This unsigned editorial originally appeared in the Feb. 18 edition of The Vaughan Citizen and is written by Omar Mosleh.
Here in Vaughan, we are facing an alarming lack of affordable housing. A recent York Region study found that more than 3,400 households are waiting on housing geared toward low-income families.
About 10 per cent of our population is living in poverty, particularly in Woodbridge, Maple and Thornhill, and there are 7,000 single-parent families in Vaughan.
As more new Canadians, single-parent families and young couples move to Vaughan – all growing groups – this urgent need will compound.
An inexpensive and efficient way to provide affordable housing without having to build new homes exists with basement apartments rentals, also known as secondary suites. But in our city, instead of accommodating those who can provide these apartments, we are obstructing them.
Secondary suites are primarily basement units but can be any self-contained apartment in a home. They are illegal in Vaughan.
Those who rent out their basements are breaking the law and can be penalized if they do not comply with a city request to evict tenants.
At the time of this writing, 25 basements apartments appeared on a Craigslist search in Vaughan.
In contrast, other cities in need of affordable housing such as Victoria and Edmonton are offering as much as $24,000 in the form of grants to homeowners to help them build basement apartments or bring illegal ones up to safety standards.
Two main arguments against the existence of basement apartments are the challenges it presents in parking and the difficulty in enforcing fire and safety standards.
But both of these concerns can be addressed with legislation that would make it mandatory to enforce new bylaws. As it stands, hundreds of basement apartments already exist in Vaughan with no clear regulation.
Another concern is that basement apartments put a strain on communities by increasing the density in neighbourhoods not prepared for the population increase.
But whether we acknowledge it or not, our city is growing. Vaughan has one of the fastest growth rates in all York Region. Basement apartments are a great way to meet the inevitable demand for affordable housing.
Basement apartments also address the growing need for rental units in York Region.
According to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, York Region has one of the highest rental increases over a 10-year period, one of the tightest rental vacancy rates in the GTA, and a high percentage of tenants paying 30 per cent or more of their gross income on housing.
It is simply impossible to expect many new families on a modest income to afford most of the housing stock in Vaughan, which primarily consists of single-family households approaching the $500,000 mark.
Furthermore, our population is aging. Basement apartments provide a sensible and affordable rental alternative for new families and seniors.
In addition, it gives the option to landlords to rent out their basement for additional income. It’s not only good for renters, but for homeowners, too.
Despite all these points in favour of legalizing basement apartments, many are still hesitant.
A recommendation to undertake a study on secondary suites, along with the establishment of a secondary suites task force, will go to city council on Tuesday.
The issue is not a simple one. But there is more to gain than there is to lose in exploring how these units can be legalized. It is critical that we launch this initiative to ensure a healthy and sustainable community for future generations.
Vaughan is a city that is changing. Municipalities such as Barrie, Newmarket, East Gwillimbury, Caledon, Pickering, and Toronto have all legalized basement apartments without much complication. It is time Vaughan follows suit.