Don’t forget secondary suites

Ric McIver does not hold students in high regard. In a recent Calgary Herald article, he argues that increasing affordable housing through legalizing and regulating secondary suites will result in a second class Calgary. He falls into the misconception that streets will be filled with extra vehicles belonging to loud and obnoxious 20-somethings living in your neighbour’s basement. University students have nothing better to do with their time than lower your property value.

McIver states that Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s election promise to promote secondary suites and remove the red tape is not in the best interest of Calgarians. He argues that controlling is “the most important power that a municipal government has,” ignoring the more pressing issues local politicans should focus on. Currently, each application is examined individually, a time-consuming and ultimately unnecessary process. It is important to hold public officials accountable to their campaign promises. Calgarians are not ignorant or blind, they can see when a candidate is promising the impossible to garner votes and when another has a well-researched platform with attainable goals. Nenshi spoke often in favour of secondary suites during his run for mayor and Calgarians voted for him because they believed in his proposed policies. If there was not huge support for these policies, including increased affordable housing, he would not have won. If that was not enough of a public opinion poll, many City of Calgary officials are posting surveys online to gauge common sentiments.

The benefits of secondary suites range farther than the circle of people who can’t afford to live elsewhere. National studies have stated that secondary suites increase the property value of an individual home. Homeowners have a source of extra income with minimal effort. Suites reduce urban sprawl and the strain on public transit. They contribute to lively communities in centralized neighbourhoods, increasing the buying potential of any given home. And last but not least, they provide affordable accommodations for full-time students.

There are shortcomings in the proposed policy for secondary suites, but mainly because it is simply too limiting. McIver criticizes the requirement for suite owners to live in the same building as an assault on property rights, and he’s not far off. Home owners should be responsible for maintaining the suite to code, but also allowed to own multiple homes with suites. One point is important to keep in mind however — Nenshi likely added this requirement as a compromise to those who feared suburban chaos. Nenshi is looking for a middle ground that will benefit both those in need of affordable housing and those who want to maintain their lifestyle in family-friendly neighbourhoods. If more compromise is necessary, perhaps City Council should revisit the recommendations made by our own Students’ Union to limit secondary suites to areas immediately surrounding C-trains. Together, these requirements amount to unfortunate, limiting compromises that are still better than the alternative — illegal secondary suites.

On Jan. 26, 2009, three young people died after a basement fire in Parkdale. They were livin g in an illegal suite with no working smoke detector and bars on the windows. After complaining several times about a faulty furnace, the landlord gave the renters an electric heater. If the suite had been legal, they would have had the ability to contact authorities without threat of eviction. The suite would have had to undergo inspection and meet set standards or else face fines.

Students and the multitude of others looking for affordable housing in Calgary should not be labelled as a pesky infestation to be written out of your neighbourhood. People need homes and this is a straightforward and simple way of addressing the problem. While some rejected politicians refuse to accept their new fate on the sidelines, let’s at least give Nenshi the opportunity to prove that he can follow through on this promise.



. . Gauntlet Editorial Board

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