(File photo)

(File photo)

BUCHOLTZ: City of Surrey’s suite problem is its own doing

City needs to sort out its housing issues, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz

Whether it was due to detailed reporting, a meeting with housing-industry reps or a change of heart, City of Surrey has done the right thing in putting plans to evict tenants of 175 suites on hold.

Mayor Linda Hepner has said the city would look at options and hold off enforcement of a letter sent to East Clayton property owners in August, which gave them six months to get rid of their tenants and illegal suites.

The letters were sent because the city felt it was running out of options for the area’s parking problem.

A recent Surrey Now-Leader series on issues faced by tenants received a great deal of attention. While some readers were unsympathetic to their plight, most felt the city needed to back off.

This feeling was magnified by the difficulty people are having in finding homes. Vacancy rates are low and rents have been rising swiftly, due to supply, demand and the ever-increasing cost of buying a home.

David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC, said “the density model in Clayton Heights is the model for the future, so there is a certain irony that instead of focusing on housing Surrey families, we’re focusing on their cars.”

A commentary by University of BC professor Patrick Condon and a letter to the editor by Mike McLennan, spokesman for a group of property owners who pushed for urbanization of East Clayton more than 20 years ago, have added background.

Condon notes the university was asked to help facilitate perspectives on development, and McLennan states that his group objected to the city’s approach to parking.

The resulting plan for East Clayton, which has been credited as Condon’s work, came up with innovative ideas that were new for Surrey, including space for storefront home-based businesses, detention ponds that didn’t hook into the storm-sewer system, legal suites and much smaller lots. As Condon notes, these homes were more affordable.

The plan assumed better transit. While a shuttle bus was added last month, there is minimal internal transit. Most people need cars. The plan did not allow enough space for parking, and subsequent road improvements have taken away more spaces.

The plan, rather naively, did not anticipate that homeowners would add illegal second suites, that they would often have more than two vehicles, or that many would use their garages for storage.

In effect, what had been a rural area was built to a much higher density than expected. While many urban services were quick to follow, public services such as schools, transit and libraries are still substandard.

The city has dealt with parking from an enforcement perspective, and has done little to find long-term solutions.

There needs to be a detailed look at how to provide more parking – whether through a permit system, use of space at schools and parks overnight, parking lots for people who bring work trucks home or another combination.

Surrey also needs to look at how best to legalize suites and receive additional revenue to provide needed public services.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Surrey Now-Leader.


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