Mayor Nenshi addresses city’s secondary suites battle
* Part two of a three part series on secondary suites in Calgary
It was one of the biggest issues heading into his first campaign.
It came up again during his second successful run at office.
And now, Mayor Naheed Nenshi is prepared to take a run at the contentious topic of secondary suites one
A persistent debate at City Hall, citywide acceptance of the suites is more important today than ever, with
Calgary’s rental vacancy rate sitting at “close to zero,” the mayor said.
“It’s been essential for a long time, but there’s no question that we’re in a housing crisis at the moment, particularly as it pertains to affordable and entry-level housing,” said Nenshi. “And secondary suites are a market solution for that, not a government-driven solution. That’s one of the reasons they’re so important.”
Most recently, a motion by then councillor John Mar to legalize suites across the city was defeated by a 9-6
vote last July.
Secondary suites are currently only permitted in areas zoned RC2, and largely prohibited in areas zoned RC1.
That leaves much of the city off-limits for suites. Four inner-city councillors have launched a bid that would see zoning limits on the suites lifted on all single-family homes in Wards 7, 8, 9 and 11. Led by Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell, the notice of motion will go to council on June 9.
In addition to meeting zoning requirements, homeowners wishing to develop or have a legal secondary suite
must ensure the building and property meet specific requirements regarding window size, entrance access and even the number of furnaces in the home.
If a home doesn’t meet zoning restrictions, homeowners must file an appeal with the City. A recent study by the Calgary Journal showed just eight of the 20 appeals filed during Nenshi’s first term were approved by the City.
Having made the issue a priority during his first campaign, Nenshi has called City Hall`s inability to gain greater acceptance for secondary suites one of the biggest policy failures of his first term. Instead, he’s had to settle for what he calls a “series of first downs” that have seen suites legalized in all new communities and a possible easing of the fee structure involved with approving a suite.
“I would like to get to a touchdown. I would like to get to a point where we, like other cities, have secondary
suites legal as a discretionary use in all land use districts,” said Nenshi, who admitted he wasn’t sure if he’d
be able to meet that goal with the current council.
Asked about criticisms of secondary suites — which have centred around increased traffic, noise and density — Nenshi said concerns raised in council don’t necessarily represent the views of Calgarians.
“I actually don’t think it’s a contentious issue with citizens,” said Nenshi. “In fact, in a poll a few years ago, people were asked ‘How do you feel about a secondary suite on your street?’ and some 77 per cent said yes [to having them]. That’s as close to consensus as anything you get anything in municipal politics. You couldn’t get that number of people to agree that this last winter was too long.”
Conducted by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the 2009 poll revealed 84 per cent of Calgarians supported the development of new secondary suites; 85 per cent supported the legalization of existing suites.
As one of those who voted no to citywide legalization of the suites, Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating believes more consultation needs to take place between City Hall and residents.
“My concern was we first have to reach capacity on the areas where secondary suites are permitted, and the uptake on that hasn’t been as great as it could be,” he said. “The second [concern] is changing [zoning] in midstream without giving residents in the area the input whether or not they want residential suites there.”
With current conditions pushing both average rents and housing prices in the city higher and vacancy rates
lower, Nenshi said the issue is still among his main concerns.
According to CREB®, the benchmark price of an average Calgary home increased by 9.5 per cent to $446,300 in April 2014 from one year prior, while the average rent for an apartment in the city has increased, rising by 7.9 per cent from October 2012 to October 2013, according to Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation.
“Yes [it’s still a priority],” said Nenshi. “There’s real politics here, so you’ve got to what is possible to do with the council you have. But I strongly believe – continue to believe, have always believed – that this is not just an issue of good governance. It’s a moral and ethical issue.
“Everyone in Calgary deserves a safe and decent place to live, and our current regime allows far too many
people to live in illegal places where we have no ability to help guarantee their safety.”
Important points to remember when developing a secondary suite in Calgary:
- All applications for secondary suites will require an approved and released development permit before a building permit can be applied for
- Secondary suites must have a private balcony, deck or patio that is located outside and which is a minimum of 7.5 square metres, with no dimension being less than 1.5 metres
- A secondary suite requires that at least one motor vehicle parking stall is provided in addition to those required for the principal residence
- The minimum ceiling height for living spaces in a secondary suite is 1.95 metres
- Secondary suites must be served by an independent heating and ventilation system
Read part one of the CREBNow secondary suite series here.