Making suite sounds
March 3, 2011
We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us. An opportunity to increase the amount of affordable rental housing in our community. An opportunity to enable more people to be homeowners. An opportunity to allow our seniors to age in place, the opportunity to ensure greater health and safety in housing and enhance the vibrancy and character of our existing communities. All of this with virtually no cost to the average Calgarian. It seems too good to be true doesn't it? Sadly, it may actually turn out that way.
The opportunity that I speak of is permitting secondary suites in all residential districts in the city of Calgary. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce has long supported this position. On Feb. 15 we partnered with other leading business organizations including the Urban Development Institute, Calgary Real Estate Board, the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Homebuilders Association, and NAIOP (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association) to share the views of business.
We collectively support this change to the land-use bylaw with the requirement that appropriate measures are in place to ensure health and safety, community character and avoidance of the problems associated with absentee landlords. City council is expected to make the decision on this matter on March 7 and it appears this opportunity is at risk. It is at risk because there is opposition to permitting secondary suites in all residential districts in Calgary.
Some Calgarians fear what MAY happen to their community, or are basing their perceptions and opinions on experiences with illegal suites versus legal ones. And they are contacting their alderman to say they don't support it. Several aldermen do not support this bylaw change. But others remain undecided.
There is still a chance.
If you support legal secondary suites and want to make a difference, contact your ward alderman and let them know. We find ourselves in this situation of potentially not realizing this opportunity because there have been too many opinions formed by misperception, misinformation and myth. Many Calgarians have ideas or perceptions of what may occur with legal secondary suites in their community, but have not experienced them first hand.
Many may have experience with suites in their communities, but given the figures, there is a very good chance that their experience is with an illegal suite – one that may not meet health and safety standards, is not enforced and may not meet appropriate parking and community conditions.
Not surprisingly, many of these experiences may be negative. What I and my counterparts in the business coalition hope is that city council passes the motion to permit suites in all residential districts. That can only happen if we base decisions and feedback to aldermen on informed discussion and accurate information. Numerous studies, including ones recently completed for city council, point to the myriad benefits that suites provide. They also highlight that the physical and tangible negative impacts suites have on communities are typically minimal.
The reason is simple: the existence of a bylaw permitting secondary suites does not necessarily mean that every house will put one in. Experience in other cities is that take up is typically modest. But at least it is an option; an option to install a suite legally with an appropriate level of safety and neighbourhood consideration.
I encourage everyone to work with fact, reality and experience in making our decisions. Where do we go from here? We encourage all Calgarians to review available information on secondary suite impacts on our website www.greatcalgary.ca For those Calgarians who support secondary suites in all residential districts, there is still time. Contact your alderman. Tell them you support secondary suites.
I truly hope we don't miss this opportunity. I believe our city will be the lesser if we do.