PETER DOLEZAL: Secondary suites could be key to affordable living

There is in Greater Victoria a general consensus that there exists a severe shortage of affordable housing. The problem is bound to grow as developers find it economically impossible to develop purpose-built rental properties. Our land values are simply too high to allow economic rents to be achieved on new rental projects.

It is no secret that a simple, low-cost key to solving the problem is through the increased availability of secondary suites. Numerous homeowners would be delighted to cover $150,000 or more of their mortgage by creating a legal suite to generate extra revenue. Of financial necessity, many already have rental suites, without regard to restrictive bylaws.

Across the Capital region, municipalities are gradually coming to grips with the inevitability and benefit of legalizing secondary suites. Victoria is the most progressive – offering a grant of up to $5,000, toward 25 per cent of the cost of construction of a new suite.

Other municipalities are much more tentative in encouraging the evolution of legal secondary suites, restricting them to specific areas, often limiting them to the primary residence, and not allowing carriage homes to be built. The current hodge-podge of regulations is not only confusing and limiting, but often so frustrating to owners that existing bylaws are simply ignored by many.

Municipal administrators admit that in many areas of Greater Victoria almost every street contains homes with secondary suites, many of them illegal.

Municipalities generally have a practice of not enforcing their bylaw when investigating an illegal-suite complaint. If safety is not a factor, they often take no action other than to make a notation on the property’s title that it contains an illegal suite. If a bylaw cannot be enforced, surely it should be amended.

Due to a lack of affordable housing on the Peninsula, many businesses experience difficulty attracting employees. Although Sidney and Central Saanich have developed reasonably progressive policies, more needs to be done. North Saanich, which boasts the largest lot sizes and highest home values on the Peninsula, is still extremely restrictive.

If a property has a large enough lot size or backs onto an alleyway, what could be wrong with permitting the homeowner to build an attractive 600 square foot carriage house, or a new suite above an oversized garage?

Councils need to apply more energy and bring faster solutions to this issue, which also disguises as a major opportunity. If they do so, not only will they begin to solve the home affordability problem, both for the tenant and the cash-strapped homeowner, but also, they will reduce the existing underground economy in illegal suites, and ensure the safety of suites for their resident tenants. At the same time, they will enhance the municipality’s revenues. Why is this not a greater priority on the Peninsula, and throughout Greater Victoria?

A retired corporate executive, enjoying post-retirement as a financial consultant, Peter Dolezal is the author of three books. His most recent, The Smart Canadian Wealth-Builder, is now available at Tanner’s Books, and in other bookstores.


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