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Push for portable tiny houses

Oshawa resident Christine Gilmet wants the city to legalize portable tiny houses such as the one in this photo. (Wikipedia photo)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

What began as a notion of curiosity is now consuming a great deal of Christine Gilmet’s spare time.

Since September of last year, the Oshawa senior has been researching the concept of “tiny houses.”

The term “tiny house” represents a broad spectrum.

In Gilmet’s specific case, she is referring to tiny houses of the portable sort, and with a group of like-minded colleagues, believes the benefits would be far-reaching for residents of all different ages and financial statuses.

Her challenge is these types of houses are not currently legal in Oshawa.

Certain types of tiny houses are legal in the city, such as a 253 sq. foot home at 96 Quebec Street which has gained a lot of attention on social media.

However, under the city’s zoning by-law, that home is treated as a tiny detached dwelling.

The type of tiny house Gilmet is promoting would be considered a “mobile home,” which are not currently allowed in Oshawa.

Commissioner of development services Warren Munro told the Oshawa Express is a challenge when multiple mobile “tiny homes” want to locate on the same land.

However, he said if council were to direct staff to allow it or at least investigate the idea, his and his department would do so.

She said she spoke with between 30 to 40 candidates in last fall’s municipal election about the issue.

“Most of them, if not all of them, were on side saying it is a good idea,” Gilmet notes.

Those discussions have continued over the past few months, and her quest has taken on a life of its own.

Her Facebook group, “Tiny House Oshawa” has gained 385 followers.

Gilmet notes she has been encouraged to officially incorporate her efforts, but she says it isn’t possible for her.

“I’m not a business. As I’m retired, I can’t afford to do all these things people have to do [to be a business person],” she said.

Other region residents have joined in her efforts, ranging from a university student to other seniors, all hoping to see portable tiny houses welcomed across Durham.

But for Gilmet, her primary focus is on her home community.

“I want Oshawa to be proactive,” she said.

Gilmet currently lives in a four-bedroom house, and it has become more than she requires.

The majority of her expenses go into the upkeep of her home, along with other costs such as water, sewer, and utilities.

To her, living in a tiny house would allow her to save more money and more time to do the things she really wants to do.

These types of homes would be suitable for not just a retiree such as herself, but a wide variety of residents, Gilmet says.

She’d like to see a pilot project including a group of 10 or so tiny homes together.

“You could do all the reports the government wants so it can be proved it’s successful,” she says.

She estimates approximately one acre of land would accommodate 10 homes and suggests a number of organizations, including churches and schools could get involved.

“Anywhere that there is land – there are so many options,” she says.

And it goes just beyond an idea in her head, as she has plans and diagrams of a possible project in mind already.

Also at the top of her mind is the access to more affordable housing.

“The [price of] houses are ridiculous, many people can’t afford it,” Gilmet says. “Some people pay between $1,200 to $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment, and they are working three jobs to afford it.”

A common piece of advice to Gilmet has been to reach out to developers, but she said this is a non-factor at this stage.

“Developers don’t want to get involved with something that is technically illegal. Why should a business spend all that time researching something if it’s illegal right now, they’ve got more important things to do,” she said.

“[If] I get the zoning changed, they’ll be interested,” she says.

Aside from the city’s zoning policy, another obstacle is development charges.

Gilmet says under charges one would pay to the region and city would likely be higher than the cost of a tiny house.

“I’d like Durham Region and Oshawa to decrease or waive the development fees,” she said.

She has also reached out to Oshawa’s provincial and federal representatives.

“MPP Jennifer French wishes us good luck, and MP Colin Carrie wants to help get us some funding to go further with this. He’s on board with this.”

Only able to find a scattering of tiny house communities across Ontario, Gilmet says Oshawa and Durham Region could be leaders in the movement.

The next step? She is planning to delegate to the city’s development services committee.

However, this is Gilmet’s first foray into political action, and she is hoping somebody can assist her.

“It’s just getting it in order – somebody to help me put it together in a way that is understandable. I want it to be legal, plain and simple,” Gilmet says.

In hopes of spreading the word, Gilmet has organized the Toronto Tiny Homes Festival on Sept. 7 and 8 at Petticoat Creek Conservation Area.

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