Crackmacs (@crackmacs) is a popular, outspoken Twitter personality in Calgary run by a couple living in the downtown. From their vantage point, Mr. and Mrs. Crackmacs report on events of interest in their neighbourhood. Both have previously lived in Secondary Suites and have quite the stories to tell about their experiences. Read their letters and hear why they personally support City Council action on Secondary Suites.
Letter of support from Mr. Crackmacs:
To whom it may concern:
Growing up, I lived with my dad. He was a single father raising three kids, working as a forklift driver, making something like $900 every two weeks. We bounced around a few places when I was young, before settling in Albert Park. We moved into the basement suite of a duplex, the homeowners living on the main floor. It seemed a nice two-bedroom place with a laundry room to use whenever we liked. My dad had made an agreement with the landlords that they could walk down whenever they pleased to do laundry but on Sundays only. It was alright.
The landlords were a couple with two young kids. The husband worked as a custodian downtown. They were quiet and pleasant.
I'm not certain how much rent was, something like $700/month including utilities. Keep in mind, this was back in like ‘94 or ‘95.
We lived there for 10+ years (my dad now lives next door in a friend’s property). I moved downtown.
Let me tell you about living there, in this illegal secondary suite.
We did not have an oven. We knew from day one it was not something legit, that's why it was cheap. The landlords talked about this openly. I'm not sure of the regulations at the time, or now actually—but we did not have an oven. It sucks, but when you don't have many options for somewhere to live, ya gotta do what ya gotta do, right?
We cooked everything using a microwave, hot plate, elecric wok or electric skillet. There was also a barbecue in the backyard. It was manageable. We made friends with one of the neighbours so we were able to use her oven for turkeys and things like that.
We also had cockroaches. Bad. The landlords ate a lot of rice, lots of fish and imported foods. It was common to come home and see bags of rice or dried fish left outside their door (relatives we thought). We assume there might have been roaches in the rice. Of course we spoke to the landlord about it and he'd walk around spraying a can of Raid on things. He wasn't very good with English, but said he'd take care of it et cetera. Rinse and repeat.
We were in an illegal suite so complaining to the city or anything like that would have resulted in us having to find a new place to live. As well, I wasn't the one paying rent, so I had to live with my dad's choices. I lived with cockroaches for over 10 years before finally moving out. When you're living with cockroaches every day of your lives, you sort of get used to it. They were in everything. All of the cupboards, closets, beds, our clothing, electronics, in the washroom, coffee table. We did our best to combat them using chemicals, traps and cleaning but it was useless to actually stop the infestation. It was a never ending battle.
Being a teenager, it was extremely embarrassing for me to bring anyone home. Thankfully, the friends I had were understanding, nobody ever teased me about it. I'm glad people at school never found out.
One time I walked in to the washroom and turned the light on. There was a cockroach climbing up the wall. I squished it with my fist. In doing so, some of its juices landed in my mouth. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life. I vomited. Hey, good thing the toilet was right there!
Remember I mentioned the laundry? Yeah, they abided by that agreement for a few months. Then they would sometimes come down on Saturdays to do laundry. Then any time they pleased, their kids coming down with them. Their kids were 3 to 5 years old at the time and they would walk around our house. They'd open the fridge, leave the doors open (we had a cat so that was not helpful). Once, I woke up with them in my bedroom. When people are randomly opening your door to do your home—and even unlocking it—and walking in, it can be startling and annoying. There was no sense of privacy whatsoever.
We spoke with the landlords about it. They apologised and said it was an emergency, that it won't happen again. But it did. We lived there for a long time and eventually my dad just gave up complaining. It was an illegal suite and we couldn't do anything about it. I really hated those kids.
We also had no control over the thermostat. It was always really cold down there. We used electric heaters and blankets. They had cockroaches in them. One thing we did have control over was the water heater thermostat. My dad would usually turn it up higher to try and heat the basement. His thinking was if the hot water that's primed in the pipes is hotter, we would be warmer. The landlords would always come down and turn them back down and bitch at him.
