It doesn’t matter that 11 of the 13 Capital Region municipalities permit secondary suites. What matters is that if Oak Bay permits them, it will be in a way that makes it accessible, according to Mayor Kevin Murdoch.
Oak Bay council received the public engagement results for secondary suites in late May and the results are mixed. Oak Bay’s ongoing study and public engagement around the regulation of secondary suites is part of a greater review of housing, Murdoch said. The engagement results show once again there is a balanced approach from the community, who offset their latent support with concerns.
“There are jurisdictions having problems getting existing suites to come forward and conform to the standards, so a big question for us is how do we get them to that state,” Murdoch said. “If [owners] are not coming forward then we can’t count them and that’s not healthy.”
As of now, an Oak Bay homeowner cannot obtain a building permit to build a separated suite (there is some debate as to exactly what constitutes a suite versus a boarder unit, as it is not specified in the bylaws).
Other questions that remain are what the timeframe should be to allow people to come into compliance, and exactly what legally can be relaxed and what can’t, to encourage as many suite owners to come forward, Murdoch said.
A staff report estimated that a quarter of Oak Bay’s 18,094 population (2016 census) are renters, and that half of renters and 14 per cent of homeowners spend nearly a third of their income on shelter. The average rent in Oak Bay was $1,315 per month in 2018, with a vacancy rate of 2.2 per cent (up from 0.5 per cent from 2017). Meanwhile the average house price in Oak Bay is $1.2 million for a single family home and $558,500 for an apartment. They also estimated there’s about 500 to 800 unregulated secondary suites in Oak Bay at this time.
Using local planning experts Urban Systems, Oak Bay ran a survey from April 24 to May 13 and held an open house on April 24 at the Oak Bay Rec Centre.
Early analysis parsed the responses into positive and negative themes. About 96 of the positive comments encouraged Oak Bay to consider regulating secondary suites out of a social responsibility to provide diverse and affordable housing for the region. Among the pros listed were added tax revenues, walk-ability, and the ability to better protect and use the existing housing stock.
Multiple respondents suggested that permitting secondary suites would allow more of the youth who grew up in Oak Bay to be able to return.
About 89 of the respondents conveyed opposition to the permission and regulation of suites. “Density is a bad thing that adds stress on the community,” the report reads. The leading opposition themes are that overcrowding, parking problems and the character of Oak Bay are at risk with secondary suites.
“Oak Bay has never been affordable and should be kept that way,” it also reads.
Thus ends Phase 2 of the project. A more refined report will be brought back to the public for community consultation, possibly in June, with the goal of preparing a draft policy framework and strategy by September and a final strategy for council to accept by October.
Oak Bay’s planning department was unable to respond to additional comments by deadline.