Public meeting shows both sides of Barrie’s affordable housing crisis

There was pushback, along with support, at a public meeting Tuesday night for proposed Barrie-wide, city-initiated changes to the zoning bylaw designed to streamline more affordable housing options.

Franka (Phil) Marinelli and Clint Tyler, of the Ward 1 Residents Association, say they are worried about the density the changes could bring to their Rosenfeld Drive community in Barrie’s east end.

“I think it’s going to make for a cramped neighbourhood,” Marinelli said. “I would use the word ‘ghetto’ to describe it. If you’re going to have wall-to-wall people, you should have extra space to put these people, not cramming them into your back yard. I’m concerned about the congestion that’s going to be on the streets, you’re going to have more cars.”

“We’ve had three houses down the street within the last year with 18 cars parked in the three houses… and now we’re going to allow them to build a second unit behind it? To add two to four more people?” Tyler said. “This isn’t NIMBY-ism, this is about how do we build a quality community.”

The intent of the proposed changes is to address barriers to housing affordability, clarify definitions, update development standards for second suites and detached accessory dwellings, and improve implementation of the bylaw to support affordable housing initiatives. This includes making it easier to build more affordable housing options by permitting smaller units, making it easier to create additional dwelling units in existing multi-residential buildings and exploring options for mixed, institutional-residential proposals.

Proposed changes would include new standards for detached, accessory dwelling units  which are becoming an issue in some Barrie neighbourhoods.

Jennifer van Gennip, from the Barrie chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, says she supports these plans.

“The proposed changes are an effort to both remove barriers and provide clarity regarding the creation of additional units in existing dwellings,” she said. “Converting basements and attics into apartments, back-yard tiny homes and other creative ways of adding additional housing on existing lots in our neighbourhoods are really great ways to create affordable housing options in our city.

“Considering the affordable housing crisis we are in, bylaw amendments that make it easier to build affordable housing are welcome,” van Gennip added. 

But realtor Brady McDonald, whose company has created more than 100 second suites in Barrie and Simcoe County as well as more than 225 detached accessory units here in the city, says more work is needed.

“The way that the proposed changes are currently written will not contribute to making more affordable units,” he said. “They will further restrict the creation of the units and decrease the supply, which will result in affordability issues across the board.”

Councillors heard from close to 20 people on both sides of the issue at Tuesday’s public meeting.

Angela Baldwin, a land-use planner, said she supports allowing residential use in an institutional zone. 

“I think this is a really creative, novel way to allow additional lands to be used for affordable housing,” she said. 

Scott Boyer, who does not support more second suites, directed a message to developers and realtors.

“If you’re so concerned about the affordability of housing, I would invite you to show some leadership  in this socially intense subject  and reduce the price of your old inventory for rental, and help relieve some of the affordability issues in that manner,” Boyer said.

Van Gennip alluded to the same problem.

“What we have seen is that just because the housing unit costs less to build, that does not necessarily mean it will cost less to rent,” she said. “Landlords tend to pocket any savings and charge whatever the market will bear. A reminder, in our city right now, we often see basement apartments or these accessory dwellings built in back yards (rented) for $1,800 to $2,000 a month.”

Shelby White, a planner with the city who presented the proposed changes at Tuesday’s meeting, said they are designed to address current and future affordable housing issues.

“Once we build it, it is here to stay. That is why we need to get it right,” she said. “Barrie is currently facing a housing affordability crisis. While it’s a problem across Canada, it’s particularly acute here. This is because, historically, we’ve had one of the highest percentages of home ownership across Canada, combined with limited amounts of rental available.

“Frankly, this has created a perfect storm. Housing affordability is no longer just an issue for those making below minimum wage,” White added. “To mitigate this crisis, we created an affordable housing strategy and are addressing this issue in a variety of ways. Gradually increasing density in neighbourhoods, through second suites and detached accessory dwelling units, is an effective and essential tool for bringing more rentals to market.”

These changes would clarify that a maximum of one detached accessory dwelling unit, containing one dwelling unit, is permitted per lot as an accessory use to a single-detached dwelling, a duplex dwelling, a semi-detached dwelling unit and a street townhouse.

They would also establish a maximum unit size equal to 45 per cent of the total gross floor area of the principal building, up to a maximum of 65 square metres, and make it clear that a detached accessory dwelling unit is not permitted to have a basement or other habitable living space below grade.

Where a detached accessory dwelling unit is attached to a detached private garage, a minimum driveway length of six metres would be set, measured from the garage door to the lot line.

Single- and two-storey detached accessory dwelling units would be permitted, subject to different development standards.

And the first storey of a two-storey detached accessory dwelling unit could be used as a detached private garage, with the housing unit only permitted above the garage.

As part of Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choice Act of 2019, the province amended the Planning Act to require that Official Plans permit three housing units on one lot  a main dwelling with a second suite and a detached accessory suite.

In November of the same year, Barrie city council amended its zoning bylaw to make it easier to build a second suite and provide other forms of affordable housing  permitting both a second suite and a detached accessory dwelling unit in nine residential zones.

Providing more as-of-right permissions in the zoning bylaw for affordable units is intended to provide greater project certainty for housing providers, make it easier to secure funding, and reduce approval times – all of which both directly and indirectly impact the cost and feasibility of building affordable housing.

The city’s most recent affordable housing monitoring report notes there has been considerable uptake in the construction of second suites in Barrie, but the affordability of these units is declining, both in the short and long term. 

In 2020, for example, only 25 per cent of new second suites were assumed to be rented at an affordable rate, compared to 70 per cent in 2018 and 2019, and 90 per cent in 2017.

City staffers have also noted a growing interest in the construction of detached accessory dwelling units, as well as concerns from residents regarding their size, placement on the property and impacts on neighbouring properties.

The city defines affordable rental housing as a unit for which the rent doesn’t exceed 30 per cent of the gross annual household income for low- to moderate-income households. That income is based upon the most recent Canada Census statistics for Barrie, which is updated every five years.

Affordable housing is a range of housing types allowing families and individuals, of all income levels, to find suitable places to live without spending a disproportionate percentage of their income on housing. Affordable housing can include ownership, rental or subsidized housing.

A public meeting is one of the first stages in Barrie’s planning process. The application now goes to city staff for a report and recommendation to city councillors, which is expected in September.

Original Article: https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/public-meeting-shows-both-sides-of-barries-affordable-housing-crisis-3879345

March 24, 2021

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