Paul Henderson/ The Progress                                Chilliwack remains one of the most affordable cities in the LM and on Vancouver Island according to a Vancity report from 2017 but the vacancy rate is super-low.

Paul Henderson/ The Progress Chilliwack remains one of the most affordable cities in the LM and on Vancouver Island according to a Vancity report from 2017 but the vacancy rate is super-low.

UPDATE: Secondary suite legalization in Chilliwack to roll out in stages

By as early as the summer suites could be permitted in all single detached homes

Most people know Chilliwack’s rental market is screamingly tight.

The rental vacancy rate dipped to 1.5 per cent in 2017, compared to 2.7 per cent in 2015, according to CMHC numbers.

Chilliwack is moving ahead with sweeping changes to its secondary suite policies to create more affordable rental housing.

A survey by City of Chilliwack last year netted more than 800 responses from locals who submitted feedback on illegal secondary suites, and inlaw suites in Chilliwack, which was an “impressive” number, Mayor Sharon Gaetz noted at the Tuesday council meeting.

“I think we will have some challenges — and some beautiful opportunities,” Gaetz said about the changes being eyed. “We will make sure to make people aware of the opportunities, to supplement their mortgage and open up some affordable housing.”

Coun. Chris Kloot said in order to “absorb growth” there needs to be different opportunities available for people.

By as early as later this spring, city staff may no longer be responding to reports of existing secondary suites. Those suites are considered illegal because they were built without a building permit.

Coun. Ken Popove asked if city officials would be “seeking out” existing rental suites. The “hope” is the new policy would bring “these suites into conformity,” he noted.

Currently staff will respond to complaints from residents living within 30 metres of a suspected illegal suite.

But once the changes are written into policy, the city won’t seek them out, or respond to complaints unless they are fire or life safety related, said Karen Stanton, manager of long-range planning.

The new policy on suites won’t bring the existing ones into conformity, but rather will outline what is permitted, and where. At this point bringing illegal suites into compliance is envisioned to involve rezoning.

By this summer secondary suites could be allowed in all single detached homes in all areas of the city.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, staff recommended and council approved the next steps, which include receiving the Urban Systems study on Secondary Suites for information, asking staff to draft OCP and zoning changes, and a new Secondary Suites policy.

Policy changes are on deck for zoning, parking, enforcement, and fees, and existing suites, tosupport and streamline the development of secondary rental suites on a wider scale.

All of this effort stems from the Homelessness Action Plan goal of relieving pressure in the localhousing crisis by increasing the supply of affordable housing stock in Chilliwack with legalization of secondary suites.