It was hell living there. The roaches, the privacy, the stupid kids. One time they dialed 911 and hung up. The firefighters and police showed up, ran into the basement and freaked out on me, thinking I was just an asshole teenager who did it. They also searched the place. Once things had calmed down and they traced the phone call, the phone upstairs rang and it was obvious what had happened. One of the officers asked if I was smoking weed and got in my face during this time. I was 14 and had never even seen weed, never mind smoked it. Of course I said no. Everyone left with no apologies or anything. I was the only one home at the time and when I told my dad what happened, he was really upset. He phoned the police and filed a complaint. Long story short, he got a written apology from the CPS for the weed incident.
Anyway, I could keep going on with stories like these forever. These aren't memories I'm fond of nor really interested in talking about. It sucked. I hated living in that situation. We had no help from the city, any services, anyone. It wasn't a legal suite, we were on our own. I'm sure there are a lot of other families out there in even worse circumstances with not a lot of control over their own lives. They probably have cockroaches too.
If secondary suites like mine had been regulated, we could have done something about all of the above. We could have had an oven. Fun fact: I was 23 years old before I learned that the oven and the top burners could be turned on at the same time. My food wouldn't have had cockroaches in it. We could have locked our door and had privacy. If secondary suites were legal, would we have had control over the thermostat? Would that be controlled? I sure hope so. When someone controls your heat in -40°C weather, when your home is in the ground, it's quite demeaning as a person.
Please, think about the quality of life for Calgarians and consider doing the right thing and legalize secondary suites. I hope you never have to live with cockroaches, it's so humiliating. Even finding a roach-ridden basement suite like ours was is DIFFICULT in Calgary right now. Secondary suites will bring more homes for families. It's a no brainer.
Thanks for reading.
— Crackmacs (the Mr.)
Letter of support from Mrs. Crackmacs:
To whom it may concern:
I have had a lot of experience with secondary suites in Calgary during my 25 years here. Most came in my late teens and early twenties, when I worked minimum wage jobs and didn't know what zoning laws were or how housing was regulated.
In one basement suite, in Montgomery, I had no control over the heat but I still paid 60% of the bill. Our landlord would turn the heat off in the winter to save money. My roommate and I would frequently go to bed not only fully clothed, but with our coats, hats and mitts on as well. We had windows but they were covered with bars to prevent a break and enter.
We lived with the landlord's piled-up recycling outside of our door. Bundled cardboard and plastic bottles blocked our only means of escape which was a rickety set of stairs to the main floor exit. I think about the people who died in the basement fire and I realize how easily that could have been me. It was all I could afford and I was ignorant. I complained to the landlord and they told me to leave if I didn't like it. I left.
For another rental, I rented a basement from someone who didn't bother paying the rent to the owner of the house. When I fought for my right to stay, the owner informed me it was an illegal suite and one he hadn't been aware was rented out. I had no right to stay. While he was sympathetic and would have loved to rent the suite to me, his house was not zoned for it. I found myself homeless in the winter facing a very tight housing market and making a paltry income. I found myself in another illegal suite but fortunately with a friend as a landlord and everything went well.
Eventually we lucked out into an apartment downtown where we have been raising our family, but now we face skyrocketing rents with a bad management company. The affordable options for a young family with pets are slim, with most being either rental scams or illegal secondary suites.
It is my firm belief that if secondary suites were made available across the city, management companies would no longer have the stranglehold on tenants and they would no longer be able to justify 40% rent increases. Safety for tenants would increase, people would have a legal avenue to pursue within the landlord tenant act and homeowners could supplement their income with rental income. Just think of our seniors, who could rent a portion of their homes out, thus easing the burden on our facilities. That's just one quick example of the ways legalizing secondary suites could help the overall economy of Calgary.
Thank you for your time!
— Mrs. Crackmacs
Help us make the crucial December 15th City Council vote on Secondary Suites a success - take action today!