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‘Skinny’ houses could alleviate shortage

Proposal made by Smithers and District Chamber of Commerce to add affordable housing.
Modular buildings are hoisted in by crane into spot in Maple Ridge. Smithers is getting its own modular housing project at Queen Street and Railway Avenue to help combat homelessness, but the chamber of commerce suggests smaller lots can help house working people who need more affordable housing. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

So-called ‘skinny’ houses could help alleviate a housing shortage affecting employers here, says the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce.

But first it has to convince the Town of Smithers to allow construction on narrower lots, said chamber manager Heather Gallagher. And that would require a zoning change because houses aren’t now allowed on lots less than 50 feet wide, she said.

The attraction of skinny houses is since they would be smaller, they would be more affordable given current construction costs in the $200 per square foot range, Gallagher added. And that would help solve the current housing situation for newcomers who while have they have a job and are attracted to the area, simply can’t find a place to live or accommodation that’s affordable, she said.

“We believe they would actually enhance a neighbourhood,” said Gallagher, who researched the concept as part of a presentation made to council last month.

“You see them in Europe. They’re narrow but they go way back,” she added.

The attraction in Smithers, Gallagher said, is that there are residential land owners now who have several lots which could be subdivided so that a 25-foot wide lot could be created, a size lending itself to a skinny house project.

In addition to the skinny home concept, the chamber is also asking the Town to consider incentives such as one-time grants for existing homeowners who want to build a laneway home or build other secondary accommodation on their property.

“Housing is not only an issue here; it’s happening all over,” Gallagher noted of affordable housing options.

The chamber of commerce proposal is now on the advisory planning commission’s agenda for its October meeting, at which time it’ll have a Town staff report to consider. Ultimately any zoning change will be decided upon by town council.

Echoing the chamber’s call for more housing options are local restaurateurs who are forming an association to create a unified voice.

In a recent presentation to council, Moe Kafer, on behalf of the restaurant association, spoke of the difficulty of recruiting employees because of the lack of local housing options. Some communities such as Revelstoke, she added, are deep into considering constructing housing specific for service industry workers.

In response, council said it’s open to any ideas and to work in partnership with interested groups regarding housing.

It’s suggested that restaurateurs might work out a deal with a developer to construct rental housing in which the restaurateurs would guarantee that a specific number of units would be rented by their employees.

The Town has also noted that modular housing is being built to provide homeless people with a place to live.