Secondary suites is a bloody boring name for the best thing to happen to affordable housing in Kingston for a long time.
Secondary suites basically means homes with jobs - a home that pays the mortgage because it's designed with a built-in apartment. And with growing affordable housing needs, an aging population, and concerns about urban sprawl, this type of double-duty home has found growing political support as a workable solution.
Secondary suites received the official blessing of the Ontario government in the recently enacted Bill 140 Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act, 2011. The act recognized them as having benefits in creating affordable housing options, providing affordable and convenient living arrangements for seniors, and enabling increased residential densities to support efficient land-use patterns for servicing and transit.
Kingston is now following suit to pave the way for the integration of secondary suites - in-law suites, accessory apartments - whatever you want to call them - by recommending a secondary-suites pilot project be launched in the Cataraqui West area, west of Bayridge and north of Princess St. This is a "greenfields" area - new subdivisions still under construction.
But here's where the problems start. Secondary suites are needed throughout the city. While there are concerns from city staff about the increased demands for services and parking, other knowledgeable voices are suggesting these concerns are being over-stated, especially when apartment buildings destined for student housing are still getting approval in the downtown core where water/sewer capacity is supposedly a concern.
Affordable housing advocates, who know the politics at city hall, suspect that this lukewarm nod to secondary suites, is a way of avoiding the complexities and controversy of introducing these suites city-wide.
And while secondary suites will be not be prevented in the rest of the city, approvals will be only granted on a case-by-case basis. Property owners must apply for site-specific zoning bylaw amendments. This stacks the deck against secondary suite applications.
These secondary, or accessory, apartments, are defined as separate dwelling units consisting of a separate washroom, kitchen and living area, located within the same building as the primary unit, and not exceeding 40 per cent of the floor space of the primary unit. The units are often, but not always, located within basements of single detached, semi-detached, or row house dwellings. But the basements must meet building code, and bylaws. For example, the basement must be a minimum of 50 per cent above ground and have appropriate windows and exits.
City council voted on April 17 to defer approval of the secondary suites plan until staff could gather further information on. Affordable housing advocates, who addressed that meeting, will speak again to the motion at the May 15th council meeting.