As an incentive for residents to convert their existing illegal secondary suite to become legal and add secondary suites to existing single detached dwelling units, the City of Quesnel is waiving building permit fees from Feb. 26, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2022. (File photo)

As an incentive for residents to convert their existing illegal secondary suite to become legal and add secondary suites to existing single detached dwelling units, the City of Quesnel is waiving building permit fees from Feb. 26, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2022. (File photo)

City of Quesnel to offer financial incentive to encourage secondary suites

In response to Housing Action Plan recommendations, the City is also working on a Rent Bank

Now that secondary suite are legal in Quesnel, the City is proposing a fee exemption to encourage converting illegal suites into legal ones and adding secondary suites to existing homes.

In December, the City of Quesnel’s new Zoning Bylaw came into effect, legalizing secondary suites in residential zones throughout the city.

“As an incentive for residents to either convert illegal suites to become legal or to add a secondary suite in their existing single detached dwelling unit, administration is proposing that we waive building permit fees from Feb. 26, 2020, until Dec. 31, 2022,” Lindsay Allman, the City’s community housing planner, told council during its Feb. 25 meeting. “There are a few reasons for this. The first reason we are recommending this is to encourage new builds of secondary suites to increase our housing stock, as we know from our Housing Action Plan it’s quite small and limited. As well, this would give us a better idea of the number of suites that exist in our community, as building permits are how we track that data.

“And most importantly, to increase tenant safety by ensuring that any existing secondary suites are in compliance with regulation, such as the Building Code. This is supported by our Chief Building Inspector as a tactic to encourage legal suite construction.”

Following that grace period, there would be a surcharge on any permits or illegal dwelling units that have not complied, explained Allman.

Tanya Turner, the City’s director of development services, says this exemption would equal an estimated $170 per permit for the construction of a new suite in an existing home, while if someone were to convert an illegal suite, there are additional surcharges, and the permit value would be about $265.

The building permit exemption for secondary suites, which council approved at the meeting, was part of Allman’s update on the City’s progress on key findings and recommendations from the North Cariboo and Quesnel Housing Needs Assessment, Gap Analysis and Action Plan, which Allman presented to council in late November.

Another proposal coming forward from that housing action plan is a proposed Rent Bank pilot project for Quesnel.

“A Rent Bank is a homelessness prevention tool, and it’s used to serve people facing an unexpected crisis, for example, sometimes if people have to move, they might be able to pay first month’s rent but can’t also afford the damage deposit on top of that,” said Allman.

Allman says Rent Banks provide no-interest loans, which are sent directly to the landlord or utility company or the service provider on behalf of the applicant.

“The applicants are expected to repay these loans, but the agreements are flexible, and it’s catered to each individual situation,” said Allman. “This program allows vulnerable people to avoid loan sharks, which, as you know, have insanely high interest rates and get people in overwhelmingly high debt.”

Allman told council that in December 2018, the Provincial Housing Task Force recommended that the Province fund Rent Banks to assist low-income households.

The closest Rent Bank to us is the Aboriginal Business Development Centre (ABDC) in Prince George.

“They’ve been operating a Rent Bank for about a decade now,” said Allman, noting they’ve been getting their funding from a variety of local charities, and when the Province announced funding for Rent Banks, the ABDC applied and received extra funding to continue working the Rent Bank.

A Rent Bank for Quesnel was one of the recommendations in the Housing Action Plan, and Allman says when she reached out the ABDC, they told her they had some residents from Quesnel asking them about their services.

Earlier this month, Allman, the ABDC and local service providers met to discuss what a Quesnel Rent Bank pilot project could look like.

“The group decided that Dakelh and Quesnel Community Housing Society (DQCHS) was best situated to deliver Rent Bank services in Quesnel, with the ABDC providing the financing, additional financial education capacity, and all the reporting assistance,” said Allman.

“To move forward with this, the ABDC has to renew their Rent Bank application with the Province of B.C., indicating a partnership pilot project with Dakelh and Quesnel Community Housing Society. They’ve asked for a resolution of support from city council, as it would assist their proposal to demonstrate municipality support.”

Council has agreed to write a letter in support of the ABDC’s application for the Rent Bank pilot project.

READ MORE: Final North Cariboo housing report highlights need for more rental supply, housing affordability

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