Secondary suite debate ends with council requesting new reports

Calgary city council remains divided as it renewed the debate on making it legal for homeowners to create and rent out secondary suites. In the end, council has asked for four reports to help clarify the issues on the controversial topic.

Debate still leaves Calgary city council deeply divided

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said in the past that the approval process for secondary suites in Calgary is not fair or ethical. (CBC)

Calgary city council remained divided as it renewed debate on the question of making it legal for homeowners to create and rent out secondary suites.  

In the end, council requested four reports to help clarify the issues on the controversial topic. The subjects include how to licence the suites, the feasibility of a plebiscite, allowing suites in designated areas near transit and allowing suites in inner-city wards (7, 8, 9 and 11).

The reports are expected to come back to council sometime next year.

Proponents, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi, are pushing for a blanket approval of secondary suites to ease the city's shortage of rental housing. Nenshi and his allies on council say the city needs to ensure that existing illegal suites are regulated.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra says secondary suites must be legalized. (CBC)

Speaking to the chamber of commerce on Thursday, Nenshi said Calgarians should put pressure on the councillors who are on the fence — Peter Demong, Sean Chu, Ray Jones, Shane Keating and Joe Magliocca.

Calgary has thousands of illegal suites in detached homes. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) estimates there are roughly 16,000 illegal suites in Calgary, which has more than 272,000 detached homes.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra told CBC Radio's the Calgary Eyeopener that the prevalence of illegal suites show the city must act to regulate existing suites and allow the orderly construction of new suites.

"So obviously there's a huge demand, there's a thriving black market and it's one of the arrows in the quiver of responses that we have to deploy in order to increase affordability in the city," he said.

Carra also says allowing secondary suites will allow people with lower incomes to stay in their homes as they increase in value.

"And it works for seniors, it works for everybody; it provides a market response to the issue of affordability."

Process broken, say councillors

In 2011, city council passed a motion allowing the creation of secondary suites in new communities. However, applications for secondary suites in existing communities must still be approved by city council individually, something Carra calls a huge waste of time.

Coun. Ward Sutherland opposes the blanket legalization of secondary suites in Calgary. (Katy Anderson/CBC)

Coun. Ward Sutherland agrees the process of getting approval for secondary suites is broken, but he says a policy of approving all secondary suites is not the answer.

"We already have these illegal suites and we're just fooling ourselves to say that we can make illegal suites legal. We have no enforcement authority as the City of Calgary," said Sutherland.

"We can't protect the landlord, we can't protect the tenant and we can't protect the neighbour. We can't do any of this right now, so why would we roll something out that's broken?"

While the reports may bring some clarity to the issue, council members believe any widespread legalization of secondary suites in Calgary is still some ways off.


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