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Sicamous focused on building secondary suites as affordable housing options

Introduction of proposed plan library intended to make building suites easier
A construction worker works on a house in a new housing development in Oakville, Ont., Friday, April 29. 2011. Sicamous is working towards establishing a plan library to streamline the process to build secondary suites on existing homeowners’ properties. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Richard Buchan

Sicamous is working to make more long-term, affordable housing available by working with builders and property owners to create more secondary suites.

Following a call out for local builders to submit secondary suite building plans for a library to be made available for interested applicants, six proposals from different companies have been discussed by the district’s Housing Committee to prepare them to be forwarded to council for further consideration. Each differs in price per building plan and what the architect is willing to offer for that price, such as site visits and updates coinciding with building code changes.

The original criteria for the plans was for the designs to be 350 to 600 square feet, adaptable for accessibility purposes, modifiable to accommodate small additions or slightly altered layouts, to have affordable heating and cooling systems and be detached. The cost to construct was to be kept around $200-250 per square foot and plans were to meet BC Energy Step Code 3 requirements.

At the Aug. 29 committee meeting, Brian Anderson of Bayview Homes shared his opinion on new builds within the district.

Anderson spoke about the unique floodplain levels in different areas of Sicamous, which affects what can be built where and the prices to build. Basement suites are not suitable in the district, he said, because the ground is mostly made of sand which affects homes’ foundations and underground suites can become damp and have mould and air quality issues.

The plan library for above ground ‘garden’ suites built as secondary living spaces on lots with existing homes is a good idea, said Anderson, and he hoped it would make the process easier and incentivize builds.

The main priority is to remove any barriers at the local government level, because just stressing the need for affordable housing throws the onus solely on the homeowner, he said.

“It’s just not normal people building houses anymore, like working class,” said Anderson, commenting on the rising cost of materials and construction. “It’s a big nut to crack.”

Read more: Solutions for long-term housing in Sicamous a priority

He added older people, which make up a majority of Sicamous’ population, often own large family homes but want to downsize, and may want to live in a new garden suite while a younger family member moves into the big house. However, he said older people often share with him a “healthy fear of the district and its red tape,” unsure of what the process entails and wondering how a new build will affect their taxes. He suggested the problem isn’t how many secondary suites are allowed on one property, as staff shared previously the zoning changes that allow four dwellings on some lots in town, but getting people to build them in the first place.

The plan library is a good start, said Anderson, and although he noted contractors can’t give a one-price-fits-all quote for the plans, fixed costs like heating systems, plumbing, electrical and ventilation installs shouldn’t vary much once set for each plan. Big factors involve sewer systems, which are allowed to tie into the main line, and water, which may need to be upgraded or metered separately.

Anderson said his concerns centre around placing a price on the library plan options then having builders shocked at additional costs around construction.

Sometimes interested builders bring Anderson general plans found on the internet, and he said this is risky because it won’t necessarily cater to Sicamous’ specific needs. Affordable plans approved by the district will make it easier for owners to follow his usual suggestion to rough in a plan for a secondary space that can be added to later if homeowners are wary of additional costs when building more modest principle homes.

“It’s all dependent on what they can afford,” he said when asked if lots of people are even asking to build detached secondary suites right now. “It has to be made affordable.”

District staff also shared more information about the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Housing Accelerator Fund and a BC Housing pilot project possibly coming in spring 2024. This loan project would allow loan forgiveness over time, up to $40,000, for additions to a primary house or conversions of an existing space with a home, said staff, which could help alleviate some of the current housing crisis.

Read more: Two Sicamous nonprofits work together to improve affordable seniors’ living situation


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Rebecca Willson

About the Author: Rebecca Willson

I took my first step into the journalism industry in November 2022 when I moved to Salmon Arm to work for the Observer and Eagle Valley News. I graduated with a journalism degree in December 2021 from MacEwan University in Edmonton.
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