It was recently announced that Mississauga decided to grow up. As a means of increasing its stock of affordable housing, the city has put into plan the legalization of secondary suites (basement apartments) by this coming fall. Currently basement apartments are not legal in Mississauga or in Vaughan. A simple internet search reveals basement apartments are being rented out in both cities and other municipalities where they are banned.
This change in policy isn’t through any newly enlightened position on the part of Mississauga council. Bill 140, Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act was passed in January by the Provincial government. According to this bill,
“Municipalities are required to establish official plan policies and zoning by-law provisions allowing second units in single, semi and row houses, as well as in accessory structures (e.g. above laneway garages).”
Yet again, the Province has had to step in to aid the maturing process of suburban municipalities which seem inept in managing their own growth. First it was curbing sprawl through the Places to Grow Act and the creation of the Greenbelt, now McGuinty, has to again play the role of Premier Dad forcing municipalities to grow up.
In Vaughan, growing up is hard to do, and a potential political minefield. Homeowners in Vaughan will tell you they moved here for a “suburban” way of life and wish to maintain that increasingly diminishing notion as much as possible. Part of that way of life involves living in predominantly middle class neighbourhoods with fellow homeowners, where members from other socio economic and racial groups are underrepresented or not represented at all. This fear seems outdated and completely inappropriate in a city that is already rapidly urbanizing and becoming increasingly diverse. Change is difficult.
Allowing residents to rent dormant basements is both equitable and sustainable. It will also generate income for residents on fixed incomes or those struggling to pay mortgage costs on large homes. A small rental tax could help raise money for the municipality. This money could be used to help support public transit.
According to The City of Vaughan’s Social Services Report completed in 2009, “With housing costs rising, income not keeping pace and a lack of diversity in housing choices, the ability of Vaughan residents to purchase a home is diminishing. In addition to rising housing costs, almost a third of Vaughan’s residents are spending more than a third of their income on housing.”
The notion that secondary suites will lead to increased traffic congestion in Vaughan is a myth. In fact, secondary suites have the potential to alleviate congestion on our roads. More people commute to Vaughan to work then leave Vaughan to work elsewhere. This statistic is the result of a lack of rental housing within the city. Increasing the stock of rental housing will only help alleviate congestion on our roads as those choosing to rent in the city are doing so to be closer to jobs in order to reduce their commute times.
In February of 2010 the previous Vaughan Council approved the creation of the Secondary Suites Task Force to study and provide recommendations regarding the implementation of secondary suites. To this day nothing has been presented back to council or published. With the previous election in the same year, it was expedient for the politicians of the day to take this issue off the table. As we all now issues have a way of ruining with a good campaign.
The issue of Secondary Suites is a real test of this council. The province requires municipalities to allow secondary suites yet has been very shrewd, forcing local politicians to approve the legalization at the municipal level. No doubt this legislation would have been easier if forced on the municipality, allowing Vaughan politicians to point the finger at the Province. Are we to expect the usual political ineptitude regarding this issue for the next two and a half years? Or is the “new” Vaughan council ready to start making the tough decisions that come with a city growing up.