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Tiny homes could become affordable housing solutions in Cambridge

Council approves Coun. Scott Hamilton's motion asking staff to look into evaluating options for the development of small and tiny dwellings
A cabin-like tiny home in the woods.

Council hopes tiny homes could have a big impact on the affordable housing market in Cambridge.

That's why council unanimously approved a motion brought forward by Coun. Scott Hamilton to explore the feasibility and regulations around allowing the building of small dwellings last week. 

"We've been discussing tonight and at previous meetings, we're not just facing a housing crisis; we're facing crises," said Hamilton, addressing his peers. "From seniors trying to downsize and having no place to go to millennials trying to purchase their first homes, to renters trying to find a decent space but are priced out of even the rental market because of a lack of availability."  

Hamilton said there are over 3,700 people on the Region of Waterloo's list for affordable housing and it can take years before a file is closed to the satisfaction of the applicant. 

"We're faced now for a need to look at creative ways of dealing with these crises," he said. "Tiny homes, I think, can be a potential contribution to the solution of this problem. They can make a significant contribution." 

Hamilton said he understands this idea is significantly different than what Canadians generally associate with the word 'home,' and that everyone's interpretation of the concept of tiny homes is also varied.

"There are questions to be answered," he said. "What are the acceptable sizes of these particular homes? What are the exact setbacks within a lot that these homes will be permitted in? What are the safety procedures that should be allowed in terms of power, sewage, electrical? What can be permitted and what couldn't be?" 

That's why, Hamilton added, a report outlining best practices, acceptable sizing, requirements, land use, and any other necessary rules will be a first step in engaging in a unified conversation.

Building tiny homes, he said, is a way of gently intensifying the city's density.

Coun. Jan Liggett was also onboard but she had some questions.

"I think it's a good step forward," she said, adding, "I think there needs to be storage. Because if there isn't any kind of storage, it's going to be outside the unit and then we're going to get all sorts of complaints about how it looks. We have to look at the quality of life these people are dealt and provide them with some property storage." 

Coun. Pam Wolf also voiced her enthusiastic support.

"Everybody deserves an opportunity to have a home," she said. "Tiny homes may fill a gap in our housing stock. We have very little affordable rental at the moment and tiny homes could be the perfect solution for a student beginning their journey or a senior nearing its end. Tiny homes will not be the whole answer to affordable housing prices, but it will give us a tool to use." 

Coun. Nicholas Ermeta said he could get behind the idea but encouraged council to continue looking at other innovative ways of increasing affordable housing, too.

"I do think it's good to look at other models as well, like multi-generational housing," he said. "We should be asking developers to provide that as an option. There's been discussion in the past about laneway housing."

Staff will report back on the matter by the end of this year.