The Executive Corner

Advocacy win for SAITSA

Earlier this year, I was cleaning my office when I found a tube with old posters from various advocacy campaigns created by my predecessors. One of the posters, circa 2014, read ‘We Support Secondary Suites.’

Just a couple weeks ago, I chatted with a co-worker who, nearly ten years ago, was the Vice President External of the Student’s Association of Mount Royal College. He told me that during his term they were advocating for a secondary suite reformation.

Even this year, the SAITSA President and I prioritized secondary suite reformation during the 2017 Municipal Election, and met with several candidates to discuss this issue. It made me think: how are we still fighting for this?

For over a decade, Calgarians have dealt with an inefficient process to develop a secondary suite: that is, a separate and fully functioning suite within a home. These are often times occupied by in-laws and students.

For over a decade, only certain areas of Calgary were secondary suite friendly. If a homeowner wanted to build a secondary suite in the wrong neighbourhood, they would have to appear before City Council and beg for the right to develop a legal suite.

Their friends in the neighbourhood over simply had to apply for a development permit and it would be approved, or not, by a civil servant.

Applicants who had to appear before council were more likely to be approved if they told an emotionally driven story as to why they needed a secondary suite. This wasted hours of City Council’s time. In fact, these meetings took up 20 per cent of their time in 2016.

Well, cringe no more, because in December 2017, City Council passed a vote to reform the secondary suite process. Now, all homeowners will be treated equally and approved, or not, by a city employee – not by politicians.

Why is this so important to students? Well, students often live in secondary suites and our priority is to ensure that these suites are both safe and affordable.

In neighbourhoods that are close to campus yet contain few apartment complexes, such as Capitol Hill, secondary suites offer a safe way to house students in a convenient location.

By creating a smoother process to develop a secondary suite, landlords are encouraged to ensure their suites are legal and up to code. They can now jump through fewer hoops when creating a suite that fits all of the criteria for healthy living.

Not only is this a win for my team this year, but it’s also a win for the student leaders who advocated in the years before me.

I think one of the hardest parts about working in politics is that everything seems to move at the pace of an iceberg. As a results-driven person, I have had to learn how to see the value in small changes and setting others up for success.

However, when we finally see an advocacy win, it makes the years of work and countless meetings that lead up to that moment totally worth it.

I can now confidently take down the secondary suite poster in my office, celebrate the success of long-term advocacy, and continue the relentless fight for students.

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