A suite deal for students

The City of Calgary is looking to become one of the last cities in Canada to streamline the secondary suite approval process.

“Secondary suites provide market solutions for affordable housing,” said Druh Farrell, Ward 7 councillor.

In December 2017, city council introduced a notice of motion to reform the rules for applying for secondary suites.

Council voted 10-5 in favour of pursuing the process.

The secondary suite process will not be reformed until sometime later this year after an official public hearing is held by city council and a new bylaw is passed.

The changes will be deliberated in March.

Currently, some areas of the city can apply for a permit while other areas are not zoned for secondary suites. These zoning discrepancies require some homeowners to directly ask council for a change of land use in order to legally install a secondary suite.

“We are the last city in Canada to adopt a streamlined process,” said Farrell.

The motion calls for the process to change to secondary suites to discretionary use. This means the process for application will no longer require site-by-site approval by the council for secondary suites.

“We all have a right to safe housing and currently the vast majority of basement suites are not regulated,” said Farrell.

Currently, approximately two per cent of the 14,000 secondary suites in the city are legal. These numbers are based on research that explored Calgarian census data and the legal registry of suites by University of Calgary (U of C) grad student Kylle van der Poorten.

The notice calls for the registry of secondary suites to be mandatory with visible tags for new suites.

“This is going to incentivise landlords to make sure that suites are up to code and to ensure that students have safe living places,” said Rachel Moerschfelder, vice president external for SAITSA.

According to the notice of motion approval for secondary suites, the topic took up 20 per cent of the council’s time in 2016.

“I’ve been trying to move secondary suite files forward for many, many years so I welcome a streamlined process,” said Farrell.

The motion also calls to reinstate the fee for applications for secondary suites.

“So what this will do is ensure safe regulated suites are available to people who need them,” said Farrell.

An affordable housing crisis is upon Calgary and Farrell said this is an important tool in combating the crisis.

Farrell said that these suites are important for people who are first time homebuyers or people who would like to keep their family close by, but with independence.

“What we are really talking about is human dignity and the current process is anything but dignified,” said Farrell.

Students’ associations in Calgary all lobbied council on this issue including SAITSA, The Students’ Association of Mount Royal University and the U of C Students’ Union.

“It is a huge win for students,” said Moerschfelder.

“Having a mayor that knows the student issues, has them at the forefront and has experienced what we are going through definitely helped that process move forward,” said Moerschfelder.

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