Speaking at CREB®’s recent Broker Forum Lunch, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi stressed the need for change to the way the city handles secondary suites and suburban subsidies.
With the upcoming election set to take place Oct. 21., Mayor Nenshi renewed his call for citywide acceptance of secondary suites.
“We have to make sure that we fix this, and we fix it by doing what every other city in Canada has done, save one. We legalize them in every land use district. We regulate them. We get rid of the really bad ones and we give people a simple path to make the illegal ones legal and to develop new ones,” said Mayor Nenshi.
Having made the issue a priority during his first campaign, Mayor Nenshi called the inability to advance acceptance for the suites “the single biggest policy failure of my term.”
According to City of Calgary estimates, the number of illegal suites in the city is somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000. While city council did recently vote to eliminate the $4,485 rezoning fee for the suites, the 8-7 voting outcome demonstrates the divisiveness of the issue at city hall. The call for rental properties has grown louder since flooding destroyed many units in the city, while also forcing many Calgarians to look for temporary housing. In April, a report from Statistics Canada put the city’s apartment vacancy rate at 1.2 per cent. Like many Calgarians, Mayor Nenshi believes the rate has dropped even lower since then.
“I would say [the vacancy rate] is as close to zero as you can humanly get,” said Mayor Nenshi.
Also included in the topics touched on by the mayor was an end to subsidies for new communities. In the past, Nenshi said subsidies to developers in the city have cost Calgary taxpayers as much as $15,000 per home in new communities.
“Nobody understands why council made that decision in 1999, not even Ald. Hodges, and he was there. It was ridiculous decision and it led to enormous amounts of debt that our kids and our grandkids have to pay,” said Mayor Nenshi. “We’ve cut the subsidy in half. If I’m re-elected and if this negotiation comes back, I intend to get rid of the rest of it. I think it’s the right thing to do to create a level playing field and to ensure that we are growing in a more sustainable manner.”
In addition to reducing debt, one of the goals of eliminating the subsidy, Nenshi said is to help encourage more growth in existing communities.
“The era of government putting its thumb on the scale and favouring one form of development over another has to end,” said the Mayor. “More than 100 per cent of the city’s population growth was happening in new neighbourhoods. Our policies and our subsidies in new suburbs were slowly hollowing our city out from the middle.”
Ideally, Mayor Nenshi said growth in the city would occur on a 50/50 basis, with an equal number of Calgarians moving to new and established communities.