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Maple Ridge council debates allowing more secondary suites

City looks at suites as solution to housing affordability, lack of rental vacancy
City Hall is looking at more secondary suites as a way to help pay mortgages, and increase rental stock. (The News files)

The City of Maple Ridge is looking at addressing a crisis in housing affordability and a lack of rental units by loosening the rules around secondary suites.

“The purchase cost of single-detached houses and townhouses is becoming out-of-reach, even for dual-income households, and the limited rental supply is causing rental rates to rise,” said a staff report, presented by planner Krista Gowan.

“These increasing housing costs are making affordability a challenge for many residents at all stages of life. To maintain a vibrant and thriving city, Maple Ridge needs to attract and retain working households and enable them to grow and age in place.”

The report said suites – typically basement suite and garden suites – are important both as mortgage helpers and as part of the rental stock. Housing is considered affordable if it is 30 per cent or less of a household’s before-tax income. The benchmark single family home in Maple Ridge is work $1.36 million as of February 2022, so a family would need an annual gross income of $340,000, and face mortgage payments of approximately $5,000, said the report.

At their April 26 workshop, city councillors talked about the potential for suites in stacked townhouses and lock-off suites in apartments – although there was not a lot of support voiced by councillors for these ideas.

Gowan noted the province has removed barriers to suites, allowing cities more options, and city staff presented options for council to change the city’s regulations as well.

One of the more debated staff recommendations was permitting secondary suites in all single-family detached residential zones, and it was opposed by Councillors Ahmed Yousef, Ryan Svendsen and Gordy Robson. Among the issues they mentioned was a lack of parking in some neighbourhoods.

Coun. Gordy Robson said he would not be in favour of what would amount to a blanket pre-approval of suites.

“If everyone on the street densified, we’d have a nightmare,” Robson said. “Densification is great, but we’ve got to maintain our livability.”

READ ALSO: Real estate market will hit new records, predict realtors

Coun. Chelsa Meadus spoke in favour of allowing suites in all single family residential zones, so the city can receive revenue for them. She noted the suites exist already, but are not legal, and the city isn’t collecting tax revenue for them. So these landlords are not paying for the added burden their tenants they put on city services.

Coun. Judy Dueck agreed.

“They’re not paying double water, they’re not paying double sewer, they’re not paying for parks and recreation services,” Dueck noted.

Staff said the zoning in west and central Maple Ridge already allows a secondary suite in every house. She said legal suites are not permitted in the R3 zone – such as country lane in Albion – but the city knows they are there now.

“Plenty of them,” added Mayor Mike Morden.

Among the recommendations was removing minimum and maximum floor area requirements for suites. Councillors spoke about the need to be open minded about this issue.

“I could live on my boat – I don’t need a lot of space,” noted Dueck. “But other people need a lot of space.”

Another recommendation was that staff develop ways to loosen the rules: “alternate compliance methods to existing buildings, to add a secondary suite.”

Coun. Svendsen said is important that council get more information on precisely what rules would be relaxed, and what is required by the building code, before that recommendation passes council. Staff said that will be part of a coming report.

Morden said it’s a challenging issue for city hall to tackle.

“I appreciate the courage to take this one on, because it’s been avoided by many councils,” Morden said at the end of a two-hour discussion. “But we must deal with it.”

Council agreed the city should not evict tenants while regulatory work is done on the issue of secondary suites, and enforcement will be paused.

Based on the discussion, and council requests for more information, staff will prepare proposed amendments to city zoning bylaws, and bring recommendations back to a future meeting before the summer.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge council approves budget with 3.6 per cent tax increase

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

Neil Corbett has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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