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The first signs Ontario is warming up to tiny homes

If you’ve heard that Ontario isn’t friendly to tiny homes, you’re not wrong. In the past, Ontario municipalities have been unwelcoming to the tiny home movement and, today, many issues remain.

However, in recent years, a few factors have lead to Ontario municipalities starting to warm up to tiny homes on foundations. Among those are reviews and amendments to the Ontario Building Code and pressure on municipalities to come up with attainable and affordable housing solutions.

While researching locations for the Tiny Home Land Directory, we’ve seen many Official Plans currently under review – and we can’t wait to see what happens. In the meantime, here are three Ontario organizations – three builders and one not-for-profit – that have seen their tiny home project receive support from their municipalities.

Ontario and its municipalities are learning as they go

Yuergen Beck of Redwood Homes was there when the province was developing the Build or Buy a Tiny Home guide. In fact, his build is one of the example photos used in the guide.

Photo: Redwood Homes 1000 Islands Ltd.

Yuergen came to be interested in tiny homes when he saw an unfulfilled need in the communities where he was working.

“We were regular home builders and renovators for 30 years. In 2015, we began to get involved in a few different community housing groups, not just affordable housing, but special needs and different special interest groups as well. We decided that, okay, rather than renovating existing homes to try to fit the person [with special needs], why not build a house that fits a person initially.”

Yuergen’s first foray into tiny homes involved in designing a prototype of a small and inexpensive home for homeless youth. He then spent several years researching and visiting tiny home factories in Europe and the United States.

Trying to build his first homes, Yuergen noticed gaps and obstacles in the Ontario Building Code that he felt should be addressed by the province.

Photo: Redwood Homes 1000 Islands Ltd.

“We said, here are the gaps. There are people out there building tiny homes and trying to sell them on Kijiji because they couldn’t get an occupancy permit or they weren’t built to code, or weren’t seen by an inspector during the process and so on.”

“Quite surprisingly, they listened. They said, “Okay, leave it with us.” So the first thing they did was they removed the minimum house size requirements. Subsequently, they said, “We we will allow two secondary units to be on a property. So, one attached and one detached.”

Yuergen is quick to point out that he is not solely responsible for getting the province to see the light on tiny homes. “I don’t want to come across like we made this happen. By no means take this as we were the only people having this dialogue – the province didn’t change because I called them. We happened to be part of the conversation and obviously enough people asked and they listened.”

Photo: Redwood Homes 1000 Islands Ltd.

The two-permit process

The final development that propelled the possibilities of tiny homes in Ontario is the two-permit process.

Yuergen remembers the days before this was possible: “If I build the home here, how can I send it to another location? Unfortunately, there were a few examples where community groups built some tiny houses and, under the old law, they weren’t inspected by the receiving township, so they didn’t accept them. It created a lot of problems.”

“Last year, the province allowed video inspections. But now, as of this year, any building official that’s provincially licensed and regulated can inspect it, and you’d have two buildings permits – one to say it’s built according to the OBC, and the other to accept it in the receiving location.”

Getting a completed and permitted tiny home dropped in your backyard

Stephen Harris from WhiteRock Tiny Home Solutions started building tiny homes in Cambridge, ON and utilizing the two-permit process.

“There’s a lot of confusion over the different types of tiny homes: on wheels or foundations, three-season or four-season, zoning bylaws, etc. We needed to cut through that and ensure we do things legally.”

Photo: WhiteRock Tiny Home Solutions

“So we went to the municipalities. We told them our plan and explained we wanted to be partners with them, working alongside each other.”

“They were super receptive and very willing to work with us. In fact, they had to start developing their own internal processes on how to deal with all this because it’s all so new. In many cases, they hadn’t done it before.”

“There was quite a bit of back and forth when it came to the tiny home’s design. In my opinion, we worked together with really good problem solving to figure it all out.”

Photo: Whiterock Tiny Home Solutions Inc.

