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Building a Tiny Home Community for the Unhoused on Salt Spring Island – Step One

    Governance & Politics, Health & Wellness    March 15, 2019

“A community safely housed.  A path to stability.  A better quality of life” 

Housing forms the building blocks of a community. The recent housing crisis has illustrated exactly how important stable housing is to the solidity of our island. When people don’t have secure housing, their work, school, family life, and even the community suffer. But with a suitable place to live in a safe neighborhood, people are better able to focus on work, health and education and can get to know and help their neighbors. Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, decent, and affordable home.  Tiny homes are a progressive approach to delivering housing that is safe, clean and healthy.

In December of 2013, the non-profit organization Community Frameworks completed the development of Quixote Village in Olympia Washington.  It is the only publicly subsidized permanent supportive tiny house project in the United States. Quixote Village is comprised of 30 tiny cottages with ½ baths for homeless adults and a community building with a large kitchen, bathing rooms and two multi-purpose common spaces on a 2 acre site.  Construction of a second tiny home village is currently underway in Orling, Washington.  Upon completion, it will house homeless veterans.

Salt Spring Island could be home to the first publicly subsidized permanent supportive tiny house project in Canada!   How about 15 tiny cottages with 1/2 baths and an adjacent community building?

It’s not as complicated as you might think.  I’ve broken the process down into 5 easy steps:

Step One – Review Land Use and Zoning By-laws

On the journey towards implementing a tiny home development, one of the first challenges encountered is with local land use laws, notably a jurisdiction’s zoning regulations.

Zoning regulations vary in sophistication from one local government to the next, and many are not equipped to easily handle the concept of multiple, small,detached units on a single parcel under single ownership. This does not mean that such a development is impossible; rather the tiny home project may require a process that has significantly more public engagement and review than would a single multi-unit apartment building.

When approaching a tiny home project it is important to engage in conversation with the local planning department early. Prior to meeting with the planning department, be familiar with state and local code.

Quite often a jurisdiction’s definition of “multifamily” will be very traditional: a single structure of at least three units. Review the local zoning regulations and look for any mention of “Pocket Neighborhoods” or “Cottage Ordinances”. Both of these are increasingly common as a way to encourage infill development and deliver increased housing options in non-traditional formats, all while striving to retain a neighborhood’s character.

At its September 27, 2018 meeting, the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee (LTC) gave Bylaw 512 first reading. Bylaw 512 proposes to rezone 405 Rural-zoned properties to a new Rural zone variant that would permit affordable rental cottages instead of seasonal cottages. Draft Bylaw 512 requires that affordable rental cottages are rented and that a covenant prohibiting subdivision be registered on title. Properties with an area of 2 hectares or greater would be allowed an increased floor area of 90 square metres, while properties with an area between 1.2 hectares to less than 2 hectares would be allowed cottages with a floor area of 56 square metres.

This project was initiated by the LTC in response to a demonstrated need for affordable housing. The project’s purpose is to increase the supply of affordable rental housing in accordance with policies in the Salt Spring Island Official Community Plan.

Perhaps the LTC, in response to a demonstrated need for permanent, safe housing for Salt Spring Island’s unhoused, will initiate a  second new by-law?  One that would allow a new Rural Zone variant that would permit  multiple, small, detached units on a single parcel under single ownership.

It’s also important to pay attention to the density of the zone -generally the number of units allowed per acre, as well as the lot coverage ratio – which is usually the percentage of a parcel that can be covered by a structure.

These, along with parking requirements, will work to limit the number of units that can be accommodated on a parcel. Studying up  prior to meeting with a local jurisdiction will make discussions much more productive. A tiny house development may well require a change to the zoning code.

Planned Tiny Home Community in Orling, Washington

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