A 45 square metre home designed by Wellington architects Cushla and Richard Thurston, an example of what the council is considering allowing as a ‘second suite’.

Council looks at ‘secondary suites’ to help housing market

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An idea to allow Nelson home owners to build a second dwelling, or “suite”, on their section without subdividing, is gaining some traction with Nelson City Council.

Councillor Matt Lawrey is backing the “secondary suite” idea as a way to help solve the region’s growing housing shortage and put a handbrake on rising rents.

A change to the rules to allow secondary suites would give people the right to turn their existing house into two dwellings or to build a second dwelling on their property.

It is common practice in the Canadian cities of Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto, where there are now tens of thousands of secondary suites which hold a large majority of the rental market.

And, it could become a reality for Nelson, with mayor Rachel Reese confirming that the idea is currently being looked at by the council as part of the Nelson Plan Review.

“That’s how it would be considered – as part of the Reserve Management Plan review. Its stuff we’ve been working on for quite some time,” she says.

Matt says that while more state housing is needed, smarter use of privately- owned land would make a big difference in Nelson.

“It’s a brilliantly simple but effective concept and something I campaigned on in October,” says Matt.

“The average occupancy in Nelson is 2.4 people per dwelling, almost two-thirds of private dwellings are home to only one or two residents, and 40 per cent of houses with four or more bedrooms have only one or two people living in them,” he says.

“The biggest impediment to building new houses in Nelson isn’t the cost of construction or red tape – it’s the cost of land.”

“Allowing secondary suites effectively provides people with free land to build on. It’s free because they already own it.”

Matt says allowing secondary suites would have a long list of benefits for Nelsonians.

“It would improve the quality and quantity of our housing stock, make it easier for the elderly to live in their own homes and help family members live near each other and support each other,” he says.

He says that under our present rules such a move would require resource consent, which can be a “challenging and expensive process.”

“The rules date back to a time when there wasn’t as much demand for housing and people were less comfortable about having others living near them,” he says.

“Times, of course, change, and the impression I get is that, these days, allowing secondary suites could be a winner – particularly when you consider the benefits.”

Residents will be able to make a submission to Nelson City Council’s draft Nelson Plan when it is released in October.