A better fit
Council lowers minimum house size in line with Ontario building code in bid to spur more affordable homes
With affordable housing placed atop the County’s priorities over the next two years, council has been looking for ways to address the issue.
This includes working with Prince Edward Lennox and Addington Social Services (PELASS), which provides money and programs for those who are on Ontario Works or who have low incomes, and to encourage new affordable housing builds.
It also includes a request for proposal (RFP) set to come out this spring, seeking developers or others who will take on the old Wellington arena to convert it into affordable housing.
At the moment, planning department staff are also studying other ways to encourage an increase in housing stock and development, whether it’s for those struggling to afford shelter, or simply to increase the County’s population.
For Picton councillor Lenny Epstein, who sits on the affordable housing working group and PELASS, some changes are so easy to make, they don’t warrant sitting in queue with the planning department’s other priorities.
Like the minimum size a dwelling must be before the planning department approves it.
Currently, the minimum in the County is 75 square metres: just over 800 square feet.
While it is not uncommon for a municipality to prescribe a minimum size for residential dwellings, the legal minimum is dictated by the Ontario building code, which is much more flexible.
Minimum size there is dictated by the size and number of rooms, and may be as small as 300 square feet.
Last Thursday, Epstein brought a proposal to remove the minimum size for a newly built dwelling, leaving it to planners to look at section 9.5 of the building code to determine if a small house is legal.
A house built at the minimum size, Epstein argued, would be cheaper to build, and would enable those who may otherwise not be able to afford a new home to build or buy one.
The proposed change was met with some skepticism.
Councillor Janice Maynard voiced concerns that such a change would enable the build of homes purely for use as vacation rentals.
“What we don’t want to see is a bunch of seasonal, small dwellings popping up here there and everywhere that are then going to be used not as affordable housing but as income properties on a seasonal basis,” said Maynard.
Councillors Roy Pennell and Jamie Forrester echoed her concern.
“We’re losing people in the County,” said Forrester.
“We’ve got more and more people just buying houses and not living here, and there’s no rental units to be had. What I don’t want to see is a bunch of 500 square foot buildings to be put up that will never be an advantage for somebody looking for affordable housing… if it could be used properly, I think it would be a great idea.”
Epstein was prepared for their concerns. He says these changes would point planners to section 9.5 of the Ontario building code. The first part of this section states, “Unless otherwise specifically indicated, this Section applies only to dwelling units that are intended for use on a continuing or year-round basis as the principal residence of the occupant.”
Councillor Bill Roberts was in support of the change.
“It’s not like we’re breaking new ground,” he pointed out. A similar change has been made in Peterborough and Ottawa. “It’s something which [is] trending and attractive to people who are looking for innovative affordable housing options. We do need to be innovative and creative around affordable housing. It is in every plan we write, so let’s do something about it.”
Councillor Gord Fox seemed to misunderstand the intention of the change, to diversify housing stock. He worried building small houses would mean those houses could never be made big.
“If you build [a] little house, then all you need is a little lot. So are we going to reduce lot sizes?” Fox mused. “And if you build a little house, then all you need is a little septic tank. But the dilemma is, if you build a little house with all the amenities, how do you expand? How can you grow that house? How can you put an addition on it? Because if you put an addition on it, you’re going to need a bigger septic tank… It appears to me that if you build a little house, it’s a little house forever.”
Despite his concern, council voted to accept the motion that, if ratified at the next council meeting, will take effect.