County wants to build affordable housing, but not for vacationers
At a planning meeting last week, County council learned about a new initiative from the province to encourage municipalities to allow for second units to be built on residential properties. It’s billed as a way to increase affordable housing stock at a time when both renting and owning homes is getting more expensive.
The report was presented by the County’s planning manager, Paul Walsh. It was a point of information, something for council to consider so that the planning department could get some feedback on how to make rules around such dwellings tailored to the County.
Walsh came prepared to answer questions, but was surprised at the direction the conversation took.
“I thought it would be more about the physical form of the second dwellings, and how they’re being located within a lot in relation to the main dwelling and how it might be related to the neighbouring dwelling. Orientation of streets and neighbours would be more of an issue than about who’s occupying them and how long,” says Walsh. “I was surprised by the nature of the conversation.”
Athol councillor Jamie Forrester was the first to raise his concerns.
“Every single housing unit that goes up for sale has been turned into a B and B or a [vacation] rental unit,” Forrester said to Walsh. “On my road right now there’s 28 houses, and there’s six people now on my road that are actually living there. The rest have been sold, and every single one has been rented out.”
Forrester recognized the intent of the initiative, but doubted that, without rules in place about usage, such dwellings would become affordable housing.
Is there any way, when people put second dwellings on… if you want to build a second dwelling, it has to be used for permanent residence?” Forrester inquired. “I don’t know what’s going to happen as we get bigger and bigger. Where are people going to live to work the wineries, to work all the special events? Because there’s nowhere to live in the summer, unless you want to pay $17 [hundred], $2,000 a week.”
Other councillors echoed Forrester’s sentiment.
Bloomfield councillor Barry Turpin commented that such units should only be allowed where the owner is living on the property full time, to avoid the issue of absentee landlords. He was concerned investors will buy properties, build second dwellings and rent both out to vacationers, never living in the County.
Wellington councillor Jim Dunlop agreed that owners who buy properties to use as vacation rentals but don’t live in the County are a major part of the problem.
“I’ve had a number of calls this summer from people who live next door to the rentals. There’d be noise complaints, dust complaints, damage to the fence, damage to the gardens. And the problem is there’s no owner to get in touch with, no identification, so there’s nobody to get a hold of to solve the problem,” he said. “It is an issue.”
The issue of housing being converted into vacation rentals, especially with absentee landlords, has already been addressed by the County, and the community and economic development department is already investigating solutions to address the fear that the online vacation rental marketplace will gut neighbourhoods and drive up prices.
“I’m not sure we can address all the issues council had, they rise outside of zoning a little bit, but they definitely go arm in arm,” says Walsh.
He hopes that council will approve a plan for such units. Even if they are not immediately used as affordable housing units, they will still be an addition to housing stock in the County, where available housing is scarce.
“The province made it clear that they’re encouraging this kind of thing, mostly to solve what they identified as increasingly affordable housing issues throughout the province,” says Walsh. “Prince Edward County certainly had its fair share of affordable housing issues, no doubt, but I don’t think they took into account the rural flavour for some of the issues we’re going to have to deal with.”
In 2015, the County began allowing granny flats and garden suites to be built on properties, even partnering with Prince Edward Lennox and Addington Social Services to subsidize the units as affordable housing. But the secondary housing proposal Walsh brought to council would be more permanent.
“Within the County official plan, they are normally committed as a mobile unit,” says Walsh. “The second dwelling is meant to be something much more permanent.”
Walsh says there are benefits to this type of dwelling. It would increase density in towns, with two homes on a single property, making use of existing water and wastewater infrastructure. It would also mean a mix of housing prices in the same neighbourhood, which would avoid ghettoization of low-income residents.
“Usually, people with a low income live in the small house, and people with a bigger income live in a bigger house,” says Walsh. “That’s a very coarse and rough approximation, but that is part of the guide that the province gave. It allows for a good mixing of incomes, instead of allowing for very homogenous neighbourhoods.”