Secondary Suites Have Been Reformed. Here's What's Next.
I wanted to take this opportunity to speak about secondary suites in Calgary and the historic and forward change that took place on March 12, 2018.
People across the city living in R1 zones received a letter in the mail from the City of Calgary letting them know that City Council would be holding a public hearing on March 12, where the main topic of discussion would be regarding adding a discretionary use to the Land Use Bylaw in all R1 districts which would make basement suites and backyard suites a discretionary use.
What does this mean?
Before this proposal, if you wanted to build a secondary suite on your R1 designated property you would have to come to City Hall and appear before City Council and plead your case., a process that has been in place for a few years now.
Hundreds of individual ‘one off’ secondary suite applications have come through City Council and over 85% of them have been approved. With such an inefficient use of Council’s time, the questions became:
1) Are we using everyone's time appropriately?
2) Is this actually an ethical imperative? And
3) Can we shorten the timelines and make it more compact?
The growing consensus with this new Council was that we had to do the work of reforming the process of applying for, and the granting of, secondary suites. What we determined was that adding a discretionary use into the R1 district was the way to get it off of Council’s plate and in order to better focus our efforts onto the major issues facing Calgary.
On March 12, City Council heard well over 100 public submissions which were accompanied by over 900 letters from Calgarians. From my view, about 60% - 65% of the people who presented lived in R1 neighborhoods and were against the new proposal. Another 30% - 40% of the people who presented were also from R1 districts accompanied by advocates from across the city advocating for housing affordability and equity who were in favour of the creation of complete neighbourhoods for people of all ages, stages, and wages.
In a 9-6 vote, City Council voted in support of the proposed bylaw change. That vote changed the world as we know it (at least in Calgary). What we now have is a city where discretionary use in all our R districts throughout the city, have secondary suites a use. With that said, we did agree to take backyard, above-garage, and cottage homes in backyards out of the bylaw and defer the bylaw from coming into effect until we bring forward the design guidelines and standards for backyard suites.
I was happy to support that as well. It's a big win.
We've taken Calgary forward with the rest of the nation. We've caught up with the rest of Canada, and now secondary suites are an allowed housing form in all single detached housing in the City of Calgary, which is a great news.
What’s next for unsafe suites and homes that flout their designated zoning?
Although we have accomplished this milestone, there is more work to do.
The vote on secondary suites also implemented to Secondary Suite Registry which allows folks who are looking to rent a secondary suite to confirm that these developments have obtained all necessary permits and have been inspected to meet Alberta’s Safety Code requirements. Being on the list is now mandatory, and going forward, every secondary suite that is completed and whose development has been inspected and approved, will be on the secondary suite registry list.
While a secondary suite doesn’t have to be listed on the Registered Suites Map, it will be listed on the city’s registry list which is maintained by Planning & Development.
Additionally, the City of Calgary will be giving currently illegal secondary suite owners two years to bring their suites up to code, after which, the city will be pursuing increased enforcement should they continue to attempt to flout the new bylaw and registry system.
Moving forward we need to address the issues of illegal and non-conforming suites and duplexes which have been turned into 4-packs. It is estimated that there are between 16,000 to 25,000 households in the City of Calgary that are illegal or non-conforming. A large number of those are sitting in 1970's-type low-slope roof buildings that take a semi-detached form. Those developments lend themselves very well from going from a duplex, a two-unit semi-detached home, to a four pack - two units on the top floor with two units on the ground floor - because the basements are raised.
We see these all over the city, and there are a number of them in Ward 9. One of the things that I heard from the public, loud and clear, was that people are concerned about safety.
I don’t take those comments lightly. Safety is a big issue for my colleagues on City Council and I. We will continue to work to make sure that every Calgarian can live in a safe and legal home, whether it's a secondary suite or not. The challenge with the semi-detached form I mentioned above is that it's not technically a secondary suite. It's technically a multi-family building.
Everything that we've done to date on secondary suites has not addressed the issue that we face with the illegal 4-packs. If we want to make those thousands of units safe, the first thing we have to do is make them legal. In the weeks ahead, I will be putting together a Notice of Motion directing City Administration to examine and bring back a report on paths to legality for that kind of building form. I expect to have a lot of support from my colleagues on City Council.
What is next for secondary suites?
In the next year or two, after we've seen how the discretionary use process works in the ‘R’ Districts and we realize that, like the rest of the country, it's not like an apocalyptic change, I will be working with my colleagues to pursue secondary suites as a permitted use. As you know, when I first started talking about this, I wanted to make in-house suites a permitted use, and I still believe that this is the gold standard that we should be pursuing and I will not be fully happy until we get to that point.
Those are the next two steps on the suite file, I'm very pleased that we made the massive step that we did on March 12, and I look forward to continuing to move the ball forward on this essential component of a completely community. Thank you so much. Gian-Carlo Carra signing off.