RDN begins consultation process to legalize secondary suites

NANAIMO – Electoral areas within the RDN will soon be called upon for input into the district's Secondary Suites Consultation Plan

The Regional District of Nanaimo has opened the door on legalizing secondary suites in the district.

District staff  released a draft Secondary Suites Consultation Plan which is currently being reviewed by the Electoral Areas Planning Committee before being turned over to the public for input. The plan addresses the legalization of suites in all electoral areas except Gabriola.

Paul Thompson, manager of long range planning, said the draft plan includes a study exploring the benefits of secondary suites, as well as the challenges, and how their implementation will fall into line with current regional district policies such as growth management and water protection.

“The whole purpose of this study and consultation that’s to take place is to look at where people want to have them and what the regulations should be around them,” Thompson said. “We know there’s lots of suites out there and that there’s people wanting to put suites in and wanting to know that they’re allowed.”

The study is part of the regional district’s Housing Action Plan of 2010, which targets, among other things, affordable housing.

Directors deferred the draft plan to the electoral areas committee’s February meeting, to allow a thorough review of the 118-page document, and to have their concerns addressed.

The committee is taking a cautionary approach to legalizing secondary suites, said Area A director Alec McPherson.

“We don’t want the report to direct people in one way or another,” McPherson said. “If we’re going to have consultation we want it to be an open consultation where people say what they want to see and not be influenced by the document we’ve given them.”

Despite the fact that they are illegal within areas of the district, secondary suites are a reality, McPherson said, particularly in the southern areas of the district.

Secondary suites address two key issues, which are affordability and aging. In addition to providing a way for homeowners to manage their mortgage, rental suites provide a housing option for those unable to afford a mortgage.

It also offers elderly the supplemental income to allow them to stay in their homes when a partner has died, McPherson added.

In regulating secondary suites, any restrictions or regulations placed on homeowners must be done in a way that doesn’t compromise their economic well-being, or that of those who are dwelling in existing suites.

“You have to be very careful what type of bylaws you put in that you don’t unwittingly displace people who don’t have the economic wherewithal to make a different economic housing choice,” he said. “When it happens, it will highlight the situation in a fairly significant way and you only need one complaint, and that may put somebody who’s barely making it onto the streets or living in the woods.”

The public consultation process of the Secondary Suites Consultation Plan is expected to take place in the spring, after any changes or amendments have been approved.

Once changes and amendments have been made to the draft plan, an official revised version will be released to the public for consultation.