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Home Suite Home: The Fight over Secondary Suites in Calgary

Posted by Kirby Cox on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 at 2:56pm.

One topic guaranteed to get many Calgarian home owners hot under the collar right now, is the controversial matter of secondary suites in residential districts. In recent years there has been something of an increase in the number of home owners converting their basements, and creating rental units. While the basic principal seems okay on the surface - the provision of affordable housing for low income renters, not to mention the useful revenue earned by some struggling property owners - there are those who see this trend as seriously problematic.

Concerns from residents vary. Some are purely practical. A significant increase in immediate population sizes can cause issues of limited vehicle parking, and the potential strain on local amenities that were designed to serve smaller communities. Other concerns are more social, with some owners feeling aggrieved at an increase in the number of renters in their quiet, family orientated neighbourhoods.

For many Calgarians, who worked hard for many years in order to buy a home in a R1 neighbourhood, the idea that some supposedly single family homes can be converted to accommodate multiple renters is a serious bone of contention. Having sought a home where they can park safely, enjoy a sense of space and privacy and relax in the knowledge that their kids can play safely nearby, now feel as if existing zoning laws are being ignored.

While those in favour of allowing secondary suites in R1 communities, citing university students, those with low-paid jobs and newly arrived residents who welcome the provision of affordable accommodation, the fact remains that there are plenty of vacant properties and opportunities to create more in those R2 districts that allow multiple occupancy housing. After months of drawn out debate, the council recently took a step in the right direction by voting unanimously to make it even easier to create suites in the land-use zones that already permit them. However the matter of secondary suites in R1 residential areas still has to be fully resolved.

As well as the pressing social issues that may come into play with the excessive creation of unregulated suites in R1 neighbourhoods, another major problem concerns the potential safety of 'non-legal' suites. The City of Calgary has strict guidelines in place concerning secondary suites. Not only are these types of accommodation forbidden in many residential districts, but where they are allowed they must adhere to clear building code standards. Without the enforcement of existing by-laws, there exists the very real threat of danger to renters, and adjacent property owners.

And, now it seems the debate just rumbles on. Council have recently considered putting the whole matter to a public vote, where Calgary's residents and home owners can make their voices heard. This move, of course, raises yet more issues, including the fact that it could cost the city $1 million to implement.

It seems fairly obvious to many observers that the city needs to maximize the use of areas that haven’t been maximized yet, and not change the game midstream for those who have bought into the lifestyle offered in R1 zones.

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