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Ward 10 News: Myths of Secondary Suites

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The Myths of Secondary Suites—Why it’s not what is being promised.


Today, Council will be discussing whether the City should permit the use of secondary suites in all residential areas of the city (blanket approval).


Many of my council colleagues would have you believe that it is only the land-use that is holding back safe, affordable secondary suites in Calgary and that the only way to get your suite legal is to appear before Council and plead your case. They say a blanket approval is the best and cheapest way to increase affordable housing in Calgary and that those who do not support a blanket land-use approval are against secondary suites.


However, this could not be further from the truth and here’s why:

  1. The City does not have the ability to legalize any illegal suites. All suites are illegal until they comply with the Alberta Building Codes, legislation that Council has no authority over.
  2. Blanket approval will not empower anyone to bring illegal suites into compliance. The City currently has over 120,000 properties that already have the appropriate land use for secondary suites; however, Calgary only has 443 legal suites. This suggests that it is not the land use preventing suites from becoming legal.
  3. 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 re-designation fee, as well as the Development Permit fees for secondary suites. The heavy cost for secondary suites comes from having to build the suite to Alberta Building codes which will cost homeowners tens of thousands of dollars.
  4. Applying for a secondary suite is already straight forward. If you already live in the zones where 120,000 properties already have the land-use, you can proceed straight to getting a Development and Building Permit. If you don’t live in an area where you have the permitted land-use, you can apply for free, to have a land-use re-designation. 
     Here's how:
  5. 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 enormous cost to bring the units up to Alberta Building Code standards.
  6. Secondary suites will not solve the housing shortage. With the over 120,000 properties already zoned for secondary suites, we have a 240-year serviced land supply for secondary suites and only a 2.5-year serviced supply for new homes (Greenfield development). This lack of serviceable housing supply is causing the price of housing to go up. 

So why are we preferring one type of development over another, we already have a 100 times more land supply for secondary suites, than we have for new homes?

Increased density has an impact on our water and waste-water facilities as well as the pipes servicing these areas.

The City doesn’t collect levies for secondary suites unlike for new home development which developers have to pay up to 50 percent upfront before building even begins.  Secondary suites are separate living units and create more density in communities. 


Where we need to go

My recent Notice of Motion, which was referred to a working group committee on enforcement and is expected to report back to Council by the end of Q1, is aimed at addressing the disproportionate number of illegal suites that exist to ensure they are made safe. It was also intended to assist the outcast displaced and rejected members of our society to ensure they are provided with safe, affordable housing.
Blanket zoning, as has been demonstrated by Edmonton and Vancouver, will likely only result in a very modest number of legal suites and an indeterminate amount of illegal, unsafe, dangerous but affordable suites. It will not create safe and affordable suites and take away the focus from the real problems causing the price of homes to be so expensive—the lack of new home builds.

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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