City council has passed a motion that could eventually lead to a legal secondary suite being allowed in every single-family home in Campbell River.
A staff report was presented at this week’s Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on Tuesday outlining the idea, saying that with vacancy rates at an all-time low and housing costs at an all-time high, “allowing more secondary suites in Campbell River has the potential to increase the supply of affordable housing and providing relief from high mortgage costs without added government or environmental cost.”
The report also points out that Campbell River is one of only four of 20 comparable municpalities in B.C. that do not allow secondary suites in their most prevalent residential zones, and the other three on that list are currently discussing the matter. In Campbell River the prevalent zone is R-1 (Residential One), which makes up 87 per cent of the current housing in the city.
“A number of months ago, planning staff got together and we said, ‘What can we do to make a difference to the people who want to live in Campbell River?’” Peter Wipper, the city’s director of planning told the COW this week. “And it took us all of about 10 seconds to say, ‘You know what? We need to bring forward an initiative to allow more secondary suites.’”
Acting manager of long-range planning and sustainability Chris Osborne pointed out how dire the situation is to council Tuesday.
After all, just five years ago, Campbell River’s vacancy rate stood at around five per cent.
“That’s healthy,” Osborne says. “That’s a good amount of churn and it provides plenty of options for those seeking accomodation. That rate has fallen steadily over the years to .6 in 2017 and now .5 in 2018. That’s unhealthy. It doesn’t provide options for people and, anectodtally, we’re hearing that people are taking whatever they can get, whether or not is actually meets their needs.”
Over that same period of time, Osborne says, rental rates for typical two-bedroom apartments have risen from $700/month to approximately $1,250. That’s an almost 80 per cent increase in rental rates in just five years while the vacancy rate dropped to its lowest levels ever.
Allowing secondary suites in any R-1 zoned property, according to Cleo Corbett, the city’s senior planner of housing and community development, “is an effective and efficient way to increase rental stock without building new infrastructure.
“You don’t have to build another road, another water line or another sewer line, and you can increase the housing stock within our community without expanding our footprint. That’s pretty substantial.”
And the benefit of allowing secondary suites doesn’t only help tenants, Corbett says, but also those struggling to get into the housing market now that the average price of a home in Campbell River has well surpassed the affordability of the median-income-earning family.
“People who are having trouble affording homes or affording to maintain their homes can look to a rental suite to help supplement their mortgage costs,” Corbett says.
The city’s economic development officer, Rose Klukas, told council that the dire housing situation is negatively affecting the local economy in various ways at this point, as well.
“More than ever, housing is becoming a critical component of economic development, and part of the reason is that labour is becoming a global component of development options and people will go where housing is available and affordable,” Klukas says. “At the local level, I’m hearing that, more than ever, the lack of available housing is impacting businesses. You may have seen that if you go to a restaurant later in the evening and they’re not open because they didn’t have enough staff. We’re also seeing it in that we have innovative businesses that are unable to grow because they can’t attract staff, even in well-paying positions (because of housing costs and availability).”
Coun. Colleen Evans says she, too, has heard from businesses who have offered positions to potential employees only to have the offers turned down “because they can’t find accomodation they can afford.”
But such a sudden, drastic, overarching blanket change to the city’s zoning provisions didn’t sit well with at least a couple of members of council – even some of whom voted in favour of having the bylaw drafted.
“I feel like it’s a great idea, but it might need a roll-out where we focus on one particular area – like Quinsam (Heights), for example – and go from there,” Coun. Ron Kerr suggested.
Coun. Kermit Dahl wondered if other communities who had implemented this type of change did so for all existing housing or just for new construction, “because I don’t want to see us downloading the housing price situation on the residents who have already bought homes in an area,” with the understanding that it was for single-family homes only.
Coun. Charlie Cornfield echoed Dahl’s sentiments, saying “there is a difference between established neighbourhoods and new ones,” citing numerous examples of developers or homeowners wanting zoning amendments to add secondary suites only to receive public outcry against it.
But Coun. Claire Moglove says it’s past time for council to take a serious look at a serious change.
“When you have – I don’t want to say crisis but it’s on the verge of a crisis – at a certain point, we, as the leaders of the community, need to do something.” Coun. Moglove says. “This is step one of doing something about it. I’m not going to step back from that because we fear the ‘Not-In-My-Back-Yard’ community out there. We need to move forward.”
Everyone around the table agreed that the consultation process would need to be extremely thorough and numerous neighbourhood meetings would need to be held throughout the process to ensure everyone with an opinion on the matter is heard before such a drastic change is made.
But in the end, it was decided that staff should prepare the zoning bylaw to be presented for first reading at the July 22 meeting of city council, at which point the city will begin the consultation process with the community to get feedback on the proposal.