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Ward 10 News: Dispelling the myths of secondary suites

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Ward 10 official website

Policy could mean more illegal suites

From Councillor Chabot's letter to the editor published in the Calgary Herald, May 7th 2015.

On May 11th, a proposal is coming before Council to have a blanket land-use approval for four inner-city wards. Proponents say it will create more affordable housing options and help to legalize the thousands of current illegal and unsafe secondary suites in Calgary.

A blanket land-use approval of secondary suites will not create an influx of legal suites, but may have unintended consequences such as encouraging more illegal suites to develop because of the belief that land-use is what is preventing them from being built. 

This is also taking the focus away from the most important issue, the tens of thousands of illegal, unsafe secondary suites that currently exist in Calgary which will not become legal with a blanket land-use approval.

In order for Council to have an informed debate, we must first dispel the myths that are holding us back from moving forward to find concrete solutions. These myths include:

The belief that land-use redesignation will create legal suites. All suites are illegal until they comply with the Alberta Building Code, legislation which Council has no authority over.

Blanket approval will not empower anyone to bring illegal suites into compliance. The City currently has over 80,000 properties that have the appropriate land-use for secondary suites and yet many of these properties currently contain illegal suites which is evident from the fact that there are less than 500 legal suites in Calgary. This demonstrates that it is not the land-use preventing secondary suites from becoming legal.

In addition, all new R1 subdivisions are zoned for secondary suites and even though there are no impediments for the development, there have been very few development permit applications to develop legal and safe secondary suites in these areas.

Secondary suites will not create an influx of housing options. Based on the current market absorption for secondary suites, Calgary has more than a 240-year serviced land supply for secondary suites and only 2.5 years of serviced-land supply for new homes. This lack of serviceable housing supply for new homes is contributing to the increase in housing costs.  

Affordability is not directly tied to legal secondary suites. In fact, the opposite is true. Affordability is tied to illegal, unsafe suites. Legal suites are typically rented at market value due to the significant cost to comply with the Alberta Building Code.

Applying for a secondary suite is not going to be less expensive with a blanket approval. Last year The City waived the $7000 land-use redesignation and development permit fees for secondary suites. The greatest cost for secondary suites is associated with complying with the Alberta Building Code. 

You don’t have to plead your case before Council. Many people voluntarily choose to come and inform Council of their intent for a land-use redesignation—this is not a requirement. A lot of properties have received approval from Council without anyone coming to present on behalf of the application.

Applying for a secondary suite is already straight forward. If you already have the

appropriate land-use, you can immediately apply for a development and building permit. If you don’t have the permitted land-use, you can apply free of charge for a land-use re-designation and development permit.

Additionally, this past March, Council unanimously supported my proposal to create an 18-month amnesty whereby properties that already have the permitted land-use do not even have to apply for a development permit and can go directly to a building permit. This is in conjunction with creating an online public database promoting where legal suites exist, making it easier for renters to identify and find safe suites.

Therefore, I believe that Council should first try to encourage property owners to convert their unsafe, illegal secondary suites or build new suites in areas that are already appropriately zoned prior to opening up the land-use to established single-family residential areas.


This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.
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