In an effort to boost the supply of affordable housing, Sarnia is relaxing the rules to allow more homeowners to create a secondary dwelling unit in their home.
The move approved by city council last week could see additional apartments and flats built in various neighbourhoods currently characterized by single-family homes.
The floor area of the new units can’t exceed 40% of the floor area of the home, and any new entrance doors to the units can’t face the street.
“Staff is of the opinion that there should be no visual evidence of a second dwelling unit in these areas,” planning director Alan Shaw told council in a report.
The neighbourhoods were selected because they have sufficient services in place to handle additional residents.
The zoning change was welcomed by affordable housing advocates.
“This is all very practical,” said Andrew Bolter, a member of the Community Homelessness Initiative Network.
“Generally speaking we need affordable housing, and if we can infill and look at using existing housing stock … it will be helpful.”
Rent for an average one-bedroom unit was $680 in 2013, according to the Lambton County Housing and Homelessness Plan. That same year, Ontario Works recipients received a maximum $375 per month for shelter and recipients of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) received a maximum $479.
As a result, some people are forced to seek housing from ‘slumlords’ or double-up and triple-up in apartments, said Bolter, executive director of Community Legal Assistance Sarnia.
Increasing the supply of affordable housing in stable neighbourhoods will add to various housing programs already underway in Lambton County.
“This is something municipalities need to look at and Sarnia, I think to its credit, is one of the leaders on this,” Bolter said.
Nearly 3,000 people received support from homelessness programs in Lambton County in 2012, and 10,609 households turned to food banks to feed themselves and their families.
That same year, 722 people required emergency shelter at facilities like the Good Shepherd Lodge and Women’s Interval Home.
“Really safe, affordable housing should be seen as a right,” said Bolter. “It needs all levels of government to work together.”