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Victoria's garden suite housing strategy yields 22 approvals among 7,000 eligible properties

Victoria's plans to infuse 'gentle-density' into residential neighbourhoods through a simplified and fast-tracked garden suite policy has failed to generate interest. Only 22 applications have been approved under the program despite nearly 7,000 properties being eligible for garden suites. Calling the program effective, if re-elected Mayor Lisa Helps plans to expand the garden suite initiative to permit 'family-sized' units applicable to 5,600 properties.

Victoria's garden suite housing strategy yields 22 approvals among 7,000 eligible properties
The City of Victoria’s streamlined and less onerous garden suite approvals process has yielded less than two dozen successful applications since its introduction in 2017, according to Mayor of Victoria Lisa Helps.
As part of a re-election platform outlined on the mayor’s website, Helps identifies 22 standalone garden suites as having received the green light from city hall within the last year while pointing out that only 18 such approvals were handed down in the previous decade-plus. Just under 20 are currently awaiting approval.
Nevertheless, at the time of its introduction the fast-tracked garden suite policy was praised by mayor and council as a major step towards easing Victoria’s tight rental housing market through gentle-density applicable to nearly 7,000 properties within the municipality.
Although the garden suite concept is sound and can provide a density up-lift without drastically changing the make-up of residential neighbourhoods, provincial regulations surrounding the construction of garden suites and the City’s requirement to allow only long-term rentals in lieu of short-term rentals (such as AirBnB’s) within them have essentially crippled the policy before it could develop into a serious strategy.
At the time of the City’s release of its new regulations, BC Housing initiated a requirement to force would-be homeowners planning to construct a domicile on their property to pass an onerous builder’s exam prior to proceeding with any self-managed construction project, or to hire a professional builder.
Scoring a pass on the exam has proven to be challenging (even among individuals with construction experience), and the result is fewer owner-build construction projects in the province or a significantly costlier investment at the hands of professionals.
For a small garden suite the present-day cost of professional construction has been estimated at approximately $150,000 or more, depending on site conditions and the desired level of finishings. Municipal taxes, through an up-lift in the value of a property with a secondary home, would also increase.
Considering the ultra-low conversion rate (22 out of 7,000 properties), the City’s program – while a big step forward in terms of reduced bureaucracy and permitting costs – is difficult to paint as anything other than a failure.
But that isn’t stopping the mayor from promising to build on the garden suite program.
On Helps’ blog, the mayor’s re-election communications director Wesley MacInnis states that should Helps be re-elected, she will “expand the [City’s] garden suite program to allow for larger, family-sized units on any of the 5,600 eligible plus-size lots.” Support for larger garden suites, the blog post states, is based on Helps’ having “recognized the effectiveness of this low-impact, citizen-initiated development.”
Of the 7,000 properties where garden suites could be built, 5,600 are deemed large enough to accommodate a secondary home Helps’ team considers suitable for a family. What defines a family-sized home, or the potential construction costs involved in building such a home, are not identified. C
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