Accessory Dwelling Units & the Community Improvement Plan

Accessory Dwelling Units & the Community Improvement Plan

We have a housing crisis.  There are few, if any, who would disagree with this fact.  The question of how we increase the amount of housing and what types are needed is where we get bogged down and NIMBYism happens. One of the types of housing units that gets talked about a lot are Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs.

An ADU is a simple and old idea: home owners have a second smaller dwelling either attached to or on the property of your regular single-family house. They include:

  • an apartment over the garage
  • a tiny house (on a foundation) in the backyard
  • a basement apartment

Not everyone likes the idea of ADUs but the reality is we’ve always had them.  There are thousands of ADUs across our city and for decades ADUs have been an option for singles or couples.

In 2017 the Province of Ontario’s Housing Action Plan recommended that cities develop an incentive program for Accessory Dwelling Units as one way to increase the amount of housing.  In 2020, the City of St. Catharines, during the updating of the Community Improvement Plan included adding an incentive program for ADUs to encourage home owners to add ADUs to their exisitng homes and include them in new builds.  Unfortunately, council chose to defer the implementation of the ADU program until 2022.  Earlier this year, the ADU incentive program was brought back to council and once again it was deferred because some councillors needed more information.

There are cities across the country that have incentive programs for ADUs: Hamilton, Toronto, Windsor, Waterloo, Peel Region, Whitehorse, Canmore, Nanaimo and many many more. In some cases the incentive program requires the homeowner to work with the local housing authority to rent to someone who is on the local housing list, some require a lower than market value rent for a period of time, while others focus on creating units for seniors to allow them to age in place with family members.

A study was done in Windsor to see how many properties could add ADUs without needing any additional permits or variances.  They found that there, “are 29,000 lots in Windsor alone eligible for detached ADU”.  In the case of Windsor if only 10% (290) of those properties added ADUs in one year, they would be able to house between 290 and 580 people.  Imagine the impact that could have.

While ADUs are not a 100% solution to solving our housing crisis – encouraging single family home owners to add a basement apartment, an apartment over a garage or adding a tiny house in a backyard will certainly help.  It will also help new homeowners who may not be able to afford their home a way to make mortgage payment or put money away for their kids education.

It seems to me that ADUs are something we should be embracing as a city – not fighting against them.