Victoria considers encouraging secondary suites, easing rules

With vacancy rates hovering near zero, Victoria city staff hope to encourage more homeowners to either consider building a secondary suite or legalize their existing one.

“We’re going to need to rethink, as a community, what a single-family dwelling looks like and is, and what it’s for and how it’s used, if we want to preserve the agricultural land [in the region] and have more housing affordability,” Mayor Lisa Helps said.

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Staff are recommending removing barriers to development of secondary suites through such measures as allowing secondary suites in duplexes or in small-lot housing, or allowing basement suites on properties that have a garden suite.

Council is also being asked to consider programs or events “to provide a safe and welcoming environment” for homeowners to ask questions about developing a suite or what would be required to bring an existing suite into compliance without fear of city inspections or fines.

Staff are suggesting that the city increase awareness of the benefits of secondary suites through a communications campaign about proposed changes.

“I think they are great recommendations,” Helps said.

“I support them and I look forward to seeing them implemented.”

Helps said the changes, in part, would eliminate unnecessary duplication in the existing process.

The staff report notes that there is “an extraordinary demand” for rental housing in Victoria.

“With a vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent, the city requires much more stock than is currently available, with an especially significant need for family units,” it says.

“Secondary suites have the potential to provide some of this much-needed supply; therefore, it is in the city’s interest to allow as many of these rental housing units as possible.”

The report said 35 permits for secondary suites were issued in 2015.

“If current restrictions were relaxed further, it is conceivable that this number could considerably increase in coming years, contributing significantly to the rental pool,” said the report, which council will review Thursday.

The report stops short of recommending reintroduction of the city’s grant program of $5,000 per unit toward creation of new secondary suites, but it said staff have identified incentive programs “as a future consideration that could ‘jump-start’ secondary suite development.”

Staff are recommending the city do away with city “Schedule J” secondary suite regulations, which govern such issues as minimum floor areas, parking and other building alterations, while preserving the schedule’s core elements elsewhere in zoning.

The city is currently consulting with the public on recommendations to remove the necessity of rezoning applications for garden suites (also known as carriage houses or laneway houses).

If approved, garden suites would then be permitted in all residential zones.

While all of the existing requirements for size, setbacks and height would remain in place, the changes would streamline the process to make building garden suites more attractive.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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