Secondary suite incentives approved in Kitimat

Layers of grants to homeowners to develop secondary suites are now available to add stock to Kitimat's rental market.

Kitimat Council has approved a secondary suite incentive program that will kick money back to homeowners who develop their homes with secondary rental suites.

The program is one of the options the District of Kitimat had been researching as ways to potentially alleviate some of the trouble associated with low vacancy rates in town.

The amount of secondary suites in Kitimat has dropped significantly since 1985, when there were 274. Today only 95 secondary suites remain.

While this new incentive program won’t apply to existing suites, it is designed to help absorb some of the construction cost in establishing it.

Kitimat planner Daniel Martin said the incentives start at up to $2,500, or up to 33 per cent of the construction. If you design you suite with accessibility in mind — for instance wheelchair accessible — you get an extra $2,500 grant. More grants, either $5,000 or $7,500, is available if you rent it out as an affordable housing unit, as defined by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and the grant amount depends on how affordable you make the unit.

The largest concern in debate came from Mario Feldhoff who was concerned that taxpayer money could potentially go to homeowners who then turn around and rent out to family members.

I personally don’t feel that’s an appropriate use for taxpayers money,” he said.

Director of Community Planning and Development Gwen Sewell said that staff decided not to pursue those restrictions primarily because human rights legislation make restricting persons who can rent units very challenging.

As well, even if a unit is rented to a family member that’s still a rental unit that is freed up elsewhere, such as an apartment building.

Feldhoff attempted to have the program tabled until council could receive a legal opinion regarding limiting renting to family members, but was ultimately defeated with the rest of council opposed.

In calling for finally approving the program as a whole, with a $50,000 budget, all of council stood with it.