Saanich council takes look at detached suites

Local real estate agent says suites would take pressure off housing market

With extreme demand placed on the Greater Victoria rental market, Coun. Fred Haynes is revisiting the viability of detached secondary suites in Saanich.

The region’s current vacancy rate of below one per cent is pushing up rental costs, leading to tales of employed residents living in tents.

However, detached suites are not legal in Saanich nor in much of the rest of the region except in some extreme situations.

“The lack of available suites presents a crisis for the families and individuals seeking housing opportunities in Saanich,” Haynes said. “The barriers are created by tight supply. Enabling detached suites can help. The need for rental housing requires us to act now.”

Haynes has submitted a brief report with Coun. Leif Wergeland that will ask staff to move forward on a focused study regarding detached suites. The motion made its way to council Monday night, and will act on a motion passed in October 2014 from Coun. Dean Murdock that called on staff to one day look into the legalization of secondary suites in accessory buildings in Saanich.

One estimate is that Saanich already boasts 9,000 secondary suites, the majority of which are not registered with municipal hall though Saanich has amended its bylaws in recent years to allow licensed secondary suites.

The next step is to permit the building, and inhabiting, of detached suites, Haynes said.

“There are good reasons to believe the communities in Saanich are ready for this next step.”

Saanich’s previous online and paper survey results prior to the legalizing of secondary suites showed 61 per cent in support, Haynes added.

The move is also inline with the 2015 Federation of Canadian Municipalities resolution to urge all governments to fix Canada’s housing crunch by increasing housing affordability.

Some of the parameters around legalizing detached suites are lot size, percentage of lot coverage, setbacks to property lines, height, and optimal unit size, for example, 500 to 800 square-feet, as well as the application process.

Saanich real estate agent Rajesh Chicher has witnessed first hand the spike in housing costs and spoke last week about adding housing via additional laneway cottages and other detached suites.

“We should have laneway cottages [and detached suites], even if it’s only to have extended family. It takes the pressure off the [housing and rental] market,” Chicher said. “It doesn’t have to be a gigantic home, and really, Saanich allows mansions, you see huge homes, yet you can’t put a second [detached] suite on a property.”

One strategy Saanich could consider, Chicher said, is to incentivize the construction of detached units with green initiatives.

“It could be any number of things, whether it’s a laneway house with solar panels or better insulation.”