Planning committee supports new policy for converting basements into apartments

BRIAN CROSSUpdated: July 9, 2018

A proposed policy giving homeowners the right to convert basements into rental units was unanimously endorsed by a council committee Monday, despite protests from a resident who predicted the slumification of core neighbourhoods.

“I can see beautiful Victoria Avenue turning into a rental district, all those beautiful grand homes, one by one,” Caroline Taylor said, following a meeting of council’s planning, heritage and economic development standing committee. She spoke out against the proposed secondary suites policy, which, if passed by council, would give homeowners the right to create a rental unit in such locations as a basement or the second floor of a detached garage.

Proponents of secondary suites argue they would help address a shortage of affordable housing, add residents to core areas where services are readily available, make home ownership a reality for people who need help with the mortgage, and make it more possible for young adults with special needs to have a place of their own in their parents’ house.

But Taylor said the policy will lead to neighbourhoods filled with rental housing instead of owner-occupied homes. “No one wants renters in their neighbourhood,” she said. “The biggest destruction of our residential neighbourhoods is when people move out and someone else moves in and buys a large home and divides it and turns it into a slumlord house. And it’s happening all over the core.”

The number of people waiting … it’s just becoming scary

Marina Clemens, who chairs the city’s housing advisory committee which has been pushing for the policy since 2012, said she doesn’t think the policy will wreck neighbourhoods because it allows only one rental unit in a house.

“I don’t see a difficulty with some duplexes,” said Clemens, who recently retired after 38 years heading Drouillard Place. She said neighbourhoods suffer when people take big houses and turn them into lodging houses with seven or eight tenants. But that wouldn’t be allowed under the secondary suites policy.


Clemens said the new policy won’t solve the affordable housing shortage on its own, but it will give people more choices about where to live. It might help seniors downsize in their longtime neighbourhoods, or help a young family afford its first house because the rent will help with the mortgage.

“In the Drouillard neighbourhood, in Sandwich and in downtown, I think it strengthens communities to have more people,” Clemens said.

Until now, there have been only a few of these conversions because they require a costly and time-consuming zone change. The city is required by the province to develop such a policy. Under the new policy, the conversions would be a right as long as the owner complied with all the building code requirements for a secondary unit.

These secondary units would probably have lower-than-market rents because they tend to be located in basements and would be relatively small.

Ward 5 Coun. Ed Sleiman said he’s glad the new policy is finally moving ahead after many years.

“The number of people waiting for (affordable) apartments, it’s just becoming scary,” he said.


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