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Wellesley considers second units as a way to boost affordable housing

Affordable housing, namely the lack of it in the township, was perhaps one of the biggest concerns to emerge from this year’s municipal election in Wellesley. Particularly for young families looking to start life in the township on limited incomes and seniors hoping to find smaller and more affordable quarters in their home communities, the options were seen as limited.

To that end, the township is considering allowing the creation of second units on lots as a possible solution.

Better known as basement apartments, in-law suites, coach houses and granny flats, a second unit is defined as a self-contained dwelling created within, or adjacent to, an existing home. The units would by necessity require their own amenities, such as a bedroom, kitchen and full washroom, and may be rented out as distinct homes.

Wellesley councillors this week gave the go-ahead for public consultations to begin instituting second units in the township.

“Second units can increase the stock of affordable and smaller scale rental units in municipalities, and can be used by homeowners as a tool to offset the rising costs of home ownership,” noted director of planning Geoff VanderBaaren in a report to council.

Second units are by no means a new phenomenon, but their introduction to the Wellesley Township would require a significant amount of legwork. Under provincial legislature, the township would be required have to draft a policy framework for second units, along with a set of bylaws that would regulate how these units operate.

Currently, township bylaws exist for a similar type of housing – officially referred to as a “converted dwelling.” A converted dwelling is a semi-detached house that is converted or partitioned into multiple livings spaces. The challenge, however, is that there are limited rules for how these dwellings are made, as well as the requirements that need to be met.

Introducing clear bylaws for second units in the township would allow housing developers to construct their own second units – such as basement apartments – right into their new buildings.

The bylaws would also set out the requirements for amenities such as washrooms and kitchens, and municipal services such as water and hydro services. A second dwelling would most likely also be required to have its own separate entrance from the main dwelling on the property, and might also be required to offer parking, suggested township staff.

Further regulations might also require all second units to be licensed with the township, and could be subject to periodic inspections to ensure they’re following building codes. However, township staff noted that a registry could discourage property owners from creating their own second units, defeating some of the purpose of the changes.

At the moment, the rules being proposed for second units are only demonstrative. Much about how the final set of bylaws will look will depend on the upcoming public engagement process.

As part of the provincial legislature, a statutory public meeting would be held on the rules and regulations for second units in the township, while multiple stakeholders in the community, including the regional government, would need to be consulted.

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