Aging debate

Calgary’s secondary suite saga continues, focus turns to ageing in place

It just might be the suite that broke the camel’s back.

City council debated rezoning one secondary suite for more than three hours on Oct. 6, leaving many since then to further question the process surrounding the issue.

Several residents from the northwest community of North Haven appeared before council to speak against an application to rezone property to include a secondary suite. Included in those speaking against was Sonya Staveley who lives between Nesbitt and Nolan roads, an area zoned RC-1, not allowing secondary suites. She said it’s the process of filing for secondary suites that needs to change.

“[It’s a] total waste of money, time and effort if everybody has to go through this process.”

Staveley suggested before filing, potential secondary suites should get the go ahead from fellow neighbours. If the consensus is “no”, filing isn’t necessary but if neighbours are supportive, then the request should go to council.

The debate over the New Haven condo comes just weeks after councillors Peter Demong (Ward 14) and Shane Keating (Ward 12) argued suites in areas not zoned for their use be allowed if a majority of neighbours supported them.

That idea of public consultation was touched on again Oct. 6, this time by Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot.

“My biggest desire in secondary suites applications is public consultation,” he said. “I keep saying time and again, talk to your neighbours. If you can get them on-side, who am I to oppose it? In this instance, the neighbours did speak up.

“Whether it’s a single-family residential or a multi-storey condo, the landowner has as much invested emotionally, if not financially, into their own individual property as someone who owns a skyrise downtown. I think they have as much right as a large application to defend their decision and voice their concerns about how their community develops.”

The suite was voted down 8-6.

The debate also shed some light on how secondary suites might affect Calgary’s increasingly senior population’s ability to access affordable housing.

A report released this year by the City, titled Shifting Horizons: Housing needs changing as Calgary’s population ages, that found, starting in 2011, the first wave of Calgary’s 268,000 baby boomers – born 1945-1965 – will turn 65 adding to the 98,000 seniors who already call the city home.

From 2012-2042, the number of residents aged 65 and older is expected to triple to more than 300,000 putting a “strain on housing availability, along with health-care provision and other support services,” said the City.

“Housing seniors is one of the huge crises that we have coming down the pipe for us,” said Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra. “We have a huge seniors population who are asset-rich in the homes that they purchased a long time ago, but resource or cash-flow poor because they’re on fixed income. This is maybe not a reality that reflects everyone …, but it certainly is a reality of a huge numbers of seniors in my ward.”

Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, who was once opposed secondary suites but is now in support, said secondary suites can allow seniors to remain independent in the homes they’ve built and lived in for years.

“As much as the seniors here today don’t want their community to change, our city is changing,” she said. “And I want you to have the option that if you want to have a caregiver in your home to look after you, or you want to have a university student stay in your home so you can meet the escalating cost of living that we all experience, then I want that to be an option for you.”

The need for the suites has been emphasized in recent months, with the city’s vacancy rate ranging between one and 1.4 per cent, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC).

Earlier this summer, CMHC reported Calgary’s vacancy rate at 1.4 per cent, an increase from the 1.2 per cent from the previous year, but still tied with Edmonton for the lowest rate in the country and lower than Vancouver’s 1.8 per cent and Toronto’s 1.9 per cent.

Rents in the city are also among the highest in Canada, climbing to an average of $1,267 a month for a two bedroom, which trails only Vancouver ($1,274) for the most expensive rent in Canada.

CREB®Now previously reported an online petition backed by student unions at Mount Royal University and University of Calgary, along with Vibrant Communities Calgary, popped up on social media asking the City to make a plebiscite on the issue part of the 2017 municipal election.

The Oct. 6 council session was the 31st time the issue of secondary suites had been brought up since 2005.

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