“If you want to create a secondary unit, it has to be done with a (building) permit, and it has to be safe.”BRIAN CROSSUpdated: July 6, 2018
The city is poised to make converting your basement into a legal apartment much, much easier.
Proponents say this new secondary suites policy — if approved by council — could result in “great things,” including:
- Help address a severe shortage of affordable rental housing.
- Add residents to core areas where services and amenities like public transit, schools, roads and sidewalks already exist.
- Make it more possible for young adults with special needs to have some privacy and independence while living close to parents.
- And make home ownership more attainable for people stymied by the current climate of rising prices and competing bids. Income from a rental unit would mean extra help paying a mortgage, taxes and other expenses.
“It gives some hope, especially to young people, newly married, or people looking, saying ‘I want to own a house,’” says Marina Clemens, who chairs the city’s Housing Advisory Committee, which for years has been pushing for such a policy. It goes to council’s planning, heritage and economic development standing committee on Monday.
That nice little secondary suite would be ideal
The policy gives residential homeowners the right to create secondary rental units in such locations as a basement or on the second floor of a detached garage. Because the owner has to adhere to building code requirements, the result should be a “decent, affordable apartment,” according to Clemens, who recently retired after 38 years heading Drouillard Place. These secondary units would probably have lower-than-market rents because they’d tend to be located in basements and would be relatively small.
She noted that almost half the people on the 4,700-name Central Housing Registry waiting list are singles and seniors. Many don’t have a car, they may be on fixed incomes like disability or Canada pension. And they’re just looking for somewhere to live.
“For them, that nice little secondary suite would be ideal.”
City of Windsor senior planner Greg Atkinson said the new policy would make it “a lot easier” for these secondary units to be created. Up until now, it has taken a rezoning, requiring a four-to-six-month process that costs about $5,000 and depends on city council approval. Only a few of these rezonings have been done in the last 15 years, he said.
But in recent years, cities including Toronto and Guelph have instituted secondary unit policies to encourage homeowners to add rental units. The provincial government then directed other municipalities to do the same thing.
While adding a secondary unit would become a right under the proposed policy, Atkinson said it isn’t a “free pass.”
“If you want to create a secondary unit, it has to be done with a (building) permit, and it has to be safe.”
The proposed Windsor policy requires that the secondary unit be no larger than 1,076 square feet and cover 50 per cent of the home’s gross floor area; a parking space be provided, except for homes in the old core areas where there’s often no driveway; and that basements be outfitted with measures like sump pumps and backflow prevention valves to guard against flood damage.
Chief building official John Revell cautions that creating a legal apartment in a basement won’t be cheap and easy in older homes whose basements were never meant to contain living quarters. He said a homeowner will need to hire a professional designer to determine what’s needed to meet the numerous building code conditions.
“The whole thing has to be brought up to code,” he said. “It has to be insulated, fire proofed, proper alarms, proper windows, ventilation, ceiling height, electrical systems and another means of egress,” in addition to the unit’s main entrance.
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Revell has seen units created by digging out the basement floor or raising the house, but those are expensive projects.
“If you’re going to get $800 or $900 a month, but you’re spending $60,000 to create a secondary unit, how long does it take to pay if off? Is that a good return on investment?”
But for a young person with a developmental disability, the chance to move into your own apartment while still being in your parents’ house, is a really helpful option, said Colleen Mitchell, a member of the advocacy group My Home, My Choice Group. She said the new policy is “extremely important” for parents and their adult children, who usually have limited income to pay rent.
“It just provides a bit more of a separation and a sense of independence and the person has control over their own front door.”
With vacancy rates under three per cent, and unprecedented waiting lists for affordable housing, finding an apartment “is very, very difficult for many folks,” said Housing Information Services of Windsor and Essex County executive director Anna Angelidis, who hopes the new policy will result in more affordable units.
“It’s not going to be the answer to affordability issues and the demand for affordable units, but it will help.”