Nested comfortably in a Green Timbers home containing multiple suites, she shuddered when the city announced it was moving to shut down the units.
With an estimated 4,000 homes containing multiple suites in the city, Bonnie Burnside believes there would be a mass displacement of renters, most with very few options of where to go.
Burnside lives in one of those homes and says she’s getting a great deal from friends. When word of a crackdown spread, she was not so much worried about herself, but about others who would be evicted.
Burnside thinks about the welfare of two of her sisters and a nephew, who live in homes with multiple suites.
“I was concerned,” Burnside said. “But I understand completely the fact that there are issues with these multiple suites.”
She acknowledges there may be a lack of inspection standards for homes with more than one extra dwelling unit. In fact, city documents indicate there are no provincial guidelines for dwellings with more than one suite.
However Burnside said her sisters and nephew are in positions where they couldn’t afford to live elsewhere.
When those family members are displaced, it’s likely other family members will pick up the slack, in many instances housing them until they can find new accommodation.
“It affects more than just the moms with the kids,” Burnside said. “It affects other people too. It affects the seniors who are living in (suites) who can’t afford anything else. People do need a place to live.”
One of those people is Burnside’s sister Wendy Patterson.
Patterson has lived in a Newton home for three years. The one-bedroom was new when she moved in, and her $550-per-month rent includes Hydro.
She was distressed when she heard the city is looking at closing down multiple suites.
“I’m not impressed at all,” Patterson said. “If they end up shutting all of these down, I’m going to – within my budget – have no place that I can afford to go.”
It would mean moving out of the Lower Mainland, she said. And without a car, that means it’s unlikely she’d be able to work at Softball City.
If Surrey continues its push to close multiple suites, there’s going to be some heartache, Patterson said.
“All these people who are doing what they can, making ends meet and working, are finding a hard time finding a place to live,” Patterson said. “You can’t even afford a one-bedroom apartment nowadays.”
“Basement suites are within those people’s budgets.”
Sarah Sharma owns three properties, one of which has multiple suites. She sees it as providing affordable housing for those on lower incomes.
“There’s a need for that. A lot of people can’t afford expensive housing,” Sharma said. “The facility is there, and I think it is a great thing to share the living arrangement like that.”
Sharma has a property in southwest Panorama with two rental units – a coach house and a secondary suite.
The coach house is legal she said, adding the city began charging her an extra fee for the secondary suite last year.
“The city knows it, and the city has written a letter saying I know you have a kitchen there, and I said ‘yeah, we do,'” Sharma said.
Because of that, she thought both were legal. However, Surrey’s secondary suite bylaw prohibits a suite when a coach house is rented.
Sharma, a realtor, also owns another property in Newton and one in Mission, neither of which has a suite.
She says the neighbours have no problem with her having the two rental units.
“As long as there’s enough parking available,” Sharma said. “Sometimes parking is a mess here, but we manage.”
She said the suites are important to some, because banks will want to know there is enough income coming in before approving a mortgage.
“It’s a great thing I think,” she says.
Some people have already been displaced as the city begins to enforce its bylaw.
Brittany Willmott, a 25-year-old care aide, just moved out of a North Surrey home with multiple suites and saw bylaw officials come in and shut some of them down.
She was allowed to stay in one of the remaining suites, but she soon moved out to another home with multiple suites in Panorama Ridge.
She pays $600 for what she describes as a clean and large one-bedroom suite.
“There’s a lot of one-bedrooms, but not a lot of places that will take pets,” Willmott said, adding she wouldn’t think of parting with her seven-year-old cat, Moe.
The monthly rent is a bit above her comfort level financially, so she’s looking for a second job.
She said she’s hoping not to see the same type of bylaw crackdown at her new place, because at her price range, and with a pet, she’s running out of options.
“I can’t afford an apartment, and a lot of apartments don’t take pets – I would literally be living in my truck,” Willmott said.
City officials are currently exploring the possibility of allowing multiple suites in some zones in Surrey.
Next week: What other cities in the region are doing about secondary suites.
Previous stories in this series: