This article draws on Margaret Radin's theorization of 'contested commodities' to explore the process whereby informal housing becomes formalized while also being shaped by legal regulation. In seeking to move once-informal housing into the domain of official legality, cities can seldom rely on a simple legal framework of private-law principles of property and contract. Instead, they face complex trade-offs between providing basic needs and affordability and meeting public-law norms around living standards, traditional neighbourhood feel and the environment. This article highlights these issues through an examination of the uneven process of legal formalization of basement apartments in Vancouver, Canada. We chose a lengthy period-from 1928 to 2009-to explore how basement apartments became a vital source of housing often at odds with city planning that has long favoured a low-density residential built form. We suggest that Radin's theoretical account makes it possible to link legalization and official market construction with two questions: whether to permit commodification and how to permit commodification. Real-world commodification processes-including legal sanction-reflect hybridization, pragmatic decision making and regulatory compromise. The resolution of questions concerning how to legalize commodification are also intertwined with processes of market expansion.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Basements, Canada, Commodification, EcoDensity Vancouver, Informal housing, Secondary suites, Smart Growth, Zoning
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.12337
Journal International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Note

This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: Mendez, P. and Quastel, N. (2015), Subterranean Commodification: Informal Housing and the Legalization of Basement Suites in Vancouver from 1928 to 2009. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39: 1155–1171, which has been published in final form at DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12337. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.

Citation
Mendez, P, & Quastel, N. (Noah). (2015). Subterranean Commodification: Informal Housing and the Legalization of Basement Suites in Vancouver from 1928 to 2009. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39(6), 1155–1171. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.12337