Another secondary suites report?
Last week Councillor Chabot put forward a notice of motion asking City Administration for yet another report on secondary suites, this time asking City Administration to investigate:
A regulation requiring suites to be registered to advertise for rent or lease;
A limit of one secondary suite application per year;
A bylaw to differentiate between basement and backyard suites;
A process for communities to register a petition to apply for re-designation to allow secondary suites and a list of potential “zones” that would be “suitable” for secondary suite designation.
Since 2005 there have been over 30 such reports on secondary suites at the request of the different City Councils of the time.
The "dumbest" secondary suite policy in Canada
Calgary is the only municipality in Canada to require homeowners to submit themselves to an arduous process whereby they must plead their case for a secondary suite before City Council asking for a special zoning redesignation. A recent study has shown that City Council’s decisions on the fate of applications in 2016 was “completely random”.
This has led to embarrassing situations, bringing citizens to tears in front of City Council, speaking about everything from the loss of loved ones and economic hardships to physical disabilities. Calgary has even earned the dubious distinction from renowned urban planner, Brent Toderian, as having the “dumbest secondary suite policy in Canada”.
Wasting City Council’s time, risking people’s lives
Last year, City Council reviewed 161 applications for secondary suites. This number has been climbing steadily since 2014. Council now spends up to several days each month reviewing individual secondary suite applications. This is not just a waste of taxpayer money, it also prevents Council from working on other, more pressing issues.
As of 2015, it was estimated there were about 16,000 illegal suites in Calgary. Illegal suites pose a safety risk to renters who may not have the protections of a suite that meets building code. Thanks to the layers of bureaucracy, cost and uncertainty in the application process for legal secondary suites, today Calgarians face an unsafe environment where illegal suites have proliferated.
Questions to consider
So back to Councillor Chabot’s request for another report last week. When considering the latest proposal it’s worth asking:
1. Will the new proposal add more bureaucracy and process to applying for a legal secondary suite and further incentivize more illegal suites?
2. Will the new proposal actually reduce the amount of time Council spends reviewing individual secondary suite applications?
3. Will the new proposal lead to any meaningful reform under the current Council?
Unfortunately, there are simply too many unknowns in Councillor Chabot’s notice of motion to be able to honestly answer any of these questions. And maybe that’s the whole point of waiting until the final days before Council breaks for an election to put a motion forward.
The bottom line
This Council and previous City Council’s have spent countless hours and taxpayer dollars writing reports and debating secondary suite applications. The bottom line on secondary suites for this City Council is that they have failed to enact any actual reform. There was the opportunity in 2015 to take a meaningful step towards reform with the support of the majority of Calgarians but, ultimately, too many Councillors lacked the leadership to make these changes. The opportunity was squandered, and time and money continues to be wasted.
The proposed report may not be due back until 2018, after the next City Council is elected. That Council may choose to ignore it, just as this Council has ignored dozens of previous reports. Ultimately, it’s likely any actual reform to secondary suites will be up to the next Council.
That is why in the upcoming election it will be more important than ever for Calgarians to vote for candidates that have demonstrated they are prepared to vote for reform that will actually have a meaningful impact on improving the state of secondary suites in Calgary.
Another report is just another report.
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