Opinion: Suite deal no longer enough

We’re going to need more help this time around.

A couple decades ago a housing trend took hold in Delta as rising real estate prices combined with a dearth of rental units to create a secondary suites boom. Homeowners required help paying the mortgage so thousands of Delta’s single-family homes became multi-family dwellings in a movement that didn’t necessarily sit well with everybody.

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City hall did its best to look the other way, only cracking down on the illegal units if there were neighbourhood complaints, a tacit acknowledgement that suites were necessary to make things work for both landlords and tenants. It took another decade before Delta got around to actually legalizing all those suites.

We’re another decade further along and the real estate market has thrown quite a few more body blows to would-be buyers to the point where not even a “mortgage helper” is enough to make home ownership a reality. In fact, a single-family home is so out of reach for many younger people that it’s not even part of the conversation.

The trouble is that in a city where 80 per cent of the stock is made up of single-family homes, there aren’t a lot of other housing choices, and even those aren’t necessarily affordable. It was discouraging, but far from surprising, to find that a median income family couldn’t afford a Delta home, but it was really troubling to learn that just six per cent of townhouses fall within that family’s price range.  

Delta’s housing stock clearly doesn’t match buyer need and secondary suites aren’t going to get us out of the predicament this time. Instead, some tough decisions lie ahead as there’s little alternative but to redevelop. Any time you start messing with people’s neighbourhoods you’re asking for trouble, although if there’s a silver lining, it’s that much of the inventory is getting near the end of its lifespan.

We’re already seeing it happen in pockets as developers recognize what the market is clamoring for, but it’s clear that a more coordinated approach, one that takes the piecemeal nature out of the equation and provides security for neighbourhoods, is required.

Most importantly, it’s one that has to produce results by creating housing that many more people can afford.

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