Builders of Kitchener's 1st legal tiny homes imagine a benefit to whole community

Simon Wong and Chris Loftin got the OK from the City of Kitchener to build a tiny home in August, the first two so far to be approved. They believe the bylaw will benefit the community by adding more housing and create another source of income for property owners.

City issued 2 building permits in August with more to come

Simon Wong stands in front of the tiny home he is building in Kitchener, after the city awarded him the first building permit for such a home in August. Wong said construction is on track to be complete by the end of the year. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Construction on the tiny home on Simon Wong's property is on track to be complete by the end of 2021. He was the first person to receive a building permit from the City of Kitchener in August, and got straight to work. 

"It was a great opportunity for us and we took it and jumped," Wong told CBC News of breaking ground in August.

The Ontario city approved an amendment to a zoning bylaw allowing for the construction of tiny homes in April. 

"I was very surprised." said Wong of being the first to receive a building permit. "I thought there would be people ahead of us because it took a few weeks to get the permit and site plan all approved."

Wong's tiny home is in the backyard of a home he and his wife purchased in April in the Vanier area of Kitchener. They renovated the main house into a duplex that is being rented out. He hopes to do the same with the tiny home once it's complete. 

Wong said the tiny home will have about 500 square feet of living space and is roughly four metres high. Builders are just over half-way through construction with the framing almost done and services like hydro, water and sewer expected to wrap up in the coming weeks. 

"Then we're waiting on windows, so we're getting there," Wong said. "I think we'll be done by the end of the year if all goes well."

This is one of Kitchener's first tiny homes to be constructed after the city passed a bylaw allowing for the construction of the homes in April. Wong said his tiny house is about 500 square feet. (Carmen Groleau/ CBC)

Wong said the interior will have a cabin feel to it with exposed wooden beams and a mix of high-end finishes, like porcelain tiles and quartz.  

Since breaking ground in August, Wong said he's had to navigate around material and labour shortages, work with different suppliers to source specific items and materials and said he even had to change manufacturers to make sure the building trusses arrived on time.

"Everyone is backed up, everyone is so busy and it's very hard to find certain things," he said.

His advice for future tiny-home builders: "Plan ahead and then plan ahead again. Have a backup plan."

Wong said building a tiny home has been a great learning experience. He said the home has all the basics: bathroom, kitchen and laundry. (Carmen Groleau/ CBC)

Adding to the housing supply

Wong said he heard about the City of Kitchener's new bylaw late last year and believes tiny homes may be another way to add more supply to the housing market. 

"It's very challenging to get into the housing market these days with the prices being so high," he said.

"We transformed this property from a single family home to three units and if we can repeat it over and over within Kitchener, it will definitely add to the housing supply.

"It's not going to solve the housing crisis. There's no one answer to that, but this is an alternative," added Wong.

While Wong had the first building permit, Chris Loftin was the first person to send an application to the city to see if it was possible to build a tiny home in 2020. 

Loftin is now building his tiny home in the north ward area of Kitchener, near Margaret and Union streets. His tiny home is being constructed from steel because lumber prices were too high during the summer.

He said he's just over halfway done and like Wong, he hopes to have it finished by the end of 2021.

"[We're] trying to have it 100 per cent  finished before Christmas so the first guests can be family over the holidays," he said.

Chris Lofting is the second person to be given a building permit to build a tiny home. He hopes to have it finished by the end of the year, so visiting family can be the first to live in it over the holidays. (Chris Loftin)

Loftin agrees the bylaw will add more units to the market, and provide an extra source of income for property owners.

"It can be a good mortgage helper that is adding more beds to the community," said Loftin, "The requirements for the bylaw is doable on a lot of lots in the city of Kitchener."

Giving owners 'extra flexibility'

Richard Kelly-Reutz, a project manager for the city, said there has been a lot of interest from the community to build tiny homes since a staff report first went to council in 2019

He said the city is receiving applications regularly and staff are looking at nine site plans. He said the city has issued two building permits so far: Wong's and Loftin's, and have another five waiting to be approved. 

The bylaw amendment would allow for up to 25,000 tiny homes to be built on properties across the city that meet the requirements, according to Kelly-Reutz.

"We're seeing this as a way to promote gentle gentrification in our neighbourhoods. These are ways to fit more residents on existing properties in a seamless way.

"This is a way that property owners can have a friend or family member live on their property with them or rent it out for additional income. We're really giving that extra flexibility to property owners."

That flexibility is important for Wong, who said this investment is allowing him to plant roots for his family.

"For now we're thinking to just rent it but eventually we may all live here, my family our in-laws or my parents could live in this unit and we live in the main house," he said.

"We're definitely keeping it. It's going to be held for us."

The tiny home is mid-way through construction. The framing is almost done and services like hydro, water and sewer expected to wrap up in the coming weeks.  (Carmen Groleau/CBC)


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