May 15, 2018 11:41 pm

New report looks to ease rental crisis by allowing Peterborough homeowners to build suites

Housing advocates applaud city council for addressing rental vacancy crisis.

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City council endorsed a report regarding secondary suites on Monday night at city hall, that would open the opportunity for homeowners across the city to make room for one- or two-bedroom apartments in their homes.

The initiative is being spearheaded by the provincial government but here in Peterborough, the report is being hailed as a major support measure to ease the lack of available housing options across the city.

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Peterborough is currently experiencing a housing crisis — at one per cent, the rental vacancy rate is amongst the lowest in the country and making it nearly impossible to find an affordable apartment in the city.

Brad Appleby, a city planner presented the 25-page “secondary suite” report to council and suggested the policy is already in place in other municipalities across the province.

“The province wants us to be permissive, they don’t want us throwing up unnecessary roadblocks for these,” said Appleby. “They want us to allow these kinds of suites in both existing neighbourhoods and in new neighbourhoods.”

The provincial legislation aims to reduce the amount of red tape for homeowners and give the green light to go ahead and build these units in existing homes.

The secondary suites or in-law suites would be capped as two-bedroom units and would require room for one parking spot –except in the downtown core where parking would not be required.

There’s hope the new bylaws will help stimulate the rental market and motivate homeowners to consider opening apartments.

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“How are we going to create hundreds of units in a very short period of time?” asked Sarah Burke, CEO with Habitat for Humanity Peterborough and Kawartha Region. “This [Secondary Suites report] will do it. This will do it tomorrow. We have landlords and we have households lining up looking to put secondary suites in.”

John Martyn is a longtime housing advocate and vice-chair of the Mount Community Centre — he applauds city council for moving forward with the secondary suites report but says it’s not just an apartment issue and was cautious in speculating whether the changes in bylaws would have any major impact at all.

“The cost of rent and the cost of providing a reasonable and affordable accommodation is contingent on incomes, and the cost of renting far exceeds the income level that people have here,” said Martyn.

The latest Stats Canada numbers show that 53.6 per cent of renters in Peterborough spend 30 per cent or more of their income on rent, and Martyn says the majority of renters just can’t afford the going rates.

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“This issue is far more complex than simply having a place to live,” he said. “It’s tied into incomes, its tied into food security, it’s tied into whether people are employed or unemployed, it’s tied into the level of social assistance people are receiving.”

Martyn would like to see the secondary suites report rolled out as a pilot project first, to allow the city an opportunity to get the right homeowners on board and to monitor the situation but advocates like Burke suggest these bylaw changes have been a long time coming.

“We have people coming here constantly looking for affordable housing,” said Burke. “But it’s also the degree of desperation that we are seeing — they literally don’t have anywhere to sleep tonight. They can’t even find something they can afford, let alone a place they can’t afford.”

The secondary suites report will come back to council next week for final approval.

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