Kitchener-Waterloo·In Depth

New rules around adding granny flats and tiny homes gets Kitchener council approval

Kitchener council has approved a new residential bylaw that will allow for up to three units on most residential properties in the city, allowing people to add granny flats, carriage houses and tiny houses. The new bylaw will come into effect over the course of 2020.

Changes to residential bylaw will come into effect over the course of 2020, city staff say

Kitchener homeowners could start building a tiny house or carriage house on their property in 2020 as part of a new residential bylaw. The city hopes it's one way to address the affordable housing crunch. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

More granny flats, carriage houses and tiny houses could pop up in Kitchener next year now that rules have been changed to allow them.

During Monday night's meeting, Kitchener councillors approved rules to allow the additional dwelling units as part of a new residential bylaw.

The changes would allow up to three residential units on a property, such as adding basement apartments, granny flats, an apartment over a garage or even place tiny houses on properties.

"You've been able to duplex your house in Kitchener for a long time. We've opened up the possibility for putting up to three units on the land," says Tim Donegani, a senior planner with the city. "That's going to apply across most low-rise residential properties in the city."

Under provincial changes to the Planning Act, municipalities must allow property owners the option of creating up to three approved units per property. The new Kitchener rules also include allowing a separate building on the property. Donegani says with that, the city "went above and beyond those provincial requirements."

Easier to build affordable units

The hope is that allowing growth of "gentle density" in Kitchener's neighbourhoods will help address some of the affordable housing needs in the city while not overwhelming city infrastructure such as sewers and water.

While many people might think of a granny flat as a space for an elderly relative, Donegani says there are several different needs a granny flat can serve.

"It can be that you rent it out to someone that you don't know, it can be that you put your mother or mother-in-law and have her on the property with you," he said.

Changing the zoning of a property to allow for multiple units doesn't necessarily mean people actually will build affordable housing, he said.

"But what we can do is enable folks to construct affordable types. So tiny houses, single-detached houses all the way up to multi-storey apartments are all part of the package of this residential component of the zoning bylaw," he said.

"Hopefully these changes will help enable both the private market and public agencies like Waterloo Region to help them build affordable projects."

Affordability: top city priority 

As he left Monday's council meeting, Donegani says he was approached by a few people already interested in adding a third unit to their properties. The changes approved in the new bylaw will phase into effect in 2020, so while people can't start building right now, they can start planning for what they'd like to do, he said.

City Coun. Sarah Marsh says she has also heard from residents who are "chomping at the bit" to add extra units, either as a granny flat, carriage house or tiny house.

"Housing affordability has been a top priority in Kitchener for the last few years. It's become more and more one of the top topics people discuss when they're talking to us at the city," she said.

The city is just embarking on its affordable housing strategy, Marsh said, noting a committee is now working on possible solutions.

"Absolutely there is more that we can do and I have confidence that that committee will come up with additional options for us to try out," she said.

Piece of larger puzzle

The idea of allowing for third units is not a complete solution, but it is another piece of the affordable housing puzzle, says University of Waterloo planning professor Kevin Curtis.

"In the region of Waterloo, we've actually got quite a good range of housing options. It doesn't mean it's the absolute be-all and end-all," he said, noting the housing situation is fluid and changes.

"If we have a lot of people coming into [the region] because the job market is robust and everyone's ... coming in trying to get new housing you could find yourself in a situation where you don't have the amount and type of housing to meet a rush," he said. 

"And if the economy happens to go down you may have the absolute number of units required but you might have a mismatch between affordability and the kind of units that are available."

He added, "every community has to make judgments and they're looking at what balance of housing options are going to be the best fit and their community."

These tiny homes in Calgary will serve as residences for veterans in need of support. Kitchener Coun. Sarah Marsh says she can envision a similar tiny house community within the city. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Tiny house developments possible?

Tiny homes have been popular in other cities, including where developments have created tiny house villages including in Calgary for veterans, Seattle, Washington, and Austin, Texas.

Marsh says the bylaw could allow Kitchener to go one step farther and allow for the development of tiny house neighbourhoods.

"We don't have a specific zone just for that but I can foresee the possibility of us piloting, just an example of that, to see how it would work," she said.

Marsh says she can envision several tiny houses near a communal building where people could go to shower, cook and hang out with other people.

She says ideas like that are among the "most exciting parts of getting toward affordability solutions."

"Some people really are interested in paring down their belongings and being able to live more simply. And some people who of course are homeless are interested in a roof over their head and the option to live in a place like a tiny home," she said.

"I really think that's something we need to check out."

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