“At one point, we got into a situation where the Ontario Building Code was really hard to overcome. It was challenging, so we actually went directly to the ministry, and ended up working with them as well as the municipality. We were all working together to come up with a design that worked, and the City of Cambridge approved it!”

“Now that we have our own relationship with the municipality, we’re finding there are even more opportunities to build legal, OBC-compliant tiny homes.”

With the home being built in the City of Cambridge and inspected there, it will have an Ontario building permit upon comletion. The two-permit system means the home will be accepted at any other Ontario municipality as already inspected – which means the local inspector can’t ask you to tear apart the walls to look inside, for example.

Photo: Whiterock Tiny Home Solutions Inc.

Once a location is chosen for the home, a second permit – a site permit – is required to determine if the site itself is appropriate for the home. That’s the very detailed pages in your zoning by-law that talk about sight triangles, setbacks, and the like.

If all is good, the home arrives on a flatbed truck and gets majestically lowered by crane on the prepared foundation while the whole neighbourhood watches.

Photo: Whiterock Tiny Home Solutions Inc.

Putting in an ADU (additional dwelling unit) tiny home in Kitchener

Simon Wong installed Kitchener’s very first tiny home as a secondary dwelling unit. It took his company, Kitchener Tiny Homes, three months to obtain all the necessary permits. Then, a surprisingly short four months to construct the 500 sq.ft. home (“from shovel in the ground to occupancy”).

“The permit process is fairly straightforward. We needed to submit a “Site Plan” showing various items such as lot width, lot size, lot coverage, parking, emergency access pathways, etc. From there we had a scheduled meeting with a staff member from the Planning Department for a site visit to confirm measurements.”

Photo: Kitchener Tiny Homes

“Once the site plan was approved, we got to move onto Building Permit. Our Designer, Chris helped us a lot through this process. We came up with a design, consulted with engineers and submitted our drawings.”

Another surprise was the positive reaction from neighbours. Typically, municipalities avoid conversations around tiny homes out of fear of NIMBY-ism (Not In My BackYard). However, Simon’s experience in Kitchener was very different.

Photo: Kitchener Tiny Homes

“We thought there would have been much more community pushback and negativity. However, throughout the process, we had countless neighbours stop by and tell us what a great idea this was, how they wished they could have one in their backyard too, and how well it fitted into the neighbourhood.”

Photo: Kitchener Tiny Homes

Simon’s vision for future tiny homes in his area reflects the motivations of the province to get this underway. “My future vision is to see the best use for under-utilised land. We have a lot of land here in Canada, and many large backyards, even within city limits. I can see many neighbourhoods with Backyard Homes (ADUs) or Garden Suites. It’s a significantly underrated tool to address the housing supply crisis.”

A tiny home community for YWCA near London, ON

Seeing under-utilized land go to better use creating positive and affordable housing experiences for the under-privileged is the driving force behind the burgeoning tiny home community of St-Thomas, ON.

Photo: City of St Thomas

Located near London, ON, this small town boasts a rich history, but has not been able to escape the housing crisis affecting all of the region. Now, the township has pledged $3 million towards a tiny home community project with the YWCA.

Melissa Kempf, Communications Office Manager at the YWCA of St. Thomas-Elgin beams with pride as she tells us about the affordable housing community, Project Tiny Hope, that her organization is developing for women and their children.

“Our community is always looking for affordable rental options. With our supportive housing waitlist, we’re probably up near the 800-900 range. Many organizations have come together in what we call the coordinated access for housing. So, different housing groups trying to find affordable housing for those in need.”

“Four years ago, Doug Tarry, the home-builder that we partnered with, came to us with the idea to maximize the square footage that would be available on a site and try to figure out what our community needs were, whether it was single units, multi family units, that sort of thing.”

“The community has transformed over the last few years into what our plan is now, which is to have 40 tiny homes – 16 bachelor units, 4 1-bedrooms, 14 2-bedrooms and 6 3-bedrooms. We found through our research that there was a much greater need for housing for smaller families than we realized in our community.”

