — that similar want to create better homes at the end of the day, and not just do what is proven to be successful. They want to lead the industry a little bit and do better.
When you come in your front door, you want to have a place that you can sit and put on your shoes and drop your keys — just a little storage cubby or something which is often completely neglected. Making sure that there are double vanities in the ensuite. Not everybody does, but it’s just such a simple design consideration that makes life in these homes easy and enjoyable.
Townhomes that we’ve seen in terms of competition are often just kind of these, these drywall boxes that have a kitchen in them, and there’s no real-life or personality behind them. We’re really trying to create t homes that have a bit of character and that are going to age really well.
Your Washington Project opens up access to an underused but beautiful green space — Cecelia Ravine Park, just off the Galloping Goose. How are you improving access?
(Sam) The City of Victoria just invested a lot of money in that park, which is beautiful now. With our application, we have given a right of way through our property, which will provide one of the last two remaining access points for the neighborhood to get down to the park and the galloping goose. They’ll be able to cut through essentially the middle of the neighborhood, which will be a nice, dedicated pedestrian and cycling path down to the galloping goose.
How do you find the right kind of land for these types of homes?
(Sam) It is very challenging on all fronts. Trying to find land in somewhat amenity-rich areas, especially in a fully developed city like Victoria, means that you’re buying existing single-family homes to then redevelop into townhomes.
There are two main problems or challenges with that.
Trying to get two, three, or four lots in a row has its own challenges and is just very difficult. The price of that existing single-family home is so high and trying to find landowners or homeowners that are motivated to sell in any capacity [is a challenge].
On the approval side, municipal governments are starting to align and realize that, yes, we need this type of housing. Unfortunately hasn’t fully translated into policies. So there’s a disconnect in terms of the actual ability to get these types of projects approved.
What needs to change to make it easier?
(Sam) The simple solution is to update the zoning bylaw to reflect the Community Plan. I think, you know, councils are generally hesitant to do that. That would eliminate the constant need to battle out individual applications time and time again — continually leaning on the Community Plan. It’s still taking months and years to get these things from vision to just approval, let alone, build it and have families and people move into these new homes.