Edmonton targets affordability by working to allow more housing options

Zoning land for tiny homes is a way to address housing affordability. File / Postmedia

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Non-traditional routes for residential development can offer solutions to challenges such as affordability.

Edmonton’s infill roadmap, which is what the City of Edmonton dubs its 25-point vision for advancing infill, includes new avenues for options such as tiny homes, garden suites, and secondary suites.

Here are four of the areas that saw zoning bylaw changes approved in 2018 and 2019, or is targeted for public hearing later this year.

Tiny homes

It’s a movement sweeping across many Canadian cities, and interest in Edmonton is no exception.

Expected to go to public hearing Dec. 9th of this year is a proposal that would drop the 5.5 metre minimum building width requirement, allowing smaller manufactured homes to be located in residential zones outside of areas zoned for mobile homes.

“There are not thousands of people looking to do this type of development, but there are some very dedicated people who are interested in creating new opportunities for housing, being innovative,” says Sean Bohle, senior planner, policy development, City of Edmonton.

“I would say, as a rule, we at the city are interested in providing opportunity and flexibility for good, quality development. It became important to us and we included it in the infill roadmap … to find ways to accommodate tiny homes.”

“I think affordability is the major component,” Bohle adds of the tiny home appeal. “And that’s something that we want to support, is more options for affordable housing. But I think that there are tiny homes enthusiasts coming from a number of different backgrounds and interests.”

This proposal will also include, among other changes, revising the definition of recreational vehicles in the bylaw so they will not be used as a place to live.

Secondary suites and garden suites

“There’s quite a broad interest in secondary suites and garden suites and from a variety of perspectives,” says Bohle. “There are people looking to build a secondary suite as a mortgage helper. There are people looking to do secondary or garden suites to accommodate diverse family situations, whether it’s an adult child or aging parents. People who want to downsize but don’t want to leave their neighbourhood, or even their property.

“It’s about creating more options for people as they go through different stages of life, and it is also about affordable housing,” he adds.

This past February, council approved several changes that support garden suite development, including removing the maximum floor area for living space, revising inclusive design standards for secondary suites, and removing the minimum floor area on garden suites, which allows stationary tiny homes to function as garden suites.

The changes also included eliminating the minimum lot size for these structures — which like secondary suites — now allow them to exist on narrow lots.

Minimum lot requirements on secondary suites were removed as part of a slate of amendments to its zoning bylaw approved by council in August 2018.

Other amendments included greenlighting secondary suites in duplexes, semi-detached homes, and row housing.

On allowing secondary suites in these housing types, Bohle says “there have been illegal suites in semi-detached housing before. They are a thing that exists out there because there was a demand for them.

“There was an opportunity we had to make these suites, and other suites that can be built, legal suites so we make sure they follow the process and are developed and built in a safe way. That is a positive, I think, in both the provision for affordable housing — creating housing options — and making sure housing developed is safe for the people who live there.”

There was also an adjustment to the maximum floor area for secondary suites built above grade, or partially above grade, which allows for more flexibility with the interior layout, says the city.

Missing middle

Council recently approved changes to medium-scale development such as courtyard housing, townhomes, and walk-up apartments. The city website says, prior to changes made this past August, rules for these zones had not been “substantially reviewed or updated since 2001.”

Among the changes are placing apartments and stacked row housing into a single catch-all use dubbed multi-unit housing, offer incentives for units that have space to accommodate larger households, and roll out density minimums in some zones.

Examples of the density changes include, for the medium-rise apartment zone, eliminating its previous maximum of 224 dwellings per hectare and adding a minimum of 75 per hectare. For row housing, the maximum density of 42 dwellings per hectare was dropped in favour of a minimum density requirement of 35 dwellings per hectare.


City council passed a major update to the high-rise apartment zone in summer 2018 and made amendments aimed at addressing concerns pointed out by applicants this past September.

They include changes around floor area, landscaping requirements, and the maximum height of construction.

“The change that happened in height was to exempt rooftop amenity from maximum height,” Bohle says. “So basically, if you wanted to build a rooftop patio as an amenity area for residents in your apartment building, we said, ‘amenity area creating these spaces, this is something we want to encourage, so we don’t want to make that part of your height calculations.’

“It’s not really expanding the size of the tower, but it says your entire height can be used toward inside living area and if you build amenity area on your roof, we’re not going to count that toward your height,” he adds.