2011 Residential Development
City of Victoria, British Columbia
Making Secondary Suites Easier
The City of Victoria has a long history of permitting secondary suites in older and larger homes. Historically, building permits, rather than rezoning, were required to construct suites in houses that met the Zoning Bylaw’s existing conversion regulations. Legally converted suites have traditionally made up more than 10 per cent of Victoria’s housing supply.
Nevertheless, extremely low vacancy rates, rising real estate prices and a lack of new rental construction in a city where 60 per cent of people are renters, resulted in increased public pressure to further relax existing restrictions on secondary suites. The city responded by modifying its secondary suite zoning and regulations to enable easier addition of secondary suites in existing homes.
The city piloted the changes in one neighbourhood, with extensive consultation with citizens and stakeholders, before expanding them to the community as a whole in 2007. The new zoning regulations allow secondary suites to be added in houses of any age, without requiring additional parking. Victoria also altered the city’s approval process to give priority to secondary suite permits alongside affordable and non-profit housing applications.
The initiative evolved to include B.C.’s first Secondary Suites Grant Program, which offers homeowners municipal grants of up to $5,000 to cover 25 per cent of the construction costs of new secondary suites. The city also developed a set of Secondary Suite Design Guidelines to assist homeowners in the decision-making and installation process. The combined initiatives have facilitated the construction of more than 100 secondary suites over the past four years, enhancing the city’s housing supply while preserving existing green space and urban boundaries.
- More than 100 secondary suites have been installed since 2007, compared to only nine units in 2006. In comparison to building 100 publicly funded rental suites, the cost savings is estimated at more than $13 million.
The service demands of secondary suites, such as waste, water, sewage and transportation, and subsequent environmental impacts, are expected to be much lower than alternative dwellings constructed in suburban or greenfield locations.
- Secondary suites have reduced vehicle use and increased the use of recreational facilities and services, while maintaining neighbourhood character and allowing citizens to age in place.
- Residents now benefit from an increased housing supply and greater dwelling options, as well as the opportunity to offset housing costs with additional income from secondary suites in their own homes.