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Delta pushing to create more secondary suites

Once illegal in Delta, secondary suites now are now seen as a critical component for the housing supply
Delta’s Housing Action Plan also recommends reviewing the number of suites allowed in single-detached housing forms and potentially allowing suites in other multi-unit housing forms. Schluesseldienst/Pixabay

The City of Delta has already been forging a path to create more secondary suites, a type of affordable housing the B.C. government recently promised will become more available in communities through legislation.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon last week announced that among the dozen pieces of legislation the province would table to help tackle the housing crises one of them includes making secondary suites legal throughout the province, as well as a pilot financial incentive program to help eligible homeowners build suites.

Delta over the past couple of years has been making several zoning and Official Community Plan (OCP) changes to pave the way for units, one of the strategies outlined within the city’s Housing Action Plan.

The actions outlined in the plan are based on the findings of the Delta Housing Needs Assessment, which did not have encouraging numbers when it comes to the availability of affordable rental housing in the city.

The assessment found that about 80 per cent of Delta’s housing stock is still owned, with about 75 per cent of rental stock being provided as secondary rentals, such as suites in detached homes or rented condos.

The city currently has more than 2,800 dwellings with a secondary suite occupancy permit, with approximately 75 percent of the authorized suites located in North Delta.

“Secondary suites facilitate low-impact densification as they can be integrated within mature neighbourhoods with limited visual impact on the street, which helps retain neighbourhood character while providing more rental housing options as well as provide mortgage helpers for landowners,” a staff report noted.

Three years ago, even before the action plan came into being, council approved amendments including eliminating the requirement for a minimum lot width of 49-feet (15 metres) for a house to be eligible for a suite and allowing suites on properties that can fit three on-site parking spaces regardless of parking configuration.

Council earlier this year also approved an amendment that would allow the addition of secondary suites in duplexes, following changes in the BC Building Code.

In 2019, the Building Code had been amended to change the definition of a secondary suite including the floor area allowed in a suite and the type of building that could contain a suite. The changes include permitting secondary suites in duplexes.

A planning department report noted that that while Building Code changes allows for the possibility of suites in side-by-side duplexes, row houses and townhouses, provided that there is vertical fire separation between a dwelling unit and its associated secondary suite, up-down duplexes, apartment buildings, stacked townhouses and other arrangements where units are above one another are still not permitted to contain secondary suites.

Council this year also approved a planning department recommendation to remove the minimum 33-square-metre floor area requirement for a secondary suite as well as removing the maximum 90-square-metres for a suite.

Those changes also included amending the percentage distribution of a secondary suite within a single-detached dwelling from no more than 40 per cent of the gross floor area of a dwelling to less than 50 per cent of a dwelling.

Meanwhile, almost every Delta council agenda has multiple applications involving a discharge of old land use contract for a house, applications usually involving proposals to add secondary suites.

Mostly created in the early 1970s, land use contracts were signed at the time of a property’s original subdivision and outline various development guidelines.

While basement suites are now permitted in most zones, as long as they meet current zoning requirements, properties that have land use contracts in many instances aren’t permitted to have them.

While Delta has been taking the opportunity to discharge land use contracts whenever possible, the province has stipulated they will all be terminated in 2024. All homes still under the contracts will revert to whatever the current zoning is in place for their areas.