RDN looking at factors to make tiny homes legal

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Gabriola Sounder

Wednesday, June 2 2021

Following a motion by Electoral Area B Director Vanessa Craig, the Regional District of Nanaimo will begin exploring the legality of tiny homes in the region.

Craig’s motion, which passed at the May 25 board of directors meeting, directs staff to look into making tiny homes with and without wheels a legal living space “in recognition of the current challenges with affordable housing in the Regional District of Nanaimo.”

“Although the motion speaks about affordable housing, it’s more about how we can create and maintain healthy, diverse, sustainable communities,” Craig said at the electoral area services committee (EASC) meeting before directors unanimously passed the motion.

A 2021 BC Housing report defines tiny homes as a permanent ground-oriented dwelling with space to cook, eat, live, sleep and wash. They are detached, moveable and non-motorized, under 500 square feet and intended for full-time living. The report says the home type, while currently mired by variable codes, standards, financing and insurance, could address “missing middle” housing choices between conventional single family homes and apartments or condominiums.

The report writers encourage a number of actions such as including tiny homes in the provincial building code and in official community plans.

The RDN staff report will help directors understand the current barriers, Craig told the Sounder. In Area B, the RDN’s consideration of tiny homes would be in relation to building permits and the British Columbia Building Code as the Islands Trust regulates zoning. Currently, there are no specific regulations for tiny homes in the Gabriola Local Trust Area; the Islands Trust treats them like principal or accessory dwellings if they’re on a foundation, or as an RV if they are on wheels.

While surveys completed by the Gabriola Housing Working Group earlier this year didn’t specifically ask residents about tiny homes, several respondents indicated support for the housing option, Steve Earle, a member of the Housing Advisory Planning Commission (HAPC) and working group, said. 

“I think that tiny homes do have an important role to play in affordable housing and I am strongly in favour of changes in rules that would make it easier to build one, to live in one, to provide land for someone else to live in one or to develop a community of people living in tiny homes,” Earle said. The HAPC has noted the Local Trust Committee should consider clustered small units and building code restrictions “that limit the ability for tiny homes” as well as investigate the community appetite for tiny homes. 

For the RDN, it remains to be seen if it has the people power to manage what Craig wants to investigate. 

“It’s a fairly significant project; there are many aspects to tiny homes from building code to zoning to servicing,” Paul Thompson, acting general manager of strategic and community development, told the EASC committee. 

“It’s not just resources to do a report but looking in the longer term – if we look at tiny homes, do we have the resources to monitor it?” Bob Rogers, Electoral Area E director, said, using homes on wheels or on rental property as examples.”