We seem to spend a lot of time talking about secondary suites at City Council and in the community. Over the past 10 or so years there have been over 30 reports to City Council about them, and currently we are spending hours at Council meetings reviewing and approving (or denying) secondary suites one at a time. In 2014 we had 36 applications before City Council of which 27 (75%) were approved.
For years, we have talked about how this is an incredibly inefficient use of time and that we need to find a better way. I have long espoused that we need to do what other cities have done and simply make secondary suites a permitted use across the city. This will allow property owners to decide whether they would like a secondary suite without having to go through the land use amendment process, but still have to apply for development and building permits. This change has been discussed and proposed at City Council and we have had no resolution. The process remains that a homeowner needs to come before council and make their case as to why they would like a secondary suite.
In order to try and find a way to move forward on this issue, we have proposed that rather than making them a permitted use city-wide, we allow them only in wards 7, 8, 9, and 11. This is our current attempt at a compromise to be able to make some headway.
Over the years, as we have seemingly debated suites ad nauseum, they have been held up at either extreme as either the paragon for the solution to the affordable housing crisis or the pariah that will lead to the wholesale destruction of communities. Let’s be clear: secondary suites are neither.
I believe we should make secondary suites a permitted use everywhere because it gives people choice. It provides choice for a whole host of uses and decisions for property owners. Whether you are a young couple starting out and need income to help with your mortgage; parents who just want the kids out of the house; a senior looking for someone to be around for added security and comfort; or, yes, if you want a rental property to make money, having a secondary suite can meet your needs.
The negatives most often heard about secondary suites usually fall into a couple of categories: too much traffic and parking; and too much density. We also often hear about how renters don’t respect property and about slum landlords. We already have means in place to address each of these negatives, whether it’s parking or unkempt premises. The City requires an off street parking stall for each secondary suite, so that cars are not parked on the street. As well, we have community standard bylaws that can be enforced for unsightly properties (whether they are rental or not!). As to density, well, we are a growing city, we all know we need to add density within our existing footprint if we are to be financially sustainable. A colleague of mine used to refer to secondary suites as invisible density which I believe is an apt description.
Allowing secondary suites is something that almost every other major city has done. It is a way to create more housing choice, particularly in tight markets. In each case, the number of secondary suites being built is minor, very similar to the numbers we see in Calgary. In each case, they have not proven to be either pariah or paragon, but just another option for citizens to use their property. And there is absolutely no reason to think the experience will be otherwise.
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.