Barrie seeing surge of secondary suites

by Neil Sharma on 03 Sep 2021

The City of Barrie is one of Canada’s most expensive rental markets.

PadMapper determined that one- and two-bedroom apartments in Barrie averaged $1,730 and $1,920, respectively, in July—to put that in perspective, a one-bedroom unit in Toronto was $1,710. However, unlike Canada’s largest city, Barrie isn’t replete with high-rises, and while the resulting rental supply crunch is pushing prices upward, secondary suites are beginning to proliferate in the city.

“There were hundreds of illegal apartments but when the city passed new a bylaw allowing for legal second suites in any zoning area in the City of Barrie, it was only a matter of time before the floodgates opened for investors to flock here and buy up single-family homes to put in second entrances or make basement suites,” said Jeremy Brooks, license partner at Engel & Völkers Barrie. “The east and north ends of Barrie are filled with old bungalows from the ‘50s and ‘60s that already have second entrances and they’ve been getting snatched up.”

Barrie has been undergoing major changes during the last few years and embraced a nascent urbanism that includes the rejuvenation of Dunlop St. W. near its six-kilometre waterfront. Moreover, the city expects 210,000 new residents in the next decade and 129,000 new jobs by 2041.

But COVID-19 seems to have kicked migration to Barrie into high gear and it’s created robust demand for housing. The city has attracted a lot of buyers from the GTA because of its comparatively larger lots, and now single-family homes that sold for $600,000-700,000 a few years ago are pushing $1 million, consequently creating a larger pool of renters.

“Barrie opened up the door for legal garden suites, so now without any zoning restrictions at all you can have a single-family home and build a separate detached garden suite in the backyard that’s up to 10% of your lot coverage, and there aren’t any development charges at all. You just need a permit,” said Brooks.

“I would be guessing at least 50 of those popped up in the city in the last 16 months alone. That’s really opened up the market for investors, and with that has come an increase in rents. It’s higher than I ever would have guessed.”

The main floor of a duplexed bungalow can rent for as much $2,000, while the basement could command $1,750-1,800, added Brooks.

Sixty-five percent of buying activity in Barrie is attributable to GTA residents, and while the city’s rental pool is believed to have more diverse provenance, a substantial cohort hail from abroad.

“Georgian College has been growing and they’ve made it a priority to attract international students, a lot of whom make up a big chunk of people coming into the city. In fact, a lot of the north and east end rental markets are driven by international students,” said Brooks. “Outside of that, people have been coming to Barrie for the last three to five years because it’s one of the safest cities in Ontario, the hospital is growing—south Barrie has the medical campus now—and there are so many different retail stores and restaurants popping up all the time. It’s a city that’s experiencing a lot of growth literally because of growth—the more attention it gets, the more people move here, and the pandemic really put a magnifying glass on it.”

However, not everybody welcomes seeing their erstwhile sleepy town bustle, especially in such a condensed period of time. Garden suites, in particular, have drawn the ire of NIMBYs, and while they might not be in their backyards, they’re pretty close.

“The city is, as we speak, doing a review of the bylaw for garden suites to see if they need to regulate them more for size and the application process outside of just having a house with a backyard,” said Brooks. “It will be interesting to see if the city does put the brakes on that with this rental demand.”

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