City studying ways to help residents build secondary dwelling units

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Move comes as cities around the country struggle with housing availability and affordability. Staff is expected to report back to councillors early next year. 


At a recent City of Hamilton Planning Committee meeting, Councillor Maureen Wilson (Ward 1 – Westdale-Chedoke-Cootes) brought forward a motion for city staff to write a report exploring the feasibility of a number of ways that the city can help residents build more secondary dwelling units (SDUs).

SDUs are self-contained units that are located on the same lot as a principal dwelling. SDUs can take the form of basement apartments, granny-suites, garden suites, laneway housing, coach houses, accessory dwelling units, and in-law suites.

Zoning changes were made by Council in 2021 to allow more secondary dwelling units to be built within the municipality.

However, Wilson says that she had conversations with many property owners during the 2022 election campaign who want to build SDUs but “they didn’t really know where to begin, they didn’t know who to contact, they didn’t know whether their lot qualified.”

Thus, her motion suggests that the city creates a program to assist homeowners with building SDUs. It should be noted that Wilson’s motion is specifically to help folks build detached secondary dwelling units (SDU-Ds).

The motion asks staff to report on the feasibility of “expediting the permitting and approvals process for SDU-Ds through a ‘one-window’ dedicated approvals team.”

The motion also suggests that the city create a library of “permit-ready” SDU-D designs to make the process even easier.

Wilson listed Seattle and Los Angeles as two cities that are taking similar steps to promote SDUs.

Councillor Ted McMeekin (Ward 15 – East Flamborough-Waterdown) expressed strong support for Wilson’s motion, saying that the move is “prudent” and “timely.”

“It’s ultimately going to be helpful to a lot of people who haven’t a clue how to proceed,” he continued.

Although she supported the motion, Councillor Esther Pauls (Ward 7 – Central Mountain) expressed concerns about the costs associated with creating a dedicated approvals team and setting up design templates. 

She is also concerned about the possibility that multiple SDUs could be approved within the same neighbourhood, drastically increasing density and altering a community’s character.

City of Hamilton General Manager of Planning and Economic Development Jason Thorne responded to Pauls’ questions, noting that the potential costs “would be part of the report back.”

He added that the motion appears to simply be about providing “enhanced customer service around individuals who do desire to make these types of applications.”

He said that the city tends to have homeowners who come forward with applications for SDUs, so they do not have “teams of planners and architects and consultants with them” and need more “hand-holding.”

Wilson’s motion also calls on staff to:

– Review the feasibility of creating a “one-stop SDU-D website” 

– Explore how to best connect homeowners to design and construction experts

– Examine how the city can best partner with non-profits, public agencies, and private organizations to “develop models for affordable SDU-D construction” 

The motion passed at Planning Committee and was also later ratified by Council as a whole.

Staff will report back to the committee in Q1 of 2024.

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