By Elise Stolte
A rental suite in the basement helped Angela Mao buy her Forest Heights home seven years ago.
That $900 a month in rent was critical for her family’s $1,500 monthly mortgage payments.
Now, as council considers extending that right to owners of skinny homes, duplex and row houses, Mao said it’s fair and the best way to bring families into the neighbourhood.
“Infill really isn’t affordable. It’s the basement suites and garage suites that make it affordable,” said Mao, who lives in an older bungalow, but watched four skinny homes and three duplexes go up on her street.
Parking hasn’t been an issue, since most homes have garages in the back, said the young mother and civics director for Forest Terrace Heights Community League. Instead, the increase in residents has helped local school enrolment, the sustainability of the local play school, and prompted two day cares to open last year.
She knows density can be contentious. Some residents of The Greater Hardisty neighbourhoods — Fulton Place, Capilano and Gold Bar just to the east — are organizing restrictive covenants to prevent any increase.
“But Forest Heights is very mixed already,” she said. “We want better transit, bike paths. We just want more people to come.”
Executive committee voted Tuesday to prepare the bylaw amendments to allow secondary suites in duplex units and skinny homes. Councillors will also consider allowing them in row housing. But because city staff are busy with other mature neighbourhood zoning projects, a report on this won’t come back until the end of 2017.
“It’s about affordability,” said Coun. Bev Esslinger, who requested administration outline the options, after hearing from several constituents with illegal suites. “They’ve been paying taxes on them, but had no idea they were illegal.”
City officials said there are potentially thousands of illegal secondary suites in duplexes and skinny homes. If they make them legal, enforcement officers can focus on ensuring they’re safe, with proper fire exits.
It’s similar to what council did in 2007 with secondary suites in single-detached homes, Coun. Ben Henderson said. At that time, it was seen as a simple way to create more affordable rental spaces.
“I haven’t heard of any severe consequences,” Henderson said.
Allowing secondary suites in duplexes and skinny homes would be an incremental step to increasing density in mature neighbourhoods, allowing up to four units where one house once stood.
By increasing the options for density step by step, council is able to assess the impact, Mayor Don Iveson said. In this case, secondary suites are going in anyway, which proves there’s a big market for them.
“We can spend a ton of resources trying to police them back out of existence,” he said. “It would be a better use of resources … to upgrade them to be safe.”