“While some people might think that a tiny home has to just be just one bedroom or a loft, that sort of thing, we are still scaling the units to match what the community needs.”

While the houses themselves may not be the classic tiny home size, it’s the tiny home community ethos that inspired the development.

“For us, we find great value for our residents in that community atmosphere. I think having a tiny home community lends itself to the sharing of resources, the community garden and naturalized playgrounds, as well as our program house – a larger open space for being able to run cooking workshops and other support services.”

Photo: City of St Thomas

Melissa and her colleagues hope that situating the homes around a shared space will create a sense of community while also providing more independence.

“Currently many of our residences are communal living. I think a big part of Project Tiny Hope is giving people more freedom and more independence, but with a community base.”

The intended residents of the community are those most in need. “This is for folks who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless. Our plan is to dedicate 50% to women and women-led families, 10% to indigenous and 25% to youth ages 16 to 24. Once their application is in the system, it would be evaluated based on that criteria. Our hope is to have comparable pricing to as if someone was on the Ontario Disability Support Program. So we’re looking at rent between approximately $520 for the one bedroom to $889 for the three bedroom.”

Melissa shares the details of the location chosen by the YWCA for Project Tiny Hope.

“Because this was a brownfield with an old factory, it has been sitting vacant for a number of years. On top of what we’re planning the site to be, it’s also going to beautify that area that has just been a vacant brownfield for so many years.”

“Oftentimes, when residents come to us in unstable housing conditions, it’s the smaller things that go by the wayside. Planning out affordable foods, access to services. Our location being right downtown, they can literally walk to the library or the food bank in five minutes. We have some parks in the vicinity as well. A childcare center that’s just being built by our city. That’s only a block away. So there’ll be less stress on the residents. More services, right in their neighborhoods.”

One of the challenges the YWCA faced in the beginning stages was getting everyone on board.

“A challenge when you have such an innovative idea, something that’s never been done in this area before, is being able to present the vision to everyone. It’s not just the neighbours that will be impacted; local stores will have more people in the area. Additional services for the people that are living there.”

“Sometimes there is a bias of this is housing for the homeless or those in need. A lot of times you see in the news, the tent shelters that have been in our area, especially in London, that sort of thing. So people can have the perception and fear that the community might turn into that.”

“But everyone deserves affordable housing. And we are providing the extra resources and support services to make it successful for them to help them find employment options, to help with budgeting and life skills, that sort of thing. So it’s more than just the home that they’re getting. It will be a whole new way of life.”

Melissa and her colleagues’ unwavering faith in Project Tiny Hope has inspired the city and many local organizations to join in.

“We had some amazing support for sure. Through our local community and businesses so far we’ve raised 2.2 million. The full project will cost close to 15 million. We are applying for the Rapid Housing Initiative with the Federal Government and asking about 6.6 million. That will be a huge jumpstart. If that funding is locked in, then our local municipal government has agreed to bring forward 3 million. This will allow us to start the project. If all goes well, we should be able to start construction this summer and move the first residents in by December 2024.”

Melissa’s personal motivation for staying the course with tiny homes echoes everyone else we spoke to as well.

“Overall, I would say the vision is continuing to inspire and encourage our community to find solutions for affordable housing. Being able to change the course of someone’s life is monumental.”

2 Comments

  1. I would love to see a tiny home community built in Ottawa or it’s outskirts or at least make smaller lots available at reasonable prices for a tiny home build. I’ve been dreaming of owning and living in a tiny home for the last ten years. I’m 62 and I would like the rest of my days spent living a less expensive life where my pension is actually enough to live on so I can enjoy my life.

    1. All the best to you Cristina. It would be wonderful for you be able to enjoy living in a nice spot where your pension is enough to live on. I cheer you on!

      I hope this for all of us!

      Cheers!

      Jill

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