Secondary suites will now be permitted in most Chilliwack neighbourhoods dominated by single family detached homes.
The unanimous council vote Tuesday at city hall capped off more than a year of in-depth study on secondary suites, with the urgent goal of creating more affordable housing for Chilliwack.
“We are hopeful that these zoning amendments will ease some of the pressure on Chilliwack’s housing supply,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
The impetus for the shift in policy and zoning rules is partly the record-low vacancy rates and skyrocketing house prices, which have increased the desperate need for affordable housing, in Chilliwack and across British Columbia.
“In order to preserve and increase the supply of available and affordable housing, the City of Chilliwack has changed its zoning regulations to permit the rental of secondary suites within the R1-A (One Family Residential) Zone,” according to a release from City of Chilliwack.
Coach houses and garden suites will also be permitted in the R1-A Zone, after obtaining development and building permits.
In the past the secondary suites were restricted to use by family members of the property owners. Now they can be rented by non-family members inside a single family home, or separate as in the case of a carriage home, garden suite or laneway house in R1A zones.
Existing secondary suites, estimated to number more than 1,200, won’t face code violations or fines, as city officials will not be seeking them out if they were built before May 15, 2018.
“Given the number of existing suites, the need for affordable housing, and staffing constraints to
undertake a large scale program of inspection and legalization, a Council policy is proposed to not
seek out illegal secondary suites that existed prior to the date this policy is adopted,” the staff report reads.
“Any new suites constructed after the adoption of the policy will be required to be built with a building permit, to
ensure building code requirements and floodplain regulations are met or be subject to bylaw
enforcement and compliance which could result in decommissioning of the suite.”
The just-approved Secondary Suites policy sets out the new approach to existing suites and the construction of new secondary suites. The new policy won’t bring the existing ones into conformity, but rather will outline what is permitted, and where. At this point bringing illegal suites into compliance would involve rezoning, and could cause more homelessness, according to the staff report.
In conjunction with the zoning amendment, the City has established a development permit process for regulating the form and character of coach houses and garden suites.
City officials will no longer be responding to complaints about the existence of illegal rental suites, but will continue to respond to emergencies and hazard concerns. While secondary suites will be permitted, residents are reminded that no secondary suite is technically legal unless it is built with a building permit and meets the BC Building and Fire Code and current flood protection requirements.
New secondary suites will not be permitted in floodplain areas, but coach houses could be considered as an alternative rental option.
The dire need for affordable housing was underlined in the City’s 2016 Homelessness Action Plan. Before recommending zoning amendments and the Secondary Suites Policy, City staff undertook a comprehensive review of policies and practices in comparable communities and conducted extensive community consultation. Feedback from meetings, an online survey and interactive booths at community events helped shape the new policy.
“We thank all the residents that participated in the community consultation process. The input provided was invaluable and helped shape the policy in a way that best reflects the needs and desires of our community,” said Mayor Gaetz.