Secondary Suites Make Cities Sustainable

It was recently announced that Mississauga decided to grow up. As a means of increasing its stock of affordable housing, the city has put into plan the legalization of secondary suites (basement apartments) by this coming fall. Currently basement apartments are not legal in Mississauga or in Vaughan. A simple internet search reveals basement apartments are being rented out in both cities and other municipalities where they are banned.
This change in policy isn’t through any newly enlightened position on the part of Mississauga council. Bill 140, Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act was passed in January by the Provincial government. According to this bill,
“Municipalities are required to establish official plan policies and zoning by-law provisions allowing second units in single, semi and row houses, as well as in accessory structures (e.g. above laneway garages).”
Yet again, the Province has had to step in to aid the maturing process of suburban municipalities which seem inept in managing their own growth. First it was curbing sprawl through the Places to Grow Act and the creation of the Greenbelt, now McGuinty, has to again play the role of Premier Dad forcing municipalities to grow up.

In Vaughan, growing up is hard to do, and a potential political minefield. Homeowners in Vaughan will tell you they moved here for a “suburban” way of life and wish to maintain that increasingly diminishing notion as much as possible. Part of that way of life involves living in predominantly middle class neighbourhoods with fellow homeowners, where members from other socio economic and racial groups are underrepresented or not represented at all. This fear seems outdated and completely inappropriate in a city that is already rapidly urbanizing and becoming increasingly diverse. Change is difficult.
Allowing residents to rent dormant basements is both equitable and sustainable. It will also generate income for residents on fixed incomes or those struggling to pay mortgage costs on large homes. A small rental tax could help raise money for the municipality. This money could be used to help support public transit.
According to The City of Vaughan’s Social Services Report completed in 2009, “With housing costs rising, income not keeping pace and a lack of diversity in housing choices, the ability of Vaughan residents to purchase a home is diminishing. In addition to rising housing costs, almost a third of Vaughan’s residents are spending more than a third of their income on housing.”
The notion that secondary suites will lead to increased traffic congestion in Vaughan is a myth. In fact, secondary suites have the potential to alleviate congestion on our roads. More people commute to Vaughan to work then leave Vaughan to work elsewhere. This statistic is the result of a lack of rental housing within the city. Increasing the stock of rental housing will only help alleviate congestion on our roads as those choosing to rent in the city are doing so to be closer to jobs in order to reduce their commute times.
In February of 2010 the previous Vaughan Council approved the creation of the Secondary Suites Task Force to study and provide recommendations regarding the implementation of secondary suites. To this day nothing has been presented back to council or published. With the previous election in the same year, it was expedient for the politicians of the day to take this issue off the table. As we all now issues have a way of ruining with a good campaign.
The issue of Secondary Suites is a real test of this council. The province requires municipalities to allow secondary suites yet has been very shrewd, forcing local politicians to approve the legalization at the municipal level. No doubt this legislation would have been easier if forced on the municipality, allowing Vaughan politicians to point the finger at the Province. Are we to expect the usual political ineptitude regarding this issue for the next two and a half years? Or is the “new” Vaughan council ready to start making the tough decisions that come with a city growing up.

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2 Responses to Secondary Suites Make Cities Sustainable

  1. Conrad Virdo says:

    I would like to encourage a different perspective regarding your article “Legalizing basement apartments test of council” as written by Sony Rai on the 15th of March in the Vaughan Citizen.

    First of all, Mr. Rai’s comment that the City of Mississauga has “decided to grow up” is an attempt to present such issues as elementary, and has shown his inability to consider the complexity, or rather, the implications….. of what he is suggesting. Mr Rai’s reference to Dalton McGuinty as “premier dad” is not only inappropriate, but also quite unsettling.

    Secondly, he comments that although basement apartments are not currently legal in Mississauga or in Vaughan, the mere fact that they are available on the Internet makes it a legitimate practice. He is basically stating that it’s acceptable to contravene city by-laws.

    In fact, Bill 140 is an Act that eradicates the rights of property owners who have previously purchased “single family” zoned properties, and are now being forced through provincial legislation to accept a re-zoning to a “multi-family” designation. In other words, these “homeowners” are soon to be at the mercy of “renters”, with the same disregard for existing by-laws and existing zoning, except this time, it’s even sanctioned by the Liberal provincial government. I do agree that some municipalities are “inept at managing their own growth”, as their lack of foresight in establishing new, designated “multi-family” or “high-density” zoned areas has been almost non-existent. However, this lack of foresight should not now transform into the concessions that are going to be expected from those of us that purchased into one type of zoning, and now will be forced to accept another.

    Mr. Rai states that the notion of “middle-class neighbourhoods…..seem outdated and inappropriate”. In fact, what is inappropriate is the inevitable erosion of property values for those that own homes in such neighbourhoods. What is inappropriate is his assumption that the often transient nature of renters doesn’t create many other issues, including increased traffic congestion. What is inappropriate is that it has now become the responsibility of those who own such homes in middle class suburbia to accommodate (at a financial loss) renters who obviously don’t have the financial means to purchase in those areas. What is inappropriate and offensive is the way Mr. Rai suggests and implicates “racial underrepresentation” as a means to try and justify his point. Anyone who lives in Vaughan knows that it is very diverse in its mix of people, and that there is no such “racial underrepresentation”. The “socio-economic” underrepresentation on the other hand, is not the responsibility nor the obligation of Vaughan homeowners to equalize for the benefit of all those who would like to live in Vaughan but unfortunately cannot afford to. Why is that our issue to rectify?

    I agree that there is a lack of affordable housing, but the onus doesn’t rest on homeowners to correct or alleviate the shortcomings of bad municipal planning. Bill 140 does not represent the interests of us homeowners.

    This will not go unchallenged…..

    Conrad Virdo
    Maple, Ontario

  2. name withheld says:

    I live in Mississauga…and totally agree with the previous letter. Mr. Rai needs to obtain more information and a realistic view re.the impact of accessory secondary dwelling units and a City’s ability to properly manage them.Bill 140 may be well intended, it may be a method of procuring votes,but it appears to be a way of fixing a situation that proliferated under the City’s watch. If the City was not able to enforce their by-laws, what makes them think they can sucessfully enforce Bill 140 which impacts everything from garbage collection to education. Unbeknowst to the politicians and media, it is the single greatest contributor to GTA Gridlock.Houses with asdus have 2-3 more vehicles each. We are not talking about renting out a single basement apartment; rather room rentals with common kitchen and bathroom facilities.Toronto is the only ciity in Ontario with legal asdus.In all other areas. Asdus before 1995 are legal,those after are not.I am sure anyone can find a recently built subdivision in Vaughan that is teeming with asdus.Newspaper and websites are filled with their ads. Brampton has been struggling to curb asdus. Currently, the only outlet a single residential owner has in attempt to prevent their neighbourhood from becoming one of rooming houses is to report asdus to the Revenue Canada snitch line for undeclared may find home insurance not covering houses with asdus. Who will inspect the hydo and gas lines,who will inspect the construction, and most importantly, who will do the fire inspection? How exactly will one collect property taxes when it isn’t a unit rental? Doesn’t anyone consider for a moment that Mississauga may be opening a pandora’s box ?

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