Hamilton developing new rules around tiny houses and other secondary homes

The city is laying down some permanent rules about secondary dwelling units, including tiny homes in local backyards, to try to address Hamilton's dire housing shortage. But first, it wants to hear what residents think.

The city wants public input on basement apartments, granny flats and other secondary dwelling units

The City of Hamilton will get public input starting next month on new rules around backyard tiny homes and other secondary dwelling units. (CBC)

The city is laying down some permanent rules about secondary dwelling units — including tiny homes in people's backyards — to try to address Hamilton's dire shortage of affordable housing. But first, it wants to hear what residents think.

City council's planning committee agreed Tuesday on a strategy to get public input before adding such units to its zoning bylaw and official plan. It will start getting online opinions next month about secondary units, which include basement apartments, laneway houses, granny flats and detached backyard tiny homes of no more than 500 square feet.

These units are already allowed in various places in Hamilton, although the rules are inconsistent from ward to ward. The city allows detached tiny houses in the lower city, for example, as long as they're connected to a laneway. The city also has a pilot project, which expires in December 2022, to encourage secondary dwellings around Mohawk College and McMaster University.

But the province wants municipalities to incorporate such dwellings into their official plans, so the city is looking to lay down some overall rules — first for urban areas, and later, for rural ones. 

(City of Hamilton)

A secondary dwelling unit "is self contained," planner Tim Lee told the committee. "It contains a kitchen, their own bathroom and living space, so it's independent of the main dwelling unit."

They're also different from duplexes and triplexes in that a secondary dwelling has to be associated with a main residence, otherwise known as the principal usage.

The current proposal, which the city wants opinions on, would allow as many as two secondary dwelling units per home. That means one house could have a basement apartment and a detached tiny house in the backyard. 

"In certain neighbourhoods, this has the potential to triple the density," said Coun. Chad Collins (Ward 5, Centennial).

Secondary dwelling units are often cited as a partial solution to the lack of affordable housing in Hamilton. This is even part of the city's housing and homelessness action plan.

"As the population increases in Hamilton, not only is there a need to increase the housing supply, but there is a need to construct appropriate types of housing," Lee said in a report. "Further, there are individuals who may not want to live in a large multi-unit building based on characteristics and location."

Pending city council approval next week, the city will start getting public input on the Engage Hamilton site next month. 



